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Dan Bickley

Another rough Valley sports weekend requires deeper look at fanbase

Arizona Cardinals fans cheer outside State Farm Stadium as teams arrive prior to an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Misery loves company. And that’s a big problem in Arizona, where you’ll find plenty of pathos while cheering for Valley sports teams, a region with one major professional championship in over 125 seasons combined.

But you won’t find a lot of company, especially when things go wrong.

After a big loss in Arizona, casual fans and transplants are the first to flee the scene. There is very little communal suffering because there is very little risk involved. We do not bond over failure in this state. We are only here for the rewards, and only if cocktails are being served.

I realize this every time a reader/listener tells me to be patient, calm down or chill out. Or that I’m being too hard on Deandre Ayton or Andy Isabella. I get all sorts of advice from fans who don’t know a thing about high standards or long-time suffering.

This is one of our blind spots, one of the worst parts of our collective sporting mindset. We are a market that takes a lot and gives very little in return. We embrace the spectacular gifts this state offers its residents, from weather to sunsets to majestic mountains in the distance. We invest very little of our soul in return.

We carry too much nostalgia, clinging to the cities we left behind. Too many claim to be cheering for Arizona teams when, deep down inside, they are feeling nothing at all. Too many guiltlessly ask the bartender to change the television channel to the Twins, Blackhawks or Yankees.

As a result, we’ve grown into a vacuous, big-event, celeb-obsessed party town. It’s not a coincidence that our most popular events are Cactus League games and the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where the focus is on alcohol and people-watching.

This is not our fault. We’re stuck in a terrible cycle. We are a state full of transplants who have little incentive to change deep-rooted fandom or our affinity for hometown teams. Not when we are perennially underwhelmed, depressed and disappointed by Arizona’s professional sports franchises.

And it gets worse:

All local institutions — the Suns, Diamondbacks, Coyotes and Cardinals — have gone through prolonged periods of wretchedness and incompetence. We have been repressed, shamed and unfairly represented by our collection of misguided, miserly owners. The market is full of apologists who serve the teams instead of holding them accountable. And every time a local franchise fails spectacularly, it empowers everyone with an affinity for elsewhere.

Every time an Arizona team flops on the big stage, it is confirmation for all transplants who want to believe there is no place like home.

That’s why Kyler Murray’s postgame performance after a 34-31 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday is so intriguing.

Murray was beyond frustration. He could barely answer benign questions without lengthy, dramatic pauses. He was trying to prove a point; call someone out; attempting to raise the standards around here; or sickened by all the losing he’s done in Arizona, where he’s now 10-13-1.

Either way, I applaud Murray’s attitude after the game almost as much as I do his MVP-like performance on the field. I am the company to his misery.

Because we will never improve as a Big League sports town until we all put our hearts on the line. Until we all feel like Murray did on Sunday. Until we become one team and one city, far more than just a colorful tapestry of mixed allegiances.

Finally, just maybe, we have the quarterback to make that happen.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier