How I Became A Sports Fan

by JG

Like many of my friends that likewise grew up in hockey-mad Montreal, I am a huge sports fan. I started playing hockey at the young age of five and skating (or, whatever it is I did while attempting to skate) even earlier. I’ve played almost any team sport you can name on the recreational level, and many other sports just for fun. In high school I played for the school soccer, basketball, floor hockey, and touch football teams (yes, touch football, it was all we had). In CEGEP (the Quebec version of Junior College), and then later, in University, I also played for my school’s Lacrosse team.

I was never the most athletic kid. I was always the tallest, but had almost no meat on my bones until the end of my teenage years. Being tall, skinny, and awkward is not exactly conducive to studying. While I wasn’t able to join travelling teams like some of my friends, I concentrated my love for sports in two other areas: writing, and general fandom. I’ve covered local sports for the local weekly, as well as school sports since I’ve left high school. I continue writing to this day, and I continue playing sports (of course).

So why am I writing this post today? To find out not, as the title says, how I became a sports fan. That would be too easy: it’s in my blood, with special credit given to my father and my two older male cousins. Now that we’ve got that taken care of, hit the jump for more detailed accounts on how I began to follow the specific teams I follow. Enjoy.

Favourite NFL Team, Favourite Overall Sports Team: Houston Texans

Bear with me, this could get long. Let’s travel back in time and find out where it all started.
The time: late December 2001 / early January 2002. The location: Pasadena, California. A young Canadian boy, aged 12, walks into his hotel to begin his west coast vacation with his family. Upon entering, the young boy noticed the atmosphere was electric. The colours of Orange and Green were thrust upon the young boy and his family. It was clear that this would not be a regular vacation.

The reason for all this electricity, all this green and orange, was that the hotel was the temporary home the the undefeated University of Miami Hurricanes players, staff, fans, and more. The Canes were getting set to play the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Rose Bowl, which was also that year’s National Championship. Meeting nearly the whole team roster (among them: Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, a certain receiver to be named soon, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, DJ Williams, Johnathan Vilma, Ed Reed, and the late, great, Sean Taylor, amongst many others) at some point while spending the next few days in the hotel would prove to be critical in the conception of the young boy’s love for Football, specifically one player, and eventually, one team.

While riding on an elevator from a high enough floor, just below some of the team floor’s, the boy, his mother, and two sisters joined the elevator along with (to him) four huge football players. One of them stood out to the young boy. For some reason or another, this guy was treating the young boy almost like an equal. Making jokes, answering questions, and all together being extremely nice to this young boy was not necessary for this man, but he chose to do it anyways.

The boy fell instantly in non-homoerotic man love with the player, and watched him play the next day in the biggest game of his then short college football career, exploding onto the national radar with 7 catches, 199 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Later, the young boy would follow this athlete when he advance to the next level of his football career: the NFL.

In case you haven’t been able to figure it out just yet, the young boy was me. A little over a year later, with the third pick in the 2003 NFL draft, this athlete that for some reason was so nice to me, was selected by the Houston Texans. That athlete’s name? Andre Johnson.

Since he was drafted, and I purchased a Liberty White Andre Johnson jersey (without the “A.”!), I’ve worn the same jersey on nearly every Sunday/Monday/etc, that the Texans have played on the road.

Over the years, it became more about the Texans, and less about Andre. Not that I don’t love him any less, but I started shifting some of my obsession over to Domanick Williams (nee Davis), Jamie Sharper (that’s my first name!), and others, including, more recently, James Casey, Connor Barwin, Brian Cushing, JJ Watt, and… damnit I could go on forever but I’ll stop.

Favourite NHL Team: Montreal Canadiens

I’ll admit it: I’m not a huge hockey fan. When the lockout wiped out the 2004-2005 season, I shifted all my attention over to football, and never looked back. Still, I’ll always have a spot in my heart for my hometown team, even if I did briefly follow other teams. Though I never met him personally like I did with Andre Johnson, as a child, I became infatuated with the style of play of a young Eric Lindros. Because of that, I followed the Flyers, and even briefly, the Rangers (while Lindros played) and the Thrashers (young, up-and-coming underdogs, which would become a trend).

Since the lockout, I wouldn’t even think of rooting for another team, unless that team was playing the Leafs, Bruins, or another team the Habs needed to lose. Some of my friends who put hockey over everything else might accuse me of not being a “true fan” because I don’t follow the Habs as intensely as they do. My heart belongs to the Texans, and to football, but I’ll never stop enjoying seeing the Canadiens play well.

Favourite NCAA Team: West Virginia Mountaineers

These descriptions are about to get a lot shorter.After meeting basically the entire team in Pasadena (see above), I followed the Miami Hurricanes for a number of years. When the last player I really felt a strong affinity for, Devin Hester, left to the NFL, my fandom weakened (though I will still always root for alumns of The U) and I began to search for a new team to follow. That search ended when I happened to catch the 2006 Sugar Bowl, which pitted the home team Georgia Bulldogs against the West Virginia Mountaineers. The combination of the underdog rule and the fantastic play of a freshman (!) quarterback and running back tandem in a hostile environment made me realize: I found my new team. Those two players were close enough to my age that the decision was easy. Those two players? Pat White and Steve Slaton.

I still follow the Mountaineers, and have since began following them for basketball as well. I even got to witness them thrash the University of Washington in the 2010 Sweet 16, which was one of the greatest nights of my sports fan life.

Favourite Soccer Player/Team/Country: anything that has to do with Lionel Messi

It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of arguably the greatest soccer player in the world, maybe even one of the greatest of all time, but I jumped on the bandwagon before the wheels started rolling. Back in 2006, with the World Cup looming, I was at a family friend’s house for dinner. I was (still am) friends with the son, who, along with his brother, told me about a young 18-year-old kid that was going to better than Maradona. Now, my soccer knowledge was pretty limited at the time, but the way they were describing this kid, it seemed too good to be true. If you know me a little by now, you’ll know that I love following young players from an early stage of their careers. Thankfully, my friend’s family hails from Argentina, and this, I was introduced to Lionel Messi. I began rooting for Argentina on an international stage (because well, Canada sucks), and eventually, for his club team, FC Barcelona. I’m not a huge soccer fan, but when I do watch, I’m rooting for Leo.

Honourable Mention:

I’ve already talked about Football, Hockey, College Sports, and Soccer. I am a fan of nearly all sports though, and there are a number of athletes that I’ve grown to like over the years. For one reason or another, I followed these athletes, and whatever teams they played for. Here’s a short, incomplete, randomnly-ordered list: Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire, Kevin Durant, and Kemba Walker.