This past weekend my son's basketball coach came out of the closet. That's right, he admitted that he was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Being from Cleveland, I'm a hardcore Browns fan. If you know anything about pro football, you'll know that the Cleveland/Pittsburgh rivalry is like the NFL's version of the Hatfields and the McCoys.
So, as you can imagine, I took his revelation hard. There was something always not right about the guy, but I could never put my finger on it. Now that I know, I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to figure it out on my own. Dammit. I'm usually really good at sniffing out the enemy. It's like I have "Sports Fan Gaydar." Somehow this time I missed it. He must have been using some sort of elaborate cloaking device to keep me from knowing the truth.
But now I don't know what to do. Do I let my kid continue to play on the team and be coached by him? How could I allow this guy, a fan of the team I grew up hating more than my mother's green been caserole, to hold such a meaningful role in my son's life? If I found out our church pastor was a child molestor, would I allow my kid to continue to be an alter boy? Hell no. So how is this any different?
As any god-fearing Browns fan would do, I prayed about what action I should take while watching Biggest Loser. Then God spoke to me. Or maybe it was Jillian Michaels. Whoever said it, I knew that I needed to confront the coach -- immediately.
Since I'm not big on confrontations, I made use of modern technology to get the answers to my questions. I decided to text him.
I texted: "YOU CALL YOURSELF A COACH?"
He texted: "Who is this?"
Apparantly, he did not have me saved into his phone's address book. Simpleton.
Then, I texted: "IT'S STEVE FROM BASKETBALL."
He texted: "Steve Nash?"
Now he was just trying to be a wise guy.
So, I got right to the point: "HOW CAN YOU BE A STEELERS FAN? YOU LIVE IN CLEVELAND. YOU MAKE ME SICK."
Then he hit me right between the eyes with something I hadn't expected. "I grew up in western Pennsylvania. Sorry."
My balloon was losing air and fast.
There are so many Clevelanders out there who become Steelers fans just because they win more than the Browns -- they are referred to as "frontrunners." I assumed my son's coach was like the others. To find out that he was rooting for his hometown team, I softened up a bit.
I texted: "DAMMIT!"
There was really nothing I could say. When I was younger and the Browns were competitive, I used to punctuate everything I said, no matter who I was talking to, with a hearty "Steelers suck!" Unfortunately, the Steelers don't suck now. They are actually pretty darned good. Pittsburgh was playing Baltimore for the right to go to the AFC Chamionship Game later on. I decided to be the better man.
I texted: "GOOD LUCK. BALTIMORE SUCKS!"
Baltimore is actually pretty good though too, but I was finally speaking a language the coach and I could both understand.
So, how does it all happen? How do people become fans of certain teams? To me it's pretty much black and white. You live in Cleveland, you're a Browns fan. You live in Pittsburgh, you're a Steelers fan. You live in Bagdad, you're a car bomb fan. You have no choice -- it's pretermined. I actually respect my son's coach for continuing to follow the team he grew up watching, despite moving to Cleveland. So many people seem to come here from Pittsburgh. Funny that I never hear of anyone moving from Cleveland to Pittsburgh. I've been to Pittsburgh, so I think I know why. Let's just leave it at that.
My kids, all three, are Cleveland fans. And, despite a lot of losing over the last decade, they are all Browns fans. It hasn't been easy. I've worked hard to make that happen. Several times during my career I've had opportunities to move elsewhere -- Syracuse, St. Louis and Dallas to name a few. Each time I turned down the chance to move. Sometimes the money was better. Sometimes the climate was better. But, none of them could offer me the security of knowing that when my kids got older they'd all be just like me -- a fat guy who roots for losers. My teams might not always win, in fact they mostly lose, but by keeping my kids on the same path, I've won the most important game of all.
The best man at my wedding, a native Clevelander, married a Pittsburgh girl. They now live in Connecticut and have two twin boys. On a regular basis, my friend tells me stories of how difficult trying to raise his boys to be Cleveland fans can be. First of all, his wife's side of the family poisons the twins with Pittsburgh crap -- t-shirts and jerseys and coat and hats. My friend's side of the family all moved to Baltimore more than twenty-five years ago, so they're now Ravens fans. This leaves my buddy to do it all on his own. And, by all accounts, Connecticut is one of the strangest areas to raise a sports fan. They are right in the middle of a tug-of-war between the New England Patriots, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles -- that's what the choices are where my friend and his family live. Now add the Cleveland Browns to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster, if not complete sports affiliation confusion. I try to think about my state of mind if I'm a kid living there. I couldn't blame them for taking up with one of the three local teams -- hell, they've been scads more successful than the Browns. But, it looks like one of the boys is turning into a Steelers fan. The other is still up in the air according to my friend. It's a fight I doubt he'll win in the end, but I respect him for even taking the fight up in the first place.
I'm sure to some extent my son's coach is living a little of the same nightmare, though it couldn't be nearly as bad for him, afterall the Browns rarely win and the Steelers rarely lose. There's a good chance they all move to Cleveland just to rub our noses in it.
So, what do I do with the whole coaching thing.
I picked up my phone.
I texted: "HEY, I'M SORRY ABOUT COMING DOWN ON YOU SO HARD. IT'S JUST WHEN I FOUND OUT ABOUT THE WHOLE PITTSBURGH THING, I KIND OF LOST IT."
What the hell was I doing. You know what happened to the indians when they started to trust the white man? No way. Not now.
Before he could respond, I texted a follow-up message.
"BY THE WAY, THE STEELERS STILL SUCK!"
I love technology.