Fanatic Focus

Del Olaleye: Apathy can be a killer for a franchise

Jay Cutler can be tough to cheer for. Miami Dolphins/Facebook

A sports franchise can just suck the life out of you. You’ve been through so much pain and angst that you just refuse to care anymore. It isn’t as simple as just the losing wearing you down. Embracing losing can be fun when you know your team has a plan. The Astros had a plan. They told their fans to prepare to be very bad because the plan was to be good for the long haul. There was new ownership and management. Those two things allow you to sell hope because you don’t have past failures on your resume.

So Astros fans sat through multiple 100-loss seasons. They waited as their favorite team became involved in a cable dispute that made games unwatchable. I’m not even talking about the product on the field. People couldn’t see the team play. A majority of the people in Houston could not watch the Astros play baseball unless they decided to switch their TV provider. As you might imagine, that didn’t go over well. Apathy can be the worst enemy of a franchise and that deathly emotion was starting to creep in around Houston. Sure the Astros had a plan, but when no one can see your plan in action those well-laid plans just become a ton of L’s in the loss column.

Fortunately for the Astros, 2015-2017 happened. There was the ultimate payoff of a World Series title. It all worked out. It doesn’t always. When it doesn’t work out being a boring franchise that loses can set your organization up for the worst of all outcomes. People stop caring. You don’t want to be the franchise that no one cares about. When your name is mentioned on the job, in the street, or at the sports bar, you don’t want people to respond with a shrug of the shoulders.

It is better to be really bad, maybe all-time bad than it is to be “meh.” When you’re “meh” you can be dismissed. No one wants to be dismissed. Browns fans held a parade after an 0-16 season because they still cared. Eagles fans are celebrating a Super Bowl title this offseason but in previous years they celebrated their perennial losing with something called Wing Bowl. The Eagles were never in the Super Bowl but the fans still wanted to party so Wing Bowl was created. That previous link is a safe for work version of Wing Bowl. That isn’t what Wing Bowl really is. This is really Wing Bowl.

I love my teams. It hurts when they lose. I’m not close to being apathetic. Those losses sting so much that you just might find me sitting in the dark on my hallway steps after a particularly brutal defeat. That time on the steps is to compose me. Gut-wrenching losses turn me into a pillow tossing, cursing, screaming crazy person. That is a part of the reason I don’t watch games around people. No one needs to see that side of me.

All that being said, I’m completely comfortable watching Dolphins games in public. That is if I actually care to ask for their games to be put on. Perpetually being in the 6-10, 7-9, 8-8 range will do that to you. Draft picks not working out, free agency busts and coaching changes all have contributed to something I’d never thought I’d approach. Apathy. The final straw for the Dolphins was the emergency signing of Jay Cutler. These were the ingredients to that rancid casserole:

  1. Ryan Tannehill re-injured his knee in the preseason.

  2. Dolphins coach Adam Gase was once Jay Cutler’s offensive coordinator.

  3. “Shockingly”, the newly retired Cutler thought 10 million dollars guaranteed was enough of an enticement to get off the couch.

Final outcome? The season went how you would expect. Cutler mixed bad footwork, awful decisions, and mind-numbing interceptions along with that Cutler face and cooked up a 6-10 season. I couldn’t have cared less. What's that you say? The Dolphins are bad again. That’s been the case my entire adult life. I’ll live. They’ve driven some people to root for a different team. I’m not in that dark place but simply not watching the games has become an option. Drafting Lamar Jackson would change things real quick. Nothing like a young, exciting QB to delude a fan into thinking everything will be alright.

Apathy from fans is death for franchises. For the fans, it is similar to the feeling you get when you get a hug instead of a kiss at the end of a date.

Sure the hug sucks, but at least you’re not getting pepper sprayed in the face anymore.

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