When I was a kid I had no interest in sports. While my brother and the other neighborhood kids were playing touch football in the streets, or wiffle ball in the Wheelers’ driveway, I was pretending to be Captain America or Captain Kirk. Occasionally, Heath Barkley. I would run around with a wooden phaser in my hand or the lid of a garbage can and I would make up stories. I was always the hero.
But, on occasion, the kids across the street needed an extra body to make it even teams and they would call out to Tommy to come play. Even if I didn’t really want to I always would because my brother was three years older than me, much bigger than me, and a whole lot meaner than me. I couldn’t tell him no. I mean that. Really, I couldn’t. Not without bruises.
I wasn’t very good at hitting the wiffle ball, or catching a fly ball, or anything that had to do with football. But I ended up having a good time sometimes. I played a little more when I got older. I don’t remember if that was because I started to like it or if maybe someone moved away and I was all they had left. Either way, I came to enjoy the comedy of it and the other kids started to laugh at my self-deprecation. No one ever really made fun of me. I was too good at doing that myself. I learned to be clever instead of athletic.
Because I didn’t watch sports, though, I got a lot of flak. I didn’t know anyone in baseball at all. Merlin Olsen I knew from Little House on the Prairie. I knew Fran Tarkenton from That’s Incredible!
So when I got asked who my favorite player was or who my favorite team was I deferred the question or responded in some smart-ass way like “well, I like Iron Man more than Green Lantern but not as much as the Hulk.” Everyone but my brother would laugh. My brother would give me a bruise. We played on.
When no one was looking, though, sometimes I would peruse all the colorful football helmets and remember being impressed by two of them. The Rams one reminded me of the mask of Goliath, one of my favorite childhood superheroes. The Chargers one reminded me of Garth Ranzz.
One day, the kids would not let up about naming a favorite team. I don’t remember which friends were being particular asses about it, or how old I was exactly. What I remember is that they wouldn’t proceed with the game until I gave them an answer. I was stuck. Space Giants was coming on in twenty minutes. Somehow, I had to get the game over.
I asked the others who their favorite teams were. Mind you, we lived in Central California and we were playing street football in the suburbs of Salinas. San Francisco was only 100 miles away.
“The 49ers!” most of them replied. They thought they had a convert, I’m sure.
“And who do the 49ers hate most?” I asked. I honestly didn’t know.
“The Rams!” they shouted.
Perfect, I thought. Goliath colors.
“Then I am a Rams fan.”
It stuck. Over the course of the next several months, or years – who knows – I added the Dodgers from LA (because SF fans hated them, too) and the Lakers from Los Angeles. By that time, I was LA all the way. It was still several years, though, before I actually watched any of them play a game. It was a good decade before I came to enjoy sports at all.
Today I do. I love the game of football. Folks still ask me how the hell I became a Rams fan. I enjoy telling the story. I’m a Rams fan out of spite. Or, at least, that’s how it started. I’m a Rams fan today because I’ve always been one. Isn’t that how it works?