Oil and Water

There will be no link today. I've had something on my mind for a while, and so today's piece is original to FG. 

Teams have two potential outcomes at the end of a season: Either a team wins the championship or fails to do so. As a fan of a team, we act accordingly. For the majority of us, most of our time as fans is spent anticipating improvement. Even during the truly wonderful seasons (2005 for the Hawks), there's always a tinge of bitterness if the championship t-shirts don't have "Seattle" written on them. Something that could have gone right didn't, and it's up to next season for the team to right that wrong.

Along the way, particular players inevitably capture our imagination. I remember watching Shaun Alexander in limited duty toward the end of Ricky Watters' career and thinking how great he could be. Sure enough, he spent the next five seasons setting fire to opposing defenses. As the combination of variables converged to put an end to Alexander's rampage, I was torn. The Hawks would be better after moving on from a clearly diminished Shaun, but every time I saw him in a Seattle jersey I thought of the man who scored five touchdowns in a half on a Sunday night against Minnesota. I knew he wasn't helping the team but I could not quite let go.

Growing attached to players is natural. Great teams create heroes, bad teams have bright spots. Watching players grow from potential to production is one of the great aspects of sports, faith validated before your eyes. What about when the players we love are no longer as effective enough to merit the salary they draw or the playing time they command? It's important to remember why we root for players in the first place: wins.

Player turnover is inevitable. Even the best, most entrenched players will either retire, get cut or traded, or grab a cold helping of bench. When evaluating these moves from the perspective of fans who want to see a winning team, we need to discard fondness. There is nothing wrong with fondness for fondness' sake. After all, growing attached to players enhances the experience of rooting for a team. However, if what you really love is the success of your team, you have to be willing to take an objective look at the same players who made you vacate your seat rapidly for a more comfortable position two feet in the air.  What do we really have to gain by watching our heroes languish?

You should love your team. You should also have love for the players on your team. It's both of these interests that make fandom worthwhile. But, when it comes time to evaluate moves or plan for the future, heed the timeless advice of The Offspring: You gotta keep 'em separated.

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