Lately we’ve been worrying about red states and blue states in this country, but I’ve been thinking about colors in a different way.
Jerry Seinfeld used to do a bit about “rooting for laundry,” which is what supporting a pro sports, or even collegiate sports franchise, is in the era of free agency. Your favorite players come and go, but your allegiances last forever to both your favorite teams and favorite players.
I’ve been thinking about loyalty in sports lately, and Monday night’s football game really brought it home.
I’m a Jets fan. I won’t begin to try and tell you I know as much about them as Brad Carroll, but I follow them, particularly during a rare Sunday off when I can watch the game, as I did this week when I saw them beat up on the Steelers.
As happy as I was to watch the Jets win a game, not to mention see the defense force some turnovers, I have to admit it’s still hard to root for Mike Vick. His past is just that, and I try to believe in second chances in life, but it is hard sometimes to separate the football player from the stuff that happened off the football field. I used to actively root against him, and part of me still wishes someone else was the quarterback, but in the end you end up rooting for laundry. The guy playing quarterback for the Jets is a Jet, and that usually wins out.
Sometimes the laundry ties you to a player even after they change clothes. I rooted hard for Mark Sanchez when he was a Jet. When I was a young boy, I got two football helmets, a USC helmet and a Penn State helmet. When my grandparents were alive they had a picture on their mantle of me around their house wearing one of them, because when you’re six years old sometimes you do everyday things while wearing a football helmet because you can.
I outgrew the helmets rather quickly, but I always kept my eye on the two programs growing up in part because I liked the helmets. In this day and age, when teams change helmets weekly in college, the fact they both still wear essentially the identical helmet to the one they wore 30 years ago is amazing.
Mark Sanchez arrived in New York from USC at a time when the Jets needed a splash. The Brett Favre saga was ending, and the Jets needed a new face of the franchise. Getting a much-hyped young quarterback was exciting, and the fact he wore one of the same helmets I did drew me even further to him.
He went head-to-head with Peyton Manning twice in the playoffs in his first two years, scaring the Colts the first time and beating them in his second year. He was my guy by then. My favorite Jet since the 1980s.
We’ll save the discussion about what happened in his final years in New York for another place. Why he had to go, or if he did, is a separate discussion. When he ended up with a chance to play for the Eagles this week, however, I was thrilled.
Yes, I was much more excited to root for the other guys in green, but I very much wanted to see Sanchez do well. He had done a lot for the Jets, and the loyalties built up over those years don’t disappear overnight.
In the words of Terrell Owens (but without the tears), that’s my quarterback.
With guys moving so often these days, it’s impossible to fully understand where the line between laundry and loyalty lies. Seeing Paul Pierce, one of my two favorite Celtics of all time, bounce around the league at the end of his career hurts. Some players belong with certain teams. Knowing the Jets are about to go through another reclamation attempt with a new quarterback is both exciting in that I’ll have a new player to root for and sad in knowing I’ll have to start over.
Right now in my closet there is a Sanchez shirt and a Tim Tebow shirt. Neither of them are Jets anymore, so I only wear them around the house. There’s more Pierce gear than I can count in there, but I can’t buy new Celtics clothes because they too are going through another rebuild and I’m not sure who’s going to be on the team in February.
I’m a fan of my teams, however, so I can’t bring myself to get a Sanchez Eagles shirt or Pierce Wizards jersey. The laundry wouldn’t feel right.
So I wait. Someday soon my teams will have stars for me to get excited about again. In the meantime, I root for laundry. Which brings me to a final quick tangent. What makes USC, Penn State and yes, the Yankees, special is that they have worn the same laundry for as long as any of us can remember. The Celtics had only made minor modifications over some 60 years before the last few. Then the alternate jerseys started popping up. But at least they made sense. A little black trim I could live with. Gold lettering was actually beautiful, and was always a team color.
Then came the 2014 “pride uniforms” Adidas decided the Celtics should wear. What exactly they make me prideful of I’m not sure. They’re being worn six times on anniversaries of banner raisings and random personal records in a desperate attempt to tie them into something. What they are, however, is a cash grab. And horrible ones at that. The Celtics recently sent me an email offering me a ticket package which would let me go to the games where they’ll wear the grey monstrosities. In truth, they’re the games I’ll most want to avoid. Grey sleeved shirts are not the Celtics.
But when the Celtics wear them, I’ll still root for them to win, no matter how ridiculous they look. I won’t buy the new jerseys, and I have to wait for new players to figure out what I’ll be buying next.
In the meantime, I’ll wear my generic Jets stuff, unless someone wants to get me a Sanchez USC jersey for Christmas. That’s laundry I’ll always be able to wear.