RSVPhillippi | October 2016
By Dennis Phillippi
As is often the case, this column springs from a conversation held in a bar while watching a ball game. There were four of us and we were all pulling for the same team, but in the course of a couple of hours we discovered that for various reasons, we all despised at least one player on that team. Mostly it was because we hated that player’s college program. Some of these guys had been at the pro level for well over a decade but we hated him because he played at Miami or Ohio State or whatever school that individual loathes. It is the enduring mystery of the sports grudge.
If you’re a sports fan, and I’m not even talking about a fanatical fan, you have a sports grudge. Casual sports fans tend to have grudges that were lodged in their brain at an early age by a parent. They simply hate the Yankees, the Vols, the Cowboys, or the Lakers because their dad hated those teams. Ask a casual sports fan why he hates the Yankees and you’ll get a typical answer to the effect that “They win all the time.” It is true that the Yankees have won more World Series than any other team, but it has been seven years since they last won. That’s hardly “winning all the time.” The truth is, they hate the Yankees because they used to win all the time, when their dad was young. And by “win all the time,” they actually mean, “buy themselves championships.” It’s a fair knock: the Yankees do routinely have the highest payroll in baseball, but since when is that such a crime? If your team, say the Padres, had pockets deep enough to poach expensive talent from other teams, you wouldn’t be complaining. Everyone else on the planet would be complaining, but not you. You’d be just like smug Yankees fans.
Another factor in casual sports fan’s grudges, are the fans of the teams they can’t stand. When I mentioned this idea on social media a ton of people simply said they hate Alabama football or the Pittsburgh Steelers because they hate their fans. When you’re in a bar during a NASCAR race and everyone in there is a Dale Jr. fan, you might get the impression that all Dale Jr. fans are loud, drunken louts. It’s a matter of perspective. Yes, every sports organization has its share of obnoxious followers, but it’s unfair to paint all of their fans with the same brush. Except for Miami Hurricanes fans. They’re all wretched human beings.
Okay, that’s not fair, but we’ve moved into a different level of sports grudges: the informed sports fans grudges. Once you’ve been following sports for a few decades, you start carrying around these inexplicable axes that need grinding. I can’t stand the Miami Hurricanes because in 1985, that’s right, 1985, they went into the final game against Tennessee saying that when they win they should be national champs. Not if they win, when they win. They lost, and badly. Here’s the messed up part: I didn’t go to the University of Tennessee, my wife did. This is a thirty-plus year grudge by marriage. And not only do I despise the Miami program, but to this day, I also despise their coach at the time, Jimmy Johnson, and their starting quarterback, Vinnie Testeverde.
I am not alone in disliking Jimmy Johnson: there is an entire generation of Dallas Cowboys fans who don’t like Johnson because he replaced their legendary coach Tom Landry. These fans were so devoted to Landry they left being Dallas fans, even though Johnson promptly won them a Super Bowl, and had assembled such a strong team they won the year after he left under Gene Stallings, who couldn’t coach a powder puff team. Oh, right, I hated Stallings because of his tenure at Alabama in the early sixties, when I was a baby. See, this gets really complicated.
Bob Huggins might be an okay guy, but I’ll never know because I don’t want to. Huggins was the coach of Cincinnati when they were in the same conference as the Memphis Tigers, and the Bearcats were a constant source of misery for the Tigers. It has been so long since Cincinnati made Memphis miserable: the school had a different name back then. Huggins has since gone on to coach at two other schools, neither of which were in the same conference as Memphis, but as far as I’m concerned Huggins, with his stupid tracksuits and Mafia haircut, is an enemy. And I didn’t even go to the University of Memphis. By the way, on a side note, those of you who still say, “My diploma says ‘Memphis State,’ so that’s what I’m gonna call it,” -- let it go.
There is, of course, the Big Grudge. The one that virtually all Memphians have, whether we attended the school or not. That grudge is John Calipari. There was a time when the rest of the college basketball-loving nation hated us for having Calipari. He recruited the best players from all over the country, convincing them, easily enough, that if they came and played for the Tigers for a year, or even God forbid, two years, they would go on to have NBA careers. It meant a lot of statistical success for the Memphis program, and very nearly a national championship. Granted, by the time his last year rolled around most of us were starting to feel a little self-loathy over his presence. It was obvious that his interest in “student” athletes did not extend to the “student” part and that’s why the almost national championship season never happened. You can look it up. So, next time you want to bond with a Memphian don’t bother trying music or barbecue just say, “Man, I hate John Calipari” and you’ll be just fine.