FanSided Fan of the Year Finalists
The Green Bay Packers are a way of life in Wisconsin. You wouldn’t understand.
Perhaps Vince Lombardi put it best, in his now-legendary quote in front of the team: “There are three things that are important to every man in this locker room. His God, his family, and the Green Bay Packers. In that order.”
Little did Lombardi know that decades from that very moment, his ideals would transcend that locker room. In Wisconsin, the Packers ARE family. The sense of community in Green Bay on a Packers football Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday these days) for a singular cause can’t be replicated anywhere else in the country. Nick Schabel is sure of it.
“I think that’s just Lambeau Field. There’s that sense of community, everyone’s got the grill out. Just pull up on someone’s lawn, pay them ten bucks, and get some food. It’s like everybody’s family….You get to Lambeau, it’s just this different feel, like it’s history itself,” Schabel said in an interview with FanSided.
Schabel’s witnessed all too many of these moments in person, most of which he’s experienced with friends and family. It’s how it should be, and what’s most important to the man himself.
“Our family’s (Packers fandom) goes back generations. At least to the 1940s,” Schabel said. “It bonds us.”
Schabel’s the first to admit that he and his dad don’t get along on every subject, but the connection they have over the Packers is, in part, the glue that keeps their relationship strong. We’re talking Reggie White strong.
But things weren’t always so simple. Schabel was a brief holdout from Packers fandom as a kid, rebelling against the norm like so many of us do. Of course, that wouldn’t last long, especially with No. 4 under center.
“I think it was my dad…he always subtly pushed me towards it, took me to preseason games,” Schabel said. “Finally, ya know, you get to watch Brett Favre up here, and that’ll change your mind quick.”
From Favre to Aaron Rodgers, Schabel’s Packers fandom has only grown with time. And he’s the first to admit the role Rodgers has had on that, despite Favre essentially introducing him to the team he loves. Schabel isn’t necessarily a member of the old guard of fans, but he has respect for the past — the history that the likes of Lombardi and Bart Starr imparted on Green Bay to make them the most storied franchise in the NFL, and likely American sports as a whole. But, even he knows there’s no sense in denying it. Rodgers is the best Packer ever.
Heck, Schabel’s seen No. 12’s heroics in person. It’s a sublime, out-of-body experience, yet perhaps Rodgers’ greatest regular season on-field accomplishment is one he nearly missed altogether. We’re of course referring to the 2018 Week 1 comeback win against Chicago, in which Rodgers was injured by halftime.
“My friend wanted to beat the traffic. I told him ‘no, man. If they score right here we’re staying,'” Schabel recalled. “I can’t explain it, really. We thought Rodgers might be out for the season, and he trotted out at halftime. I thought we had to stick around the see this…You don’t pass that up because you want to beat the traffic.”
Such a win coming against the Bears makes it far greater. In fact, even the word “Bears” sends Schabel on a tangent. Because he lives in Madison — home to so many Chicagoans, and therefore Bears fans — Schabel embodies the rivalry every day in his blue-collar workplace. Beating that team from the Windy City not only delivers a sense of pride but very real evidence that his town is still Packers’ turf, despite a few misfits.
“It’s that thrill of playing your rivals but also the anxiety that if you lose you’re gonna catch all that crap from Bears fans,” Schabel said. “Being in Madison…it’s a very diverse town (for NFL fandom). Remember, it’s the oldest rivalry in the NFL for a reason.”
99 years old, to be exact.
Just as Packers fandom has been passed down in Schabel’s family through generations, he wishes to do the same, perhaps through different means. Schabel made a deal with his girlfriend, stating if the couple had a son born on the 17th of any month, they’d name him ‘Davante’ after wide receiver Davante Adams, who wears No. 17.
“I wore her down a little bit. She was like ‘no, no, no’ so I replied with ‘Well, how about this?'” Schabel said. “She sighed, so we’ll take it. I honestly think it’s a nice name.”
We’ll see if that remains the case when the couple is actually expecting.
One way or another, the Schabel name will remain synonymous with Packers, like so many others in Wisconsin. Yet, despite the continuity of football fans in Green Bay, one ‘Packer Backer’ stands out among the rest.
Being a fan of the hometown team is easy … but keeping that fandom alive hundreds of miles away is a task only the true fan can master. That’s exactly what Dave Easby did with his beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Easby’s fandom began when the team arrived in Toronto way back in 1977. Easby’s decision to latch on to the new team was an easy decision as he was living in the area.
“We lived in Toronto at the time,” he told FanSided. “As a kid, I was more a Tigers fan because we didn’t have a Canadian team. So when the Blue Jays came into the league in 1977 I was living in Toronto, so I guess that’s the natural thing. And then I got to go to the first game.”
Not many fans can say they were at the first game their team played, but he can. Easby’s fandom grew from there. Unfortunately, life took him away from the Toronto area and he was no longer close enough to watch the team in person regularly. That didn’t mean his fandom dwindled. He just found unique ways to stay in the loop.
“I remember in 1992, which was like the first time they made it to the World Series,” he said. “We were living in New Brunswick and we had a little cabin that was off-grid. It was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. It was my wife and I and another couple who always got together for Thanksgiving. And I remember watching Roberto Alomar hit the home run to tie the game, and the four of us were crowded around a 10-and-a-half inch battery-operated TV because that’s all we can watch.”
It wasn’t just watching on TV for Easby. He made a few trips to Toronto every year to see his team play in person. In order to make the long trek feasible, he planned vacations and work trips around the Blue Jays schedule. He also made trips to his closest ballpark whenever the Blue Jays were in town. Now that he’s retired he’s enjoyed attending the Blue Jays Spring Training year after year and even has a condo in the area where he and his friends get together to enjoy Spring baseball.
“When I was working I did a lot of traveling for my job,” he said. “I was lucky enough a lot of that travel was either to Toronto or through Toronto so I would plan, as much as I could, around the ballgame. And here we lived in New Brunswick. We’re about six hours away from Boston so we’ll go down to Fenway Park and watch a game at least once a year.”
This season, Easby, like many other MLB fans, was unable to attend any in-person games. So when the team announced the cardboard cutout he knew it would be a no-brainer to purchase one.
“Of course I was gonna get it,” he laughed. “When we first suspended Spring Training, we actually already had Spring Training tickets. So I had my money that I got back with Spring Training to spring on the cutout.”
Being a fan of a team you aren’t physically close to can be trying, even for the biggest fan, but when the team is struggling on the field that fandom can waver. For Easby, it never did. Even when the team struggled the hardest.
“Went to a lot of games and back in 1977 and 1978. We lived in Toronto in Toronto, and they were a pretty awful team. I still went to a lot of games,” he said.
His fandom of the Blue Jays even spilled into another passion in his life … writing. Easby is a published author, having two books hit the shelves. One, a collection of short stories titled, Mystery Monkeys and Unstable Discs features a story “Mrs. Champlin’s Dream” which was inspired by a woman Esby met at the Blue Jays practice complex who had traveled to watch her grandson, Kramer Champlin, try out for the team. The story was eventually published a second time by Dunedin Blue Jays Booster Magazine.
To say that Esby is a fan of the Blue Jays is probably an understatement. The team has woven its way through every aspect of his life and will continue to do so, pandemic or no pandemic.
Dr. Arlene Hartman has been a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and at 82 years young, that means an awful lot.
Hartman, who grew up in Pittsburgh, went to her first Steelers game at the age of seven. While she doesn’t remember a lot from that game, she does know she asked a ton of questions to learn more about the game.
“I probably drove them crazy!” she said. “But I was so excited just to be with the two guys.”
From then on, Hartman would attend games with her father or grandfather as often as they could afford it until she was 18. As she became a high school math teacher, she began taking her brother to games as often as she could in 1960.
The Steelers were mostly bad or mediocre at the time, but the 1970s brought change, both for Hartman’s career and her favorite football team. She relocated to New Jersey for her first principal job around that time, and that’s when the Steelers developed into a dynasty, winning four Super Bowls in the decade.
From being a “poor winner” surrounded by New York Giants and Jets fans at her new school to watching the “Immaculate Reception” on rerun because she and her husband were driving back to Pittsburgh for the holidays at the time (“I was devastated to not be able to see it in person!”), Dr. Hartman believes those teams — with “Mean” Joe Greene, her favorite Steeler ever — were the best in franchise history. That was when she realized how special her fandom had become.
“I think we root for the guys, win or lose and go to the mat for them literally or figuratively speaking, agonize through every play, and root for every player to do his best,” she said. “We love the game, and so we love the team that represents the city we came from originally. And I think, from the 1970s, when the NFL really started to get to be a little more big-time, they were THE team. They just modeled what you would want a team to be.”
Her fandom hasn’t fallen off since the glory years, however. She loved every second of the two Super Bowls Pittsburgh won in the 2000s, led by her second-favorite Steeler, Troy Polamalu. Even now at 82, Hartman still waves her prized Terrible Towel on game days and remains a diehard “Yinzer.” She’ll even kick her leg up like T.J. Watt, her current favorite Steeler, whenever he gets a sack — or she’ll try to, at least.
“At 82, you can’t get your leg up as high as he can,” she said with a laugh.
Her husband, Walter, bought her a Terrible Towel the year after it came out as a Christmas gift. He’s always supported her fanaticism … and he also gets a kick out of it.
“He says I definitely define the word ‘fanatic’ when we’re watching the games on TV,” Hartman said. “He jokingly tells the neighbors to board up their windows and calls the local hotels to see if they have any vacant rooms so he can get away for a while. He just chuckles at my fanaticism.”
Hartman’s avid fandom hardly takes him by surprise anymore after all these years; in the Steelers’ first Super Bowl, he chuckled at how his wife cussed at every yard the Minnesota Vikings gained and jumped out of her chair at every positive play for Pittsburgh. In the Steelers’ final season with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, before everything fell apart for those two in a way that “devastated” her, Hartman said her husband just laughed at how she “invented some new four-letter words” when her team ultimately came up short.
Over the years, Dr. Hartman retired from public school as a superintendent of schools, then spent 10 years running a private school before retiring for good at the age of 70. But even after a lifetime of hard work in the education field, Hartman remains energized for game day every week.
She’s also extremely knowledgeable about her team — and proud of it.
“I got a chuckle when Cris Collinsworth was doing the Pittsburgh game and he was so surprised that those Pittsburgh ladies knew so much about football,” she said with a laugh. “I said to myself, ‘If he only knew!’”
Ask Hartman about this year’s Steelers team and she’ll happily tell you all about the disappointing ground game, how great the defense has been doing, which players have lost a step, and how “all the drops [from wide receivers] are killing me.” Even so, she maintains a belief that her 11-1 team can win it all this year.
“In spite of weaknesses, I believe we can get the seventh this year and will wave my Terrible Towel every game watching it evolve,” she said.
Win or lose, in Pittsburgh or New Jersey, Dr. Hartman is the definition of a lifelong fan. And for a fanbase that’s as dedicated and wide-spread as the Steelers, that’s saying something.
“I think Steeler fans are the best fans, and I don’t know if it’s sort of a blue-collar mentality of just being determined about it, but we travel well, and wherever you go, when we’re playing, you can see those towels in the stadium,” she said. “I just feel good to be part of what I think is as important a group as you will find over the decades of pro football.”
Michael Covil is getting the most out of his small-school college experience down in the Big South.
Since 2017, Covil has attended dozens of Winthrop University athletics events. Whether the Winthrop Eagles are playing on the basketball hardwood, the baseball diamond or the soccer pitch, there is a great chance you will see him waving his one-of-a-kind English National Team-inspired flag, cheering loudly for his school, home or away.
“Yeah I get a lot of compliments with the flag, and I started bringing the flag everywhere,” said Covil to FanSided. “What I first started doing, and I’m going to go back a little further is, I wanted to visit every single school in the conference before I graduated, and well, if I’m going to do that, I’m going to need to get a picture every time I go to a new arena.”
“Originally, I started off with a scarf, but then my roommate showed me this Chinese wholesale site where you can get custom flags for five or six bucks. I put the design together myself and ordered it and it showed up here. I tried to mimic the English national flag with the St. George’s Cross with a Winthrop spin on it.”
“I’ve had the flag since probably my sophomore year. So I’ve taken it to probably all but three or four away games.”
After being accepted into Winthrop University to his days currently as a student, Covil has attended 25 away games across all sports in four different states. While he prefers to have his friends on his soccer supporters group venture with him on these road games, Covil is not afraid to make the trek alone if his next adventure for his Winthrop fandom calls for it.
“Last year, we played in Orangeburg against South Carolina State. It was the middle of the week. I didn’t have to skip any classes, but I got out of class, drove about 2.5 hours to Orangeburg and I was the only Winthrop fan in the stands.”
“Somebody snapped a picture of standing on top of the bleachers, waving the flag. It was beating on a drum, making a bunch of noise and I got a ton of messages from players, coaches and stuff after the game thanking me. There weren’t many home fans there either. There might have been five or six people in the stands, but it was the appreciation everybody got for it.”
This was an epic tale, but perhaps his greatest story was going to see a night game at East Tennessee State in Johnson City mid-week. With a small, quickly packed bag, half a Subway sandwich, a 2001 Honda Civic on its last legs and the spontaneity of a 20-something, to quote Old Crow Medicine Show, “he’s a heading west from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City, Tennessee.”
“I went to our away game at East Tennessee State last year in Johnson City, which is about three or four hours away from Winthrop’s campus. That was a Thursday night game. So I actually skipped my late history class and got in the car in just enough time to make it up there.”
“Made it in right at tip-off, due to parking and stuff, but other than that, it was pretty smooth. I was driving a 2001 Honda Civic at the time and it almost broke down on me by myself on my way coming back down the mountain.”
“So I was coming back from ETSU and I was somewhere between Johnson City and Asheville. My car started making that weird noise and I was like, ‘Man, just get me back to civilization. If you’re going to break down on me, at least be in Asheville.’”
“Deciding to drive up to Johnson City on a whim on a 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon for a 7 o’clock tip-off when all your friends are in class and you can’t get anybody to go with you was not exactly the smartest decision, but I definitely enjoyed it. ETSU is one of the best places. The fans are great and it is an awesome atmosphere. It was a great game, too.”
“Yeah, I had thought about it on and off all week. Because this was coming off a win over the No. 18 team in the country. We had just beat St. Mary’s about a week prior. We were really riding high at that point.”
“Like, I was standing in line to get my lunch at Subway at around 1 o’clock on campus and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna go.’ Grabbed my food. Ate half of it on the way up there. Packed up a quick bag, hit the road and made it just in time for tip-off. . .Easily the most spontaneous trip, easily. Ever since then, I’ve tried to plan it out. At least a day or two ahead of time.”
Despite having months’ worth of Winthrop road game adventures canceled due to COVID-19, Covil has tried to make the best of it by running Winthrop Live‘s Twitter and Instagram pages. It is a great way for him to stay connected to his school’s teams without being able to go watch an Eagles game in person for the time being.
When asked why he should be FanSided’s Fan of the Year for 2020, Covil said you should ask his friends and the people who know him best. “As far as Winthrop goes, I’m literally at everything. I’m at every home game. As far as last sports calendar year goes, I only missed one home game for all sports all season and that’s because I was out of town for the holidays.”
Good luck finding a student as passionate about his college teams as Covil is for Winthrop.
So much of fandom can be traced back to geography. For kids of a certain age, growing up a football fan in Los Angeles meant growing up as a USC fan. That’s how it was for Dennis Jackson, who grew up idolizing legends like Ronnie Lott and Marcus Allen, dreaming that he’d one day have his ‘Rudy‘ moment (albeit with that Notre Dame color scheme swapped out for the Trojans’ cardinal and gold).
That dream of becoming a Trojan didn’t work out the way he expected, Jackson’s own football playing career topped out in Division III college football. A tryout with the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League didn’t work out and his playing career was over.
But even when it was clear that it wouldn’t happen for him, Dennis held onto that dream, nurturing it for the next generation. His son, Drake, was born on April 12, 2001, and Jackson joked that if the hospital had let him fill out the birth certificate when his son was born, he would have filled in “Drake Jackson from the University of Southern California, starting linebacker.”
Dennis raised his son in a USC house, taking him to games and tailgating at the Coliseum, passing down his passion for the Trojans. As Drake became a promising freshman talent in high school, scholarship offers began to come in — Utah, Utah State, BYU. But nothing from the Trojans. And then, as a sophomore, Drake showed out in an enormous game against national powerhouse IMG Academy. A few weeks later, USC coaches visited him at school to formally offer a scholarship.
But, for all the family legacy, Drake wasn’t positive that USC was going to be right for him. He was scheduled to appear on the Fox Sports West signing day show but the night before he hadn’t made up his mind yet. The show producers had him tape two segments — one signing with USC and one signing with Arizona State University. He was supposed to call before 10 a.m. the next morning to let them know which segment to air.
That morning Drake told Dennis that his decision was Arizona State and as he sat down to watch the show, he was expecting his son to commit to the Sun Devils. But when the broadcast aired and Drake showed his shirt, it was USC. He’d had a last-minute change of heart.
Dennis was there for his first game and the experience of seeing his son on the field, in that USC uniform was powerful.
“When he walked out of the tunnel,” said Dennis, “the tears just went to work. And some guy was asking me, ‘yo, are you all right bro?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, that’s my son right there.’ It was a dream come true for me to see him walk out of that tunnel, or to even go up to the school and see his picture on the wall, it’s so crazy it brings tears to my eyes.”
Drake is now a star sophomore on the defensive line, building an impressive resume. He became the first freshman to start on the defensive line since 2007, leading the team in sacks and tackles for a loss. USC has only played four games to date this season because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but Drake, after moving to linebacker, has racked up three tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed things for Dennis. He’d never missed a single one of his son’s games, at any level, until this season. Now he’s watching Drake on television every week, making plays and carving out his own legacy for the team Dennis loves so much.