When you’re a Cowboys fan in Redskins’ territory, life is tough. From the time that I fatefully chose the Tony Romo jersey off the sale rack at Dicks’ Sporting Goods as a young first grader, my Cowboys fandom has earned me boos and jeers any time I’m wearing Dallas gear or cheering for the Boys. It is hard enough rooting for a team that missed out on the playoffs three times in a row by a single game, that lost to Brett Favre’s Vikings 34-3 in a cruel NFC Divisional Playoff game, and, most infamously, was devastated when Dez Bryant’s goal line catch was ruled incomplete, one of the most heartbreaking and controversial calls of all time. But virtually any football fan that isn’t part of Cowboy nation cherishes insulting Cowboy fans, and over my ten years as a Cowboys enthusiast, I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.
Sometimes, as an escape route when a fellow football fan asks why in the world I’m a Cowboys fan, I attempt to right the apparent wrong by also pointing out that I’m a fan of the Baltimore Ravens, one of the local teams. But double fandom, as I call it, has sometimes drawn even harsher responses than being a Cowboys fan and for good reason- nobody that I know, outside of elementary school-aged boys, follows multiple NFL teams and proclaims both as their favorite. To an outsider, double fandom seems like the NFL equivalent of polygamy. How can someone call themselves a fan of multiple teams and actually care and root for both of them?
For the ten years that I’ve been a football fan, I’m living proof that double fandom can be pulled off. I’m a diehard Cowboys and Ravens fan, and when one of those teams loses, I die equally as hard. Sure, sometimes I’m more excited about Baltimore (Super Bowl XLVII was a great memory) or I am more revved up about Dallas, but when it comes to my favorite, I just can’t pick a side.
Even before I was a football fan, football wasn’t far away from me. At the young age of three months old, I attended my first Super Bowl party (for the record, the nearby Ravens routed the Giants in the game). I recollect as a five year old decorating the house with Pittsburgh black and gold and Seattle gray for the first Super Bowl party at my house, though we didn’t watch any football.
It wasn’t until first grade that I started paying attention to football, when the hometown team, the Redskins, went on a miraculous run to the playoffs thanks to strong play by a career backup quarterback in Todd Collins. Though Washington lost in the first round to Seattle, I followed as the underdog New York Giants starting stringing upsets together and reached the Super Bowl. To my amazement, the Giants finished the Cinderella season with a victory that I never saw coming- a monumental defeat of the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. From then on, I was hooked.
After those epic playoffs, I couldn’t get enough of the NFL. One fateful day, I visited the local Dicks’ sporting goods store to purchase an NFL jersey and ultimately choose my favorite team. The choice came down to four jerseys and their four teams- a Tom Brady Patriots uniform, a Vince Young Titans (I still get shivers thinking about if I had gone with the Young jersey), an Ed Reed Ravens, and a Tony Romo Cowboys. After narrowing it down to between the white Reed jersey and the navy blue Romo, I chose the Romo jersey, based purely on the uniform design. On that day, I gained a new favorite team, and with it, a legion of enemies. That was the last time that I chose between the Cowboys and Ravens.
A couple months later, I wanted to bring my fandom further and join the Cowboys’ kids club. Due to the proximity of Dallas from Washington, my mom told me to look for a kids’ club for a team that was closer. The Redskins, my first choice, didn’t have a club, so I next looked up Pittsburgh, home of the Steelers. They did have one, and I was close to signing up until I checked the website of their archrival, Baltimore. I chose the Ravens kids’ club and officially became both a Cowboys and Ravens fan.
Over the years, I’ve had plenty of memories rooting for both teams, including some of the best moments of my childhood. In the first year in the Ravens’ kids’ club, I attended the Baltimore training camp at McDaniel College. During autograph time, I took advantage of a great seat- the kids’ club section right next to the end zone. None other than Ray Lewis, the Super Bowl MVP and superstar linebacker, came up to me and gave me a playful head rub. I also met my favorite player on the team, safety Ed Reed, and got his signature. I don’t have either now, but the memories established a connection between me and the team from the Charm City.
My favorite Cowboys’ memory came a year later, when my parents sent me one of the biggest shocks of my life- a visit to the newly built Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium) during our cross-country road trip. My family took a tour around the massive complex, visiting the press box, the owner’s suite, locker room, and, best of all, touching the turf field. Rooting for a team halfway across the country doesn’t lend itself to many opportunities to see the team, so my visit to Arlington was a rare and special memory.
Back to double fandom. Critics say (or I’d imagine that critics say) that it can’t be done because it would divide the rooting interests of an individual between multiple parties. But because the Cowboys and Ravens are in different conferences, they only play each other once every four years. Double fandom is like rooting for your favorite team twice, but with different outcomes. When one team loses, the other can still save my Sunday, and two victorious teams starts my week off on a high note. Of course, when both teams lose, it stinks, but the Ravens and Cowboys have been good enough recently (with the exception of last year) to make this a rarity.
Double fandom works for me, but it is rare for a reason and it isn’t made for everybody. To actually cheer for multiple teams requires four conditions to be met.
One, and most importantly, it requires a connection to not one but two teams. Most NFL fans pledge their allegiance to their hometown team and the proximity serves as the connection. I based my teams off different factors, so my choice wasn’t only limited to one team. The connections to the two teams were built by years and years of memories, both in person and in front of the TV.
Two, the teams have to be somewhat relevant. The Ravens made the playoffs each year and are the poster boy for stability, and while the Cowboys haven’t had the same degree of postseason success, they’re in the mix every year. If the Cowboys or Ravens were always 4-12 and at the top of the draft (looking at you, Browns), I’d give up and go to one team as my favorite.
Three, the connections need viable fan bases to survive. The Cowboys have a gigantic fan following, so rooting for Dallas gave me a common thread with a lot of other people and a sense of Cowboy pride. As a newer team, the Ravens’ fans aren’t at that level and probably won’t be, but Baltimore is close enough that there are plenty in the area. Cheering for Jacksonville or Tennessee would leave me on an island, far apart from any other football fans.
Four, the individual needs to know their football. I’m not talking X’s and O’s and X-Wing Double-Y Banana-type stuff, but they need to have been around the game long enough to invest in two teams and be interested in both.
Nine years ago, lightning struck four times and a phenomenon was born- the double fandom fan. Entering my tenth year watching football, not much has changed- I’m still avidly pulling for the both Dallas and Baltimore to have strong seasons. Double fandom is possible, just as being a Cowboys fan in Washington, D.C. is possible. Now, if only the Ravens-Cowboys game this year could end in a tie…