Originally written on The Colts Authority  |  Last updated 11/18/14

Editor's note: With Peyton Manning playing again tonight, and so far this season looking like himself, this is a fantastically written piece by Josh Boeke about the nature of fanhood. Specifically, Boeke takes on the nature of Colts fans and their now ex-quarterback Peyton Manning. While plenty has been written on the issue, this piece, in my opinion, is one of the most well-written and eloquent attempts at bridging the gap. Thanks to Boeke for another excellent piece this week. -KJR

Walking out of Colts’ training camp last month I was talking to a friend about why he values autographs. To me it seemed like a meaningless scribble on a piece of memorabilia, a childish fancy meant to excite the young and maybe interest collectors.

“It’s not about the signature,” he said as we got in the car, “I would never just have a player sign a piece of paper. That’s pointless. It’s about the history, the memories. When I watch the Colts play I wear this hat and it reminds of the players I’ve cheered for over the years.” He took the hat off and looked at the faded signatures of players past and present that dotted the white and blue landscape of the worn fabric.

Dwight Freeney, Jeff Saturday, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Marshall Faulk, and of course Peyton Manning; all the best Colts’ players of the last decade represented each by a different, but equally illegible, black scrawl of ink. To him, these otherwise arbitrary loops and lines were a constant reminderof memories past but not forgotten, of last second drives and crushing defeats, of elation and of sorrow.

For my friend, and for many fans of a professional sports team, the connection they feel to their respective franchises is akin to religious devotion, an attachment so extreme it transcends reason and engenders profound emotional bonds with a business entity to which they enjoy no tangible connection.

But what, ultimately, is the root cause of this devotion? Is it, as Jerry Seinfeld famously opined, simply rooting for a particular city’s clothes? If you throw a blue and white uniform on a team of automatons, would that evoke the same loyal commitment? One certainly would hope not, and yet it often seems that way. Of course fan loyalty usually starts with the arbitrary location of a person’s birth, but that isn’t a requirement, only a catalyst.

In its purest form, competition is a fundamental and visceral human experience. Anyone who has participated in any sort of competition, whether it be in a video game, at school, in work, amongst friends, or on a professional football field, understands that the lust for competition is innate, that the desire to win is perhaps the single most motivating ambition in all of existence.

Professional sports teams give us an avenue to that experience on a scale we could otherwise never realistically hope to attain. By attaching ourselves to the successes of a sports franchise, like the Colts for example, we bask in the reflected glory of their achievements and are lifted up, metaphorically, by their accomplishments on the field. But that isn’t the whole story.

When the Colts win we feel good, but that feeling isn’t disconnected from the event, rather it is directly attributable to the players on the field who are responsible for the victory, the Colts players, “our” players.

This attribution in the minds of the faithful leads to a certain degree of emotional attachment, by which we attach the good feeling of winning with the players we credit with that victory (or in a negative case, become dissatisfied with players we blame for a loss, i.e. Jeff Linkenbach).

Thus a unidirectional bond is formed between the fan, an entity of which the player on the team is only conceptually aware, and the player who now becomes the object of the fan’s devotion.

What happens then when this player, who now enjoys the same religious like devotion as the team for which he plays, is removed from that team and joins another? This is the fascinating (to me anyway), and cognitively dissonant, dilemma that has haunted the hearts and minds of many Colts’ fans for the past 6 months, and continues to do so even now as the greatest sports icon this city has ever known suits up for a new team in tonight’s upcoming game.

Which brings me finally to my point. Why do so many fans feel the need to create a false dichotomy between the franchise and the players? Why should the clothes supersede the man by whom they’re worn? Is it possible to be both a Peyton Manning fan and a Colts’ fan?

Is it human nature to force exclusivity where none need exist? From religions, to fraternities, to politics, and of course to sports, and everything in between, we humans love to divide, to create categories and labels, to exclude or include based on predefined criteria. This makes us feel superior, set apart and above other people, and it gives us a sense of belonging and community, fulfilling a crucial human desire for acceptance.

As my friend and I drive away from Anderson University, Andrew Luck’s impressive showing fresh on our minds, I ask him if he’s still going to root for Peyton Manning in Denver now that he’s wearing a different shade of blue. Perhaps to nobody’s surprise his answer is quick and decisive, “I mean, I hope he does well in Denver, but it’s the Luck era now, Manning is just a player on another team.”

Just another player? Really? This same guy who just explained to me the sentimental significance of a scribble on a hat now considers his all-time favorite player just another guy because he wears a different uniform. Apparently you can only enjoy memories of your favorite players if those memories occurred while they were on your favorite team. Only in sports would something like this make sense (or perhaps not).

A common refrain, one that I hear all across the internet Colts’ communities that I frequent, is if you wear a Peyton Manning jersey to a Colts’ game you’re a turncoat, a traitor, disloyal, unsupportive, a Peyton Manning fan, not a real Colts’ fan, a Dolt.

This perspective is to me ridiculous. Who is qualified to determine what constitutes a “real fan”? One friend of mine went so far as to say, “There’s a special circle of Hell for those who sew together Colts and Broncos Manning jerseys.” While amusing, it's also what he actually believes.

Are sports really so absurd that the adoration we claim to possess is so fragile it can be undone by a contract dispute? I’m friends with a Packers’ fan who can’t even utter Brett Favre’s name without suffering a rage stroke.

Sports are wonderful for all kinds of reasons, entertainment chief among them, but for me the human element trumps everything else. I love the Colts, I always have and I always will, but like my friend and his hat, the memories are important too, and the players who helped form them are more valuable to me than the team for which they played. A controversial opinion perhaps, but one that I stand behind.

Peyton Manning is my football hero, and even though his uniform now might be navy blue, he’s still the same guy that gave me some of the most glorious days of my life, and I for one intend to bask in that reflection for as long as he’s playing in the NFL.

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao close to deal for fight

TJ Lang: Suh wanted to fight me after stepping on Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Hernandez jurors allowed to watch Super Bowl

Tiger misses cut: ‘I’m only doing this so I won’t get fined’

Roger Goodell grilled on Deflategate during presser

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Rex Ryan: Seahawks need to ‘take the air out of the football’

J.J. Watt buys cabin in the middle of nowhere to train

Six teams have done background work on Peterson

NBA set to earn $700M through streaming deal in China

Wade Phillips is the best coordinator hire this offseason

Bill Belichick gives understated scouting report of Tom Brady

President Obama zings Patriots over Deflate-gate

Each major conference's Player Of The Year candidates

Super Bowl XLIX preview and predictions: Patriots-Seahawks

49 Stops to Super Bowl XLIX

Most unexpected MLB free agent signings of past 10 years

Five most villainous Super Bowls of all time

Super Bowl ad focuses on acceptance of gay athletes

Foster says UT boosters paid him $40-50K while in college

Ranking the repeat Super Bowl champions

Eric Decker to Sherman: Time your conception a little better

Could Katy Perry and Russell Wilson be dating?

The Media isn't the villain we deserve, but it's the one we need

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Obama zings Pats over Deflate-gate

Each major conference's POY candidates

Super Bowl XLIX preview and predictions: Patriots vs. Seahawks

The 13 things we want to see in Super Bowl XLIX

49 Stops to Super Bowl XLIX

Tiger Woods, misses cut: ‘I’m only doing this so I won’t get fined’

Ranking the repeat SB champions

Roger Goodell grilled on Deflategate

Katy Perry, Russell Wilson dating?

Rex Ryan has advice for Seahawks

Super Bowl: Things you can't control

LeBron and the Cavs are ready to make a run

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.