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Growing up in Canada, my NFL fandom experience has always been a bit of an odd one. Like many fans, my father dictated my earliest sports affiliation and was quick to let me know we were Pittsburgh Steelers fans. I grew to genuinely love the team as the Steel Curtain mentality was representative of many of the values we cherished: toughness, grit, loyalty and excellence. I’m also a sucker for the Black and Gold uniforms. However, as I grew older and had no geographical attachment to the Steelers, and as I delved more and more into fantasy football, I found myself actively rooting for other franchises to succeed. The Steelers are still my favorite team, but I developed closet fandoms for other teams around the league. Today, I want to share and revel in some of those secret fandoms.

Minnesota Vikings – One of my earliest memories of enjoying NFL football was randomly tuning in to a Minnesota Vikings game while visiting one of my dad’s friends and watching Randy Moss casually dismantle the Dallas Cowboys. It was during his electric 1998 rookie season and Moss quickly became one of my favorite players, in spite of my pledged allegiance to my father’s (and now my) favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. As I grew older and learned the history of the game, one of my favorite all-time quarterbacks to watch tape on was Fran Tarkenton. Before the advent of mobile quarterbacks, Fran Tarkenton was an absolute jitterbug who often made defensive linemen look silly as they tried to rope him in. He was just fun to watch. The true spirit of the Vikings, however, is encapsulated by the Purple People Eaters. The vaunted defensive line of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s terrorized opposing offenses and led the team to 10 division titles in 11 years, including 4 NFC Championships leading to Super Bowl appearances. Minnesota is also known to be one of the States that is the most similar to Canada, which is where I’m from. So whether it’s their historically fun offense, the vaunted Purple People Eaters or that they’re similar to us Canucks, the Minnesota Vikings are always a team I root for.

Cleveland Browns – There was a time that the Cleveland Browns stood atop the NFL as a sterling organization known for winning championships. The days of Paul Brown, Jim Brown and Otto Graham seem like a hazy memory only bounded about by aged grandfathers who have survived since the Industrial Revolution. Nowadays, the Cleveland Browns are viewed more as a punching bag. An organization run with such laughable ineptitude that it was famously tagged as a “Factory of Sadness”. As a Steelers fan, I have always viewed the Cleveland Browns as a little brother team. Like so many of their beleaguered fans, I rooted for Johnny Football and Baker Mayfield, only for them to crash and burn like the myriad quarterbacks that have played for this seemingly doomed franchise. Joe Flacco provided a hilarious bright spot in this year of two thousand and twenty three, but even he could not lift the Browns past the Wildcard round of the NFL playoffs. Unfortunately, with their fates now tied to Deshaun Watson, the Browns may continue to be a bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to NFL playoff success, but I’ll secretly always be rooting for them.

Detroit Lions – Barry Sanders is perhaps among the most unanimously loved players to have ever graced an NFL field. His electric and improvisational style made Barry a beloved figure not only in Detroit, but to NFL fans all over the world. This love often permeates football fans, as I find rooting for the Detroit Lions to be an almost universally shared experience this season. Yes, there are always outliers, but I can’t help people who hate fun. That’s what the Detroit Lions have always been to me; a true, fun, underdog squad of blue collar, lunchpail types, often fighting for relevance as much as glory. However, under the leadership of kneecap biting former tight end, Dan Campbell, the Detroit Lions have surpassed expectations and now stand on the brink of a Super Bowl berth for the first time in team history. I think damn near every single person outside of San Francisco (and perhaps within it) will be rooting for them to make it to the big dance.

New York Jets – I could talk about the historicity of Joe Namath, or the defensive prowess of Darelle Revis and now Sauce Gardner, but there is only one man that could make me root for the New York Jets. There are many fugazees in this modern world of media personalities, but there are still some true gems left amongst the rabble. A diamond in the rough, the man with many nicknames, Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, is a brave and handsome soul who, in spite of years of ineptitude bordering on desperation, has remained steadfast in his love and loyalty of Gang Green. Yes, I am of course talking about the host of Around the NFL, Dan Hanzus. The Old Zeusser has been one of my favorite podcast hosts since I first discovered the Around the NFL gang, featuring fellow hosts Gregg Rosenthal, Marc Sessler and dearly departed but never forgotten, Chris Wesseling. Although I love each of the hosts in their own way, Dan has always struck a chord with me. Perhaps it’s because he’s the son of a coal miner or that his Upper East Coast background is able to identify with my weather patterns in Canada. Whatever the case may be, I have always felt a kinship unto him, and so, affectionately, have adopted rooting for his woebegone New York Jets. This one’s for Dan!

Arizona Cardinals – Similarly to the previous entry, I have also begun to have a passing interest and fandom for the Arizona Cardinals. The Fantasy Footballers are stalwarts in our industry and have served as inspirations to me as a comedy content creator. I have enjoyed their show and their journey since their early days. Moreso, I especially enjoy their general comedy podcast, The Spitballers, which I always recommend to anyone and everyone. When the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl 43, there was a small part of me that was sad for Larry Fitzgerald, who nearly crushed my soul on a 75 yard post to the house only a few plays before. So whether it’s the Footballers, Fitzgerald or just that I really dig their alternate black uniforms, the Cardinals are a team I have fun secretly rooting for. Besides – there’s great movie references to be made with Rod Tidwell and Jerry Maguire. SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!!

Like anything in sports, the best part of the NFL is the community. In this era, bringing us together has become more important than ever, even if it’s over something as silly as a game. So whether it’s because of friend, a family member, an idol or even just because of some other offbrand, whacky reason, expose your secret fandoms and let those freak flags fly!

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