A big part of following a team is the ability to self-actualize, so the factors that shape your favorite team are always tied to your sense of identity. I grew up in a Rangers house. My dad had a shrine to Mark Messier in our basement, and had followed the team religiously since he first came to America in the 60s. I grew up just north of NYC, where my dad lived as a kid, so between geography and familial ties it felt automatic that I would follow the Rangers. But there was more to it.
The ability to identify with a team is fundamentally tribal. It’s a combination of all the different things that make you. It’s your family and hometown – your birthright – on one hand and your individuality on the other. The balance of all those different ideas is what causes someone to choose one team over the other, but more often than not the individual connects with the birthright. It’s about where and who you come from, but it’s also about what colors and players you can see yourself in.
The first time I saw a Ranger game, I was a little kid, the team was truly awful and I was afraid of crowds due to my Autism Spectrum Disorder. So let’s forget about that one. The second time I saw a Ranger game was a revelation. Watching them streak down the ice, I saw myself in them. Those red white and blues looked like the armor of some ancient civilization, those chants from the crowd like the rites of a long-forgotten tribe. It spoke to something deep, and as I look at the team, flowing down the ice in those jerseys, I thought those colors looked like my soul. It summed up something about me that I had never articulated before.
I’m not a sports player. I’m clumsy enough that the only game I could ever try with any competence was soccer. I can’t even skate. But my affinity for the New York Rangers is about something so deeply rooted in my essence that I couldn’t possibly contemplate rooting for any other team. The other teams playing the Rangers are the ultimate enemies of the tribe, the Amalekites that must be eviscerated at all costs. Their colors look ugly, their players look iniquitous and they are, at the heart of it, inaccessible simply because they are not me. Even when I’m watching two unrelated teams, I can’t see myself in it like with the Rangers.
Every time I watch a Ranger celebrate, every slow-motion replay and highlight, I’m watching something primal, and I’m fundamentally watching the person I envision myself as, the person I want to be. The past couple years have been exceptionally memorable on that front. Watching Kreider howling, Stepan leaping up and down, St. Louis’ heartfelt thanks to the crowd and countless other images that have stuck out, it’s all displays of a primitive, natural emotion that I want to be in touch with. And whatever players come and go, they’re always going to embody those feelings because of the tribal aura of the team. Messier’s maniacal laughter in ’94 belongs to a greater whole, playing out season to season, generation to generation.
Every team has a fundamental nature; whether they play well or not, every team has a certain style and each of its players will naturally reflect that. The Canadiens will always have that artful execution rooted in their rich history. The Devils will always play a tight, defensive game. The Coyotes will always suck. The Rangers will always be smart, fast and underperforming in the playoffs (nature of the beast, for sure). But in all of that, each team has a personality and people choose based on which one reminds them of themselves.
Let’s go Rangers.