"Cubs, woo! Cubs, woo! Cubs, woo!" This is the asthmatic cuckoo clock of a cheer that Ronnie Wickers wheezes every 17 seconds or so at every Chicago Cub home game, and it loosely translates, according to Wickers, as "Cubs, win!" His longest continuous woo-mentary lasted four hours, at which point he collapsed from heat prostration and had to be carried out of Wrigley Field on a stretcher. Wickers, an enigmatic street person who lives in a Cub uniform with RONNIE WOO WOO on the back, explains: "When you're a Cub fan, you're halfway to heaven. You see the blue skies and the white clouds, and there's nothing but Cubs. You don't worry about the strains of life. Wintertime here just ain't the same. It gets lonely. That's why the minute the season ends, I figure out how many hours I need to get to Opening Day. Every morning, I refigure. Just the thought that the Cubs are a day closer helps me get by."
There are a lot of crazy fans out there: the guys at PGA tournaments who scream "You the man!" just after Fred Couples strikes his tee shot; the anonymous New Orleans Saint partisans who used to bag their heads in shame; the stat freaks who can and always do tell you how many times Alfredo Griffin has flied to left center against Toledo-born middle relievers throwing 92 to 94 miles per hour.
It's hard to say what transforms a "normal" fan into an obsessive one. After all, a fan—short for fanatic—is not a rational thing to be. Particularly today. Sports have become so desentimentalized that it's hard to believe anyone can even root for the same team from one year to the next. Neither players nor owners seem to acknowledge the fans' loyalty, much less repay it. And yet every time you walk into a ballpark or flip on ESPN, there seem to be more and more superfans, megafans, überfans: fans who yell louder, dress louder, spend more, suffer more, exult more and even seem to care more. It's as if they are trying to make themselves essential to the sports they follow.
What follows here is a sort of peanut gallery of frenzied, fixated fanatics: an attorney who verbally prosecutes opponents of his basketball team; a couch potato who mashes her nose against the TV screen to speak with her football team; a tennis groupie who tosses out Porsches like party favors, on the theory that his largesse will ensure his immortality.
Why do they do it? A Freudian might say they're gaining a false sense of identity. Teams can give fans an illusion of prestige or belonging and make them feel that they're participating in something heroic. But maybe the fanatical attorney has the best answer. "When I'm in that basketball arena, sounding off, I see the body contact and the passion and feel like I'm one of the guys on the floor," he says. "That's me making those through-the-legs passes and gravity-defying leaps. How can I stand mute? I'm in the game."
The deep creases shooting up Robin Ficker's forehead make it look as if the sides of his head are being squeezed together by giant pliers. For the last hour he has ranted and writhed in his seat directly behind the visitors' bench at Madison Square Garden. And now, with Michael Jordan rallying the Chicago Bulls against the New York Knicks in the fourth game of the 1992 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, Ficker reaches into a duffel bag, pulls out an artichoke and screams, "Art thou going to choke, Hare Jordan?"
Jordan ignores him. Undaunted, Ficker brandishes a copy of The Jordan Rules, the 1991 book about the Bulls by Sam Smith, and bellows an unflattering passage about forward Horace Grant.
Grant ignores him. Undaunted, Ficker waves a rubber chicken. In an emotional, stentorian voice, he yells, "Scottie Pippen, this is your dinner!"
Pippen ignores him. Undaunted, Ficker lays into Bull coach Phil Jackson: "Jesse Jackson, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and Stonewall Jackson know more about basketball than you!"