Short of the YouTube commenter base, there is no greater pit of stupidity and vulgarity than in the ESPN.com comment sections. The overall tone of the comments is so vile that, several months ago, ESPN made the decision to force people to use their Facebook login to make comments. So, naturally, people created fake Facebook profiles with names like “Ohessu Thucks” and went right back to insulting each other in the most juvenile and repugnant ways possible.
Sports tend to make otherwise normal and rational people behave in bizarre fashion. After all, “fan” is nothing but a contraction of the word “fanatic.” That guy who paints his face and screams profanities in the stadium on Sunday might be a respected lawyer on Monday. I logged into Facebook on Saturday night after the Big Ten Championship Game to see friends of mine writhing in virtual pain, their lives immeasurably damaged by the failure of 21-year-old men they don’t know to score more points on a football field than other 21-year-old men they don’t know. The amount of personal self-worth that some people put into their favorite sports teams, whether professional or collegiate, is incredibly powerful, and in many cases, difficult to understand.
Of course, sports aren’t the only thing that cause grown men (and women) to act like rabid dogs. Some of us (and if you’re reading this website, you may resemble this remark) lose all sense of rationale and self-control when discussing cars. We have a tendency to ignore all facts, refute all arguments, and stand firmly in our positions even when all evidence is squarely against us. And just like the Yankees fan who lives and breathes the pinstripes, whether it’s Ford or Ferrari, many of us have our own brand loyalties that have caused us to cross over the River Styx to Fanaticism. And just like that same Yankees fan who despises David Ortiz and the Red Sox, we have our enemies, too. BMW fans who hate Mercedes. RAM truck fans who refuse to consider a Silverado. The parallels are striking.
So what causes such blind devotion to these brands? To these cars? It’s much easier to identify in sports.
I, for example, am an Oakland Raiders fan, a loyalty that developed in 1983 when I started to develop a sports consciousness as a six-year-old boy in Ohio. The image of Marcus Allen reversing field against the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl is forever burned into my memory, and as a result, I continue to follow the Sunday actions of men who weren’t even born when that game occurred. The Showtime Lakers inspired an entire generation of men my age with their up-tempo play and Magic-al passes, and we suffered through the Nick Van Exel years just so we could be rewarded with Shaq and Kobe. The Oakland A’s of the late Eighties were some of the coolest teams to ever play baseball. My friends and I bruised our forearms as we attempted to simulate the Bash Brothers’ signature Home Run salute to each other. So before I turned twelve, my sports loyalties were set for life. But what about cars?
Perhaps it was the brand of the first car that caused your inner enthusiast to come alive. I have several such moments. I remember my father pulling his new Lincoln Town car into our driveway when I was five years old, resplendent in a shade that my mother referred to as a not-so-PC “Polock Blue.” (Strictly speaking, it was “Wedgewood Blue”, with the additional “e” in “Wedgewood” presumably to avoid copyright issues — JB) It was a company car, a sign that he had truly Made It. I remember taking a ride with him on a summer day in the front seat of his MG Midget, well before child carseat safetly laws, watching him fumble slightly through the gears. Was the yellow shade of that MG the reason I was drawn to School Bus Yellow nearly thirty years later? I remember the E30 that my brother was somehow able to borrow some five or six years later for a jaunt around Muirfield Village. We had nowhere to go, and all day to get there. I recall sitting in the back seat as we cruised the golf course, the pools, hoping that somebody would see us in it.
Maybe it was the first car that you were able to scrape enough money to buy on your own. I can still recreate within my heart the feeling of driving away from Hatfield Hyundai in my brand-new black 2000 Tiburon. I was 22 years old, and all I wanted was a car that would get me noticed. Sure enough, my date a few weeks later noticed it when I picked her up for the first time from her apartment. “Cool car,” she offered as I opened the passenger door for her. I married her thirteen months later.
Or maybe it’s the brand that opened the door to a new world for you. I remember sitting behind the wheel of my 2004 Mazda RX-8, scared to death, as I waited for the starter to wave me onto an autocross course for the first time. Without even knowing it, I had bought a “class killer.” As I dialed in way too much steering around every corner, plowing through the turns and crunching cones, I knew that I was hooked. Thousands of dollars spent and miles traveled in search of plastic trophies later, that car made way for a more practical sedan, but I still smile every time I see an RX-8 on the streets.
Perhaps you are loyal to the brand that symbolized your own ascension into the rarified air of “making it.” Seeing my four-year old son overwhelmed by the sheer coolness of my Boss 302 on its delivery day was almost too much for me to handle. I knew that it might just be one of his first memories that he will retain as an adult, just as my father’s cars were for me. The same automaker, delivering the same feeling for both Father and Son, thirty years later.
But despite all of these images and memories, I’ve never developed a brand loyalty. My cars have ranged from Volkswagen to Infiniti to GM to Porsche to Ford to Hyundai, and the next car I buy will be the one that speaks to me in just the right voice, regardless of the nameplate. When it comes time for me to either sell my Boss 302 (or do the sane thing and park it in a garage to be driven on Sundays only), I’m just as likely to consider a Ford Raptor or a C7 Corvette as I am a C63 Black or this Supra successor that everybody is whispering about. Some might think that’s a good thing. Others might call me a whore.
So help me understand, B&B. What’s your loyalty and why? Do you even understand it, or is it a subconscious thing? Take us back to that moment that made you an Impala man for life. I can’t wait to read your stories.