I was recently back home in Chicago and came across an old family friend. We grew up in the 1970s together, and within a few minutes of seeing each other for the first time in over a decade, he asked, "Are you still a fan of those pathetic Dallas Cowboys?" A smile and an emphatic "YES!" was my prompt reply.
During my grade school years my favorite athlete was Tony Dorsett. This was considered blasphemy as Chicago had adopted the late Walter Payton, known as "Sweetness," as their own son. At the age of 6, I can vividly recall the day when Dorsett set a school record at Pitt Stadium vs. Notre Dame, rushing for 303 yards. That total still stands today as the most yardage that the Irish have ever allowed to on the ground to one player.
I just remember how fast Dorsett was with the breakaway speed. Many will automatically jump several years later to the Minneapolis Metrodome and Monday Night Football when Dorsett busted off a 99-yard touchdown run from the goal line vs. the Minnesota Vikings. I fell in love with the speed and his amazing vision.
When, in the spring of '77, the Dallas Cowboys selected Dorsett with the 2nd overall pick (from Seattle), my fandom of the Cowboys was solidified for life. By the way, in that trade the Seattle Seahawks wound up with a no-name guard by the name of Steve August from Tulsa. Fast forward to that '77 season when, as a rookie, Dorsett blazed a trail and helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XII over the Denver Broncos.
I remember thinking "Wow, before it's all over he'll have five rings!" As it turned out, that rookie year would be the only time Dorsett won a title, and it would also be the last Super Bowl that Tom Landry ever won despite coaching for 11 additional seasons.
Of course being a fan also means you have to endure the tough losses. The Dwight Clark catch in 1982 was haunting. (With under a minute to play in the NFC Championship Game against the Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana threw a high pass that was snagged in the back of the end zone by Clark, who caught it with his fingertips.)
The 44-0 loss to my hometown Chicago Bears in the '85 season at Texas Stadium was embarrassing and of course the 34-31 heartbreak loss to the Green Bay Packers in January will probably take me a decade to get over.
Sometimes, you remember the losses and the games you "should have won" rather than the games you did win. Sometimes, you become simply blind in your desire to have players develop. I was the guy 15 years ago who thought Quincy Carter could play — that's pretty sad.
However, from Emmitt Smith breaking the rushing record to glorious traditions like watching the Cowboys every Thanksgiving Day since 1978, I've been with America's Team, and I'll be with them through all of eternity.
Ask yourself "Why are you a fan?" Is it simply civic pride? I adopted the Houston Astros upon relocating here several years ago. I love the stadium and the way that Reid Ryan and management have gone about building a championship-caliber team with a core of young, hungry players. Sometimes you pull for certain stars, or a young player who excites. It could be Springer or Correa, or as I was hooked in by Dorsett some 40 years ago.
Do you adopt teams because of your older siblings or relatives? Do you simply become a fan to spite your parents? (I've known many to do that.)
One thing's for sure: The best season on the sports calendar is upon us. Football is the air, with baseball's post-season not far behind. Whoever you root for, enjoy another amazing fall as a fan and never forget how your own personal fandom began with a player, team, or love affair with a city.
Craig Larson Jr. is program director of SB Nation Radio Network.