Hey Tampa Bay Lightning fans, the 2015 NHL Playoffs are finally here! As exciting as that is for the fans whose teams are participating, it's sad for those who don't have an emotional stake in the matter. This happens every season in every sport where half or more of a league's teams fans are cast adrift and basically told that they no longer matter. No worries; sports fans are a hearty breed, many of whom aren't liable to let that stop them from enjoying the postseason. They'd rather temporarily adopt another team then sit around moping until the draft rolls around.
As soon as the season ends, good or bad, they're going back to their chosen teams, but for however long it lasts, they're offering to support your team like it was their own. That is classic, definitive bandwagon jumping and it's a perfectly okay thing to do. In fact, any kind of bandwagon jumping behavior should be accepted and welcomed by the die-hard fans of any given team.
The people who for whatever reason don't get out to many games, or any games at all, who suddenly paint their faces and put a couple of flags on their car can also be considered bandwagon fans and they should also be extended an open-arms greeting. The fact of the matter is sports is entertainment, it's not life. Lots of people have constraints, budgetary or otherwise, that limit their participation as fans. Some people simply can't offer a commitment beyond keeping a bobblehead on their desk or bumper sticker on their cars.
Let's face it, outside of the possible exception of the NFL's Green Bay Packers, nobody in sports has enough "die-hard" fans to sustain their existence, let alone to carry them to championships. Teams need the bandwagon fans and devote considerable resources to getting them to come out. They might not know that Tyler Johnson is not a wide receiver for the Buccaneers, how many P's are in "Filppula" or how to pronounce "Ondrej" but they're showing up to scream "Let's Go Lightning" at exactly the time when the more throats united in that effort, the better.
Try to think of the playoffs like it's an Amish community effort; these are your neighbors who heard the supper bell and are coming with tools and lemonade to help you build a barn or fend off some crooked cops (please note that my knowledge of Amish culture does not extend beyond having seen Witness and Kingpin). If they're a little ignorant of how things get done around here, take a minute to help them get up to speed and let them chip in.
"Now wait a minute", say the annoyed die-hards of the fan base. "With as much emotion and money as I've invested in this team since 1992, you expect me to just welcome any jamoke who buys a new t-shirt and let them sit right next to me, within kissing distance of my Chris Kontos tattoo?". Absolutely not. There is a group of newfound "fans" who deserve every venomous drop of your scorn and derision. Those people are the Frontrunners.
Frontrunners are vile, loathsome creatures who should be shunned and avoided under all circumstances. They're the worst kind of "fan", the ones who determine their allegiance based solely on a team's position at the top of the standings. If you're curious as to why you see so many fans of the NBA's Golden State Warriors these days, the answer is the same as to the question why you don't see as many fans of the Los Angeles Lakers as you used to. As if the fact that they have no concept of loyalty or commitment is reason enough to not trust them, there's also their inherently contradictory nature of being cherry-picking bottom feeders. By all means. do everything in your power to deny them a seat on the bandwagon.
Stated simply, while Bandwagon fans may not be around when times are tough, at least you know where you stand with them. A Frontunner can, and will, turn on you with no warning.
If you're still unsure which is which, clip and save this handy guide:
If they say, "We're Bruins fans, cheering for the Lightning for the duration of this postseason", they're jumping on the Bandwagon and we're fine with that! (photo by Bruce Fedyck, USA TODAY Sports Images)
If they say, "We're former Bruins fans, cheering for the Lightning until somebody better comes along", they're Frontrunners. Run way! Run away! (photo by Bruce Fedyck, USA TODAY Sports Images)
Ultimately, Bandwagon fans might require some extra patience and some special handling but their hearts are in the right place and ultimately, they're worth it. Meanwhile, we're not saying that you should shoot Frontrunners on sight, but that's something that probably wouldn't even get you convicted of an actual crime (please note that my knowledge of the law is even less extensive than my knowledge of Amish culture). And whether you're comfortably seated on the Lightning Bandwagon or under the bus pulling it, enjoy the playoffs!