Nathan Hards is The Rookie Fan, a newbie to the NFL. RealSport will be following Nathan as he makes the most difficult decision any rookie NFL fan has to make – which team to support! NB: In order to be “fair” to all teams, Nathan is generally only looking at teams’ success since 2002, when the Texans joined the league Welcome to the fourth, and final Divisional round for the NFC. To finish off we’re heading to the west coast, and seeing who has the goods to go through alongside the Oakland Raiders to represent the western coast of America. So let’s get a hustle on.
The Arizona Cardinals are the oldest team in the group, pulling all the way back from 1920, back to the beginning of professional football in the US. The Cardinals have moved around over the years, from Chicago to St Louis, then to Arizona. They’ve stayed there since, and the locals are behind them. Their season is looking good, with an 8-2 start, having lost out to the Rams, and the Steelers. It’s possible that the Cardinals could be looking at winning the division this year, which would be great for them. Unfortunately, this would be the first time in a long time. No trophies of any kind in the last 15 years indicates that this season could be a flash in the pan for the Cardinals. A recent study on attendance at games during a season appears to indicate that the Cardinals have the highest level of rubber band fans in the whole league. With high game attendance early on, very quickly lowering dependent on the team’s performance in the division. If you pick the Cardinals, expect to be accused of being a bandwagon fan.
St Louis Rams
It looks like this is the league for mobile teams. The Rams have moved twice since their founding in 1937. Originally starting in Cleveland (like the Browns, and the Ravens, what is it with Cleveland?), they moved to LA, and the fired out to St Louis after that. Now the team is in talks with the NFL about moving back to LA, and the fans are not happy about this. This team have pushed it to the Superbowl previously, and their 2000-20002 season was referred to as ‘the greatest show on turf’ (See what they did there?). Since then, the Rams have been quiet on the achievements front. The Rams are a heavy hitting team, and they play with high physicality. If you like big hits, then these are the boys for you. Unfortunately, it’s a bad time for the Rams. This season is 4-6, and the team are still in talks to move to LA. This is a reaction to poor attendance since 2006, which means revenues are down, which in turn means that the owner looks elsewhere for support. The fans are pushing back and stating that they back the team, but they feel like the management team aren’t invested in the team, particularly if it stays in St Louis. Getting stuck into the team at this stage in the game could be a risky move, as it’s all looking a little shakey for the future of the team. Will you need to change those bumper stickers to LA? If revenues are down, and the team don’t make the move, could it mean that the Rams days are numbered?
Marshawn Lynch! Skittles! Beastmode! The Seahawks are on a rising tide, and pulled it to a Superbowl against the Patriots last year. They’ve got some awesome branding and PR, and they are absolutely on fire at the moment, from a media perspective. With players like Lynch on board, they are going to keep getting those hits on the internet, and that means coverage. Seattle are a hot property, and their star is rising, they just need to keep the pressure applied. Marshawn Lynch! Refusal to participate in interviews! Fines! There’s no such thing as bad press, that’s what most PR consultants will tell you. Some of the biggest players generate a lot of text for the Seahawks, but when that activity also impacts their ability to play for the team, that’s when you get trouble. With their rising tide also comes the fact that you may be branded as a bandwagon fan. Jumping onto the franchise as it’s on the rise, but then again, at 5 for 5 it’s unlikely you’re going to get very far this season.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have been playing since ’46 (I know) in California. These guys have major history in the area, and fielded some big names. They’ve got trophies and records to boast about, but most of those are pre-2002. They still have a Superbowl in the trophy room since then, so that’s something to shout about. The 49ers are a showy team, with some big plays and some big players, but sometimes that doesn’t equal wins. The team has the capability to be top of their division, and run it through to the superbowl, but they seem to be struggling to adapt to the changing styles of play in the game. If they can adapt to this new form of heavy running, and huge backfield passes, then they may have a chance of being a real force again. One award that the 49ers have recently taken is most violent fanbase. The 49ers took this dubious honour from the previous champions – the Oakland raiders. It seems the west coast teams are all about the aggression, on and off the field, but this is bad news for the 49ers. If you’re already struggling – and your fanbase becomes increasingly violent – you’ll drive away families from the game, your gates will fall, and you run the risk of having to relocate – or even mothball the franchise. Taking on the 49ers at this stage may be a risk, as you could be backing a falling star. So, as we bring a close to the NFC divisional level, who will be taking a shot at the conference level, and who will be left lamenting? Arizona definitely have the historic element, but that study really rocked my confidence. Having a fanbase that only seems to back you when you’re winning, that’s not going to help any team out, and I can’t risk being branded with the same mark. St Louis have that low attendance record, and the looming chance of a move from Missouri, but I see that as an opportunity. The franchise has history in LA, and either way, I think the Rams can weather this storm. I’m backing them on this round, as I really want to see how they do going into the conference. The Seahawks definitely have the branding and the big names, but I want something more from my team. Seattle are going to have to push a lot harder, and reign in some of their players before they turn my head on this one. The 49ers were a good choice on the front of it, but the increasing violence in their fanbase is something which really turned me off. Football already has a problem with violence off the field, the last thing the game needs is a team that is increasing those statistics. So that’s it. NFC has been completed, and the conference lines up as follows: Buccaneers, Bears, Giants, Rams. The next article I’ll be revisiting the AFC, and seeing who goes through to the Superbowl. See you there!