Last week I embarked on a mission to find and observe sports fans in their natural habitat: the sports bar. I am not a sports fan, so sports culture and the various species of sports fans found within have always mystified me. It was time to put my curiosity to rest and take to the field to document their habits.
Wilmington or bust
I headed into Wilmington last Thursday in search of my quarry with two friends, Glenn and Jake. On the advice of a sports-minded co-worker we pulled into R.F. McDougall's Pub, a place sports fans have often been seen congregating. This pub has fond memories for me. The night before my wedding, our friends and family met on McDougall's outstanding deck, where we sipped beer and enjoyed the sweeping view of the Ausable River and Whiteface Mountain.
This night was different, though. My sports-minded co-worker said McDougall's is the place to go in Wilmington if you're interested in watching uniformed men crash into each other, and I saw what she meant as we walked through the door. The large room is divided into a dining area and a bar, where a handful of people had their eyes glued to the flatscreen TVs adorning the walls. It's the perfect place to keep an eye on the game, and it's even feasible to do so while enjoying dinner with your family.
In the field
I requested a corner booth so I could properly observe the action, a place where we wouldn't disturb the natural movements of the sports fans. We settled in for an evening of excitement, but that's not quite what we got. What I expected — a frenzy of hoots and cheers and other exclamations — never happened. Instead, the sports fans at the bar were surprisingly reserved, almost indifferent, in fact.
Jake, an expert in this field, explained why. Evidently, I was witnessing something called "pre-season games." These are evidently only watched by the staunchest of sports fans, especially those who are into fantasy football, a curious ritual that involves picking players from different teams to construct the team of your wildest fantasies. Jake then hit me with a bunch of information that involved picks and stats and other numbers.
"So, it's kind of like Dungeons and Dragons then, right?" I asked in all seriousness. His response was an uncomfortable mix of "kind of" and "no." Interesting. I was already learning a lot.
Hungry from all of this talk, we ordered some chicken wings and entrees to sample McDougall's food fare. The wings came out in no time at all, and they were just right — the sauce carried a bit of heat and they were crunchy on the outside yet tender in the middle. Some advice — McDougall's only offers mild and hot, so if medium is your thing — go with mild. It was on par with what's called medium in most places.
I can't eat a lot of meat in one sitting, so the Caesar salad with shrimp was the perfect complement to the wings. Jake ordered the same thing, but Glenn opted for the house salad, which he approvingly devoured.
After dinner, things hadn't changed much at the bar. The games were on and our sports fans were still watching, but there wasn't much in the way of behavior to observe. Anxious to learn more, I drew Jake into a conversation about why people choose to follow different teams. Jake, despite his comprehensive sports knowledge, said it's a murky realm that he doesn't fully understand. For some, it's a regional pride thing. For others, it's a hand-me-down type of situation, like an old clock or shoe.
The implications of allegiance
But Jake said there's another species of sports fan that seemingly has no peripheral connection to the team they adore. He spoke of sports fans he's known from New York who root for the Cowboys, and people from his native Wisconsin who love the Raiders. Jake, who has been living amongst sports fans his entire life, said he's never been able to pin down the reason for this phenomenon.
To me, that means non-peripheral team allegiance is a topic that begs further research. Like the Bowerbird, which attracts a mate by building a sculpture out of brightly colored objects, it's possible there is some correlation between bright colors and the attraction a football fan has toward a particular team. Could uniform markings attract individuals who then become fiercely loyal to that particular species of sports player? If so, that affinity could replace the habitat or family preferences found in other species. If that's true, it would mean the species of sports fan with the non-peripheral trait could more readily adapt to a nomadic lifestyle, meaning once resources in one region are exhausted the individual could move on to another location, like Phoenix or Anchorage.
It became clear that I wouldn't uncover any of these mysteries during our little outing, so we packed up and headed out after finishing our dinners. My sports-minded co-worker assured me that bars like McDougall's would soon be packed with football fans on game night, and I'm sure she's right. Sports or no sports, McDougall's is a fine place for a night out in Wilmington. The food's great, the beer is cold, and the scenery can't be beat.