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To be a fan of a losing team, for a lifetime

Rooting for a perennial loser like the New York Islanders is preparation for all the other losses that life can bring.

My father is the biggest loser I know. He has defined much of his life by what he has lost — his marriage, old flames, occasionally his license, and countless sports bets.

To avoid any confusion, he is a textbook narcissist with a gambling addiction and an aversion to authority. Still, my mother married him despite dramatic protests from her sisters and the getaway cars they had parked outside during the ceremony. Almost immediately after they had said, ‘I do,’ my father crippled my mother with credit card debt.

Some hall of fame bills include him blowing $40,000 in one night at a casino on their honeymoon. Or when he lost $20,000 betting on the horse races during a spontaneous weekend trip to Saratoga. All this is to say there’s never been room in our relationship to dance around what an unequivocal deadbeat he is — constantly on the run, in the figurative and literal sense, from the three usual culprits: love, sports, and child support.

New York Islanders fans prior to the game against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Growing up, I rarely saw him, and when I did, I was his best accomplice. In high school, I’d hear the brakes of his Toyota 4runner ricochet from a mile away. Pulling up, a seatbelt never in sight, he’d be mid-puff of a Robusto cigar, arm hanging out the permanently half-down window, his hair glinting the color of shoe polish — so dark if you ran your fingers through, you’d expect there to be a stain. Inside the car, once pleather seats sigh apart at the seams, the back seat overflowing with crusty cassette tapes, all associated with specific heartbreaks that I could retell as if they were my own, fishing poles, and a stolen New York Jets windbreaker circa the 1980s. It wouldn’t take long before my father would affectionately tousle my hair, his eyebrows raised in a devilish thought,

“So how ’bout them Jets?” he’d say with a Cheshire-Cat-wide smile and temporary triumph. His teeth stained yellow from years of cigarettes and chipped from Budweiser caps.

“Alright, let’s not get crazy. It’s a long season,” I’d say, knowing where this was heading.

“You never know; this could be their year. They’re putting the pieces together,” he’d reply, his eyes already glazing over.

He’d then spiral into betting percentages, player profiles, game replays, and upcoming draft picks. He would talk to me as if I had known all these facts already, as if I was there, in the know. Of course, after many years of this routine, of me in the passenger seat absorbing it all, I could argue I was.

In honoring the popular insult my mother would use when I was a misbehaving teen, the classic “You’re just like your father” began gaining traction. I could be pretty aloof. My mind constantly elsewhere. I was a budding poet writing redemption arcs and comeback stories wherever I went.

I was also a four-season athlete who loved to talk about sports, especially hockey. During high school, my mother and aunts were convinced I was secretly a bookie for the way sports statistics and predictions rolled off my tongue. My aunt, when hearing me ramble about a comeback win from the Islanders, enjoyed reminding me that I was not, in fact, on the team or the coach. She’d then interrogate me, asking if I were starting a sportsbook, paranoid as ever. Sometimes, I’d delay my response just to mess with her.

During college, friends would look to me for my storytelling skills, adding emphasis and tension in retelling wild shenanigans. They’d refer to me as the female Stu Feiner for how I narrated hockey games and suggested sports betting strategies, hand-me-downs from my father. The basics consisted of understanding the home team always has the advantage, avoiding parlays, and keeping your emotions out of wagering. The last, the trickiest part.

Unsurprisingly, my father could never follow his own advice. He bets $100 on the New York Jets yearly to win the Superbowl. Most New York sports fans understand the low odds of winning this bet and would save their money. It’s also important to know that New York sports fans are an incredibly intense and passionate group falling into two categories. The first is elitists, recalling championship after championship: New York Giants, New York Rangers, and New York Yankees fans. Then there are the masochistic, sorrowful suckers: New York Jets, New York Islanders, and New York Mets fans. Both hopeless romantics, my father and I fall into the latter.

Rooting for these underdog teams, specifically the New York Islanders, is a lot like being in a toxic relationship. Perhaps, when they reach out, you answer because the sex was “just that good,” or “because you still love them,” or simply, “for the plot.” Deep down, you know your curiosity-killed-the-cat-backed decisions are not the most sustainable. To think of the New York Islanders as a toxic ex meant I had chosen to avoid all the red flags, season after season. This also meant no matter how disappointing the Islanders’ performance was last season, I still had immense stamina for romanticizing their future.

islanders john tavares

UNIONDALE, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 16: Fans celebrate a first period goal by Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders against the Philadelphia Flyers during a preseason game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on September 16, 2018 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

My love affair with the New York Islanders began when I was 10, old enough to enunciate curse words in a thick Long Island accent to hurl at refs. My mother and I attended almost every game from  2010-2014, when tickets were dirt cheap and every win was an albatross. Nonetheless, Nassau Coliseum, the historic, broken-down, but charming arena where the Islanders played, became like home.

From the outside, the Coliseum is far from any Roman reference and looks more like a prison swarmed by parking lots. Compared to other flashy, state-of-the-art NHL arenas, the place was an absolute dump: pipes bursting from time to time, the floors frosted with dried grease, and the boards so beat up that the puck’s bounce was unpredictable. When you entered the Coliseum, the smell of cigarettes, beer, and nacho cheese immediately crept into your sinuses. Looking back, I had no trouble rooting for a losing team or blending into the masculine throngs of heckling beer-bellied fans, sans the beer belly.

Ten years later, with many years shaved off my life, I still have a propensity for loss and hope. I shamelessly carry on as a poet. I have a deep love for my deadbeat father. I remain a diehard Islanders fan — hurling insults at refs, pacing during games, and converting friends into hockey fans. In recent years, the Islanders have performed well, making exciting playoff runs while retaining their mercurial signature. And despite the constant tribulations with this insufferable team, I still watch every game, recognizing the unexpected joy they have brought to my life.

Similarly, my father has put together his own string of winning streaks, such as attempting to be accountable for his actions and be present in my life. Of course, our relationship still has its signature unreliableness and is centered around our Achilles heels: nostalgia, love, and sports.

When I think of my dedication as an Islanders fan, I think about how my father led me to pick up the sadistic love of disappointment as well. Beneath that, there’s also the sadistic desire for what’s just. Rooting for the underdogs is usually a symptom of being sick of the same team winning and the desire for every team to have an equal chance at beating the odds. Thus, I accept the realities of both these losing teams and continue searching for triumph in unexpected places and people, season after season.

Denise T. Jones

Denise T. Jones is a passionate sports enthusiast with a knack for capturing the electrifying essence of the sporting world. As a dedicated sports news writer for AccessTV.co, Denise brings her unparalleled love for sports and her adept storytelling skills to deliver captivating and insightful content to readers worldwide. With a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of various sports disciplines, Denise ensures that her articles provide comprehensive coverage of the latest events, matches, and developments in the sports realm. Whether it's the thrill of the game-winning goal, the drama of a nail-biting finish, or the heartwarming stories of triumph against all odds, Denise encapsulates it all with eloquence and precision. Denise's journey in sports journalism has been marked by her unwavering commitment to accuracy, integrity, and excellence. Her ability to blend statistical analysis with compelling narratives sets her apart as a trusted voice in the industry. From the adrenaline-pumping action on the field to the strategic maneuvers off it, Denise brings every aspect of the sporting world to life through her writing. With a finger on the pulse of the sports scene, Denise T. Jones continues to inspire and inform readers with her dynamic and engaging sports coverage on AccessTV.co.

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