The Pain of Sports Fandom

By Mark Nagi

I sit here on a Sunday morning, greatly saddened because of something that happened approximately 840 miles from Knoxville.

It happened on a sheet of ice in Sunrise, Florida, a place where I’ve never been, and might never go the rest of my life. It happened because of the actions of men on ice skates, most of whom I’ll probably never meet, have had a direct effect on my mood.

Oh, and I can barely skate myself.

I’m talking about the NHL playoffs, and Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. There’s a good chance that you weren’t paying attention, have no clue which teams were playing, nor the final result.

But if you are a sports fan… you feel my pain.

The New York Rangers lost to the Florida Panthers 2-1, falling in the series 4-2. This means that the Stanley Cup drought has hit 30 years.

The Rangers were the best team in the league this season, winning the President’s Trophy.

But the Florida Panthers… well, they were simply… better.

And now… it’s over.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been living and breathing the hockey playoffs, planning my nights and weekends around the games. The Rangers got off to a great start in the postseason, winning their first seven games, and knocking off the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes. They did just enough to make me believe that winning it all was possible.

Now? A few months of sorrow before the run to the 2025 Stanley Cup Final begins.

But why? Why should this matter so much?

I don’t know. It just does.

Tennessee fans… you feel my pain.

I’m writing this article while the Tennessee Volunteers baseball team is still fighting for a spot in the College World Series. The Vols are the number one overall seed in this year’s college baseball tournament and are favored to win the national championship for the first time in program history.

Two years ago, the Vols were also the top seed but were upset in the Super Regionals by Notre Dame. It’s a loss that still stings. Maybe this will be the year for UT.

Two months ago, it was the Tennessee’s men’s basketball team that advanced to the Elite 8 in the NCAA tournament for only the second time in program history. But a Regional Final loss to Purdue (and the officials yes, I’m still bitter) ended their season.

Tennessee remains the most successful program to never make it to the Final Four.

In football, Tennessee fans can rattle off the crushing losses like reciting their children’s names. The Jabar Gaffney “catch” in the Florida 2000 game. The SEC title game defeat to LSU that cost the Vols a spot in the 2001 Rose Bowl (a loss they’ve never really recovered from). The 2007 SEC title game loss to LSU in which they led in the 4th quarter. And more pain than any fan base should have to deal with from 2008 to 2021.

Yes, there are positive memories, like the 1985 Sugar Bowl, the 1998 BCS title, the 2016 Dobbsnail Boot win over Georgia and the 2022 win over Alabama. But there are too few of those good moments compared to the anguish, and that’s the price we pay for fandom.

Every fan base goes through good and bad times. Alabama has been terrific at football since 2007, but there were a lot of bad times before the Saban era. The New York Yankees have won 27 World Series, but nothing since 2009. The Montreal Canadiens have won 23 Stanley Cups, but winless since 1993.

Only bandwagon fans get to experience constant winning.

In 1994 the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup. That was the most fun I’ve ever had as a sports fan. I was 21, and not nearly as jaded.

I’m 51 now and hope to experience the good times again.

Maybe 2025 will be the year.

Let’s Go Rangers!