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
We’ve reached the AFC conference, and it’s just hit me. The team that wins this entertaining little competition will be my team. The full weight of that fact now lies on my shoulders as I realise that I will get to celebrate the wins, and suffer the losses, and excuse the unsportsmanlike behaviour of players and fans alike. I’ve put through some teams which I might end up regretting, and I’ve had to pass over teams that I would have picked over them, but in the end I should end up with the best team in my opinion. So, let’s crack on, and start upsetting people.
Let’s start off with New York State. I’m trying to avoid re-treading over old ground, so I’m not going to talk about their fan’s behaviour in and around the game. The Bills go way back to 1960, and in that time they have forced their way through to four Super Bowl finals, and have won two division championships. These guys don’t have the flair of the Giants, but they’re supported by the average Joe working American. That would explain the behaviour in the parking lots. If you’re looking for one of the more down to earth teams, without all the glitz and glamour of some of the big city teams, then the Bills are your boys. They’re 5-5 so far, and after weathering their annual beating from the Patriots, look like they could take a shot at the division, or at least a Wild Card slot. Four Super Bowl trips, four Super Bowl losses. The Bills are always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Their roster isn’t bad, but they don’t have anyone that strikes me as being a real superstar player, and that is important in the modern game. That sells t-shirts, and generates column inches. When your fans generate more discussion pages than your games do, you need to take a serious look at what you’re doing. Unfortunately, as they tend to finish middle of the table, they lose out on the draft as well. Something is going to have to give with the Bills, one way or the other, to end this stagnant patch.
Off to Pennsylvania, to visit the great city of Pittsburgh. The Steelers have been running this game since 1933, and have won 6 out of 8 Super Bowls they’ve appeared in. They are a genuine force out on the field, and play hard. Steelers fans are as loyal as they get, and will back their boys no matter what. If you’re looking for a team that has history, as well as results, then you can’t get much better than the Steelers at this point in the competition. At 6 for 4 in the AFC, with games against the Broncos, and the Ravens left, it’s looking like a pretty easy coast to the conference from here on out for Pittsburgh. Steelers fans are not liked – in a different way to the Green Bay fans. Steelers fans can be found up and down the country, telling everyone how great Pittsburgh is – and how much the local team sucks – but not actually living in the city that they love so much. That coupled with the bad press that Ben Roethlisberger gets, and you’re getting bad vibrations all around. If you’re putting on the black and yellow, you’re going to take some stick, as we’ve already covered what sore losers they can be.
The Raiders, hailing from Oakland, are Super Bowl experienced too. They’ve pulled 3 wins out of five finals. Their last loss was in 2002, and they took the trophy home back in 1983. The 80’s were the biggest and loudest years for the Raiders, getting a lot of coverage when they were based in LA, they made a lot of noise and got a lot of attention. The fanbase is one of the most devoted and fanatical in the game. Frequently mocked by some of the more ‘civilised’ teams’ fans, they’re the leagues equivalent to the noisy neighbours, and they really don’t care what some people think. They can trace themselves back to 60’s, alongside many teams, and they’ve got a pretty solid history in that time. In my mind, they’re a pretty safe bet for most people getting into the game. The Raiders recently lost a title to the 49ers: Most Violent Fanbase. This might not be their label anymore, but the Raiders are still going to carry that can for a little while. For me, contact sports don’t have to equate to violent fans, and it detracts from the game. The Raiders have moved cities 3 times, and although they’re not the Cardinals, or the Rams, there’s something about moving a franchise around that turns me off. I like teams to have a history, and a relationship with the people around them. I can’t hold them back for something that they did over 30 years ago, but it still sticks a little for me. The Raiders is one of those teams where, the more I learn, the more the shine comes off.
Indianapolis, home to the (Baltimore) Colts. Another team that made a move in the NFL, the Colts can lay claim to winning two out of four Super Bowls they’ve played in.. These guys absolutely hate the Patriots with a passion, and that’s a tick in the box for me. I’ll support anyone that doesn’t like the Patriots. It’s easy to sing when you’re winning. I prefer to be the voice of dissent. Not that long ago, they had Peyton Manning as their star quarterback, and he made a real name for himself with the Colts. Then they released him, and look how that ended for the Broncos, so they’ve proved that they can make smart moves from a management perspective. The last time they were at a Super Bowl was in 2009, and they lost. The Colts like to think that they are good losers, taking the higher road, and being above the petty arguing that some teams seek. They’re not. This whole sanctimonious attitude that the Colts and their fans take can be really irritating. “We played better football, and we played with honour in that game, our opponents just looked like thugs.” Honour doesn’t win you games boys, and being the most well behaved team won’t get you any trophies. Football is a dirty game, played down in the mud, and if you’re not willing to get messy with the other guys, then you’re going home a loser. If you like to feel superior, and you hate the patriots, then crack on. Otherwise, you might want to look elsewhere. Here we go, decision time. Who’s going to the Super Bowl from the AFC? This is where it gets real. The Bills are a good underdog team, but they’re not what I’m looking for. Their fan behaviour is something that puts me off, and in comparison to the Giants – I know they’re not going to be able to cut the mustard, so there’s no point in putting them through. The Steelers are a real risk, with all the bad blood, and the fact that everyone hates their fans, it’s not looking pretty. What can I say though, I like the way they play, and they have proven time and again that they can get the results. I’m putting them through to my Super Bowl. Let’s see if they have what it takes to go all the way. Oakland were originally a shoe-in for me. On the face of it, I really thought they were a no brainer, but as this process has taught me, there’s a lot more to teams than I thought. I don’t like the fact that they – until recently – had the most violent fanbase in the NFL, and I’m slightly more switched off by the fact that they are one of those teams that moves. I know that most people will argue that it’s not relevant – and that even if it was, they didn’t move out of state – but it’s just something that doesn’t feel right for me. I can’t put the Colts through. They’re just not doing it for me in this round. They were the best of a bad bunch at the time, but in comparison to the teams that pushed through on the AFC, they’re bottom of the pile. So that’s the AFC done, and I genuinely surprised myself. I honestly assumed at the beginning of this process, that I would go with the Raiders, but the Steelers walk into the Super Bowl ahead of them. In the next article, we’ll ruin some people’s hopes and dreams as we decimate the remaining teams in the NFC conference. Bring popcorn, there will be tears.