Superfans take live sports to the extreme
April, 17, 2012
By Thomas Neumann | ESPN.com
ESPN.com IllustrationSuperfans log countless miles to experience live sports in every conceivable setting known to man.When does fandom become obsession?
Is it when you can recite Dwight Howard's career bests in every statistical category from memory ... yet haven't memorized your Social Security number?
Is it when you attend both ends of a day-night doubleheader ... then go home to watch the replay?
Is it when you wear a hockey sweater to a wedding ... your own wedding?
Or is it when you've visited every North American sports venue in the four major sports and keep going back for more?
Most fans know where to draw the line between the sports world and the real world. They have other interests that compete for their spare time. They enjoy watching a game on television as much as going to the stadium.
A few of us aren't like that. Healthy balance? No, thank you.
We have to be there.
We don't care if it's a stunningly sloppy game between the Bears and Panthers. We don't care if Todd Collins throws four interceptions filling in for the concussed Jay Cutler, while Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen combine for three picks on the other side of the ball. We don't care if the best healthy quarterback in the stadium is former Oklahoma State and Texas Southern signal-caller Bobby Reid, who's seated next to us in Section 120.
We don't care, because the Bears are the last team among the 122 franchises in the four major sports we had yet to see in person.
We keep track of stuff like that. Because we are the few, the proud, the obsessive -- the superfans.
O'Reilly runs the scoreboard for Seton Hall men's basketball and occasionally runs the clock for the New Jersey Nets.
But baseball is his passion. He's attended nearly 1,200 professional baseball games in more than 350 ballparks. He works in Hoboken, N.J., less than 1,000 feet from the place where the first baseball game is thought to have been contested. He completed the MLB ballparks cycle in 1997, three years after the players strike derailed him.
“I would’ve done it in ’94 except I got struck out," O'Reilly said. "Instead of a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday with Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego, I wound up with Lake Elsinore, Rancho Cucamonga and Riverside.”
Courtesy of Charlie O'ReillyCharlie O'Reilly attends his 1,000th professional baseball game in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2009.
He traveled three times to Elizabethton, Tenn., before he could check the Appalachian League park there off his list. The first time was a rainout. The second time was under clear skies -- but the ground was soaked from a previous storm and considered unplayable. Undeterred, he drove 10 miles to Johnson City, Tenn., and saw a 12-inning game after volunteering to sing the national anthem when team didn’t have anyone else.
He obviously knew the words.
“I want to see games in as many parks as possible all over the country, and who knows, maybe someday around the world. The idea of seeing all these games is really a byproduct of wanting to see all the ballparks.”
O'Reilly said going to games never gets old for him "because you never know what you’re going to see at the ballpark." His most memorable day as a fan came on Sept. 4, 1993, when he was planning to attend a game at Yankee Stadium, followed by a trip to see an International League game at Scranton Wilkes-Barre that night.
Of course, it was raining.
So he sat in his car in a parking lot in Fort Lee, N.J., not far from the foot of the George Washington Bridge, listening to the radio and trying to decide what to do. Yankees broadcaster John Sterling ultimately made the call for him, informing listeners that the tarp was being removed and game would start on time.
It turned out to be the best decision he's ever made as a fan, as he saw Jim Abbott throw a no-hitter against the Indians. It's the only major league no-hitter he's seen in person.
Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell
These friends from the Buffalo area each attend about 100 pro sports games per year and fervently support their hometown Sabres, Bills and minor league Bisons baseball club.
They've received international media attention for completing what they dubbed as the Ultimate Sports Road Trip -- attending a home game of each of the 122 franchises in the four major sports. When a team relocates or opens a new venue, they visit as soon as possible to keep their credentials intact.
The most memorable game they attended was, unfortunately for them, a devastating playoff loss by the Bills on Jan. 8, 2000, in Tennessee.
"It was what we call the Illegal Forward Lateral but everybody else seems to call the Music City Miracle," Kulyk said. "Of course, the [replay] went 'zip' right down [off the scoreboard], like Ceausescu turning off the state television during the revolution.
Andrew KulykPeter Farrell and Andrew Kulyk try to stay warm at a minor league game in Rochester, N.Y., last week.
“Nashville is a great place to visit ... but we just wanted to get the hell out of there.”
Kulyk and Farrell traveled to England to watch the 49ers play the Broncos in 2010 and stuck around to attend Premier League games, where they were interested to see visiting fans seated together in specific sections for safety and legal betting in stadium concourses.
Back in October, they traveled to Europe to watch the Sabres. After seeing the season opener in Finland, they followed the team to Germany, where they also experienced a taste of the Bundesliga.
Of course, great stories come with that much travel.
On April 9, 2000, Kulyk and Farrell headed north to see the Bisons play a day game in Ottawa, with plans to watch the NHL's Senators that night. Along the drive, they realized that the Bisons game wasn't likely to be played because of temperatures in the 30s. So they decided to detour about 150 miles to see the Montreal Expos play a 1 p.m. game indoors at Olympic Stadium.
"One problem: We didn’t realize at the time we would have to drive through a raging two-foot blizzard to get there," Farrell said. "You know how it is when you’re driving in that weather -- white-knuckle driving, cars all over the side of the road and you’re driving 30 mph down the expressway?"
After arriving about an hour late, they got to see half the game. Then it was off to Ottawa.
"Same blizzard driving," Farrell said. "I vividly remember trying to get off at an exit to get to Ottawa, and the only way we knew that we were on the road was the fact that there were lightposts on the side of the road leading you from one highway to the other. We would’ve never even known where the road was. ... About 20 miles outside of Ottawa, the weather finally broke, and we got to the Corel Centre in time for the second period."
Hague visited every MLB stadium before he was 25.
Hague went to lots of games with his family as a kid, ultimately trekking around the country with his father from their home base in Pittsburgh over a 10-year period. He dabbled in sports photography and eventually turned it into a career. These days, he has season tickets to the Steelers and partial plans for the Penguins and Pirates. Hague enjoys conversing with other fans on the road, and aside from Pittsburgh, he chooses Chicago as the best sports town in America.
Courtesy of David Hague David Hague takes in one of many, many games at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, home of his beloved Pirates.
He went to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla., to watch the Steelers beat the Cardinals, and he saw the Penguins beat the Red Wings in Game 3 of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals. He was in San Diego to see Barry Bonds hit career home run No. 755, tying Hank Aaron atop the all-time list, on Aug. 4, 2007. But none of those qualifies as his favorite sports moment.
"It's Opening Day every year for the Pirates, because the Pirates are my favorite team – even though a lot of people find that hard to believe," said the 27-year-old Hague. "You better believe the day the Pirates make the playoffs, I’ll be the happiest guy in Pittsburgh.”
Hague needs to visit Target Field in Minneapolis and the sparkling new Marlins Park in Miami to once again complete his checklist. Get to work!
Ables is an octogenarian, but his heart never left college.
He's a fanatical supporter of the football team at his alma mater, San Diego State, dating to his days as a writer at the school newspaper in the 1940s. He's attended 718 Aztecs football games -- home and road, of course -- including the past 548. He's also witnessed more than 1,000 San Diego State basketball games.
“I just happen to be an old-fashioned, traditional loyalist," Ables said. "I figure they’re my team win or lose, but I’m there to try and support them. I hate to lose ... but you don’t back away just because they lose. It might be corny to say, but if you stay through the bad [seasons], then the good ones are all the better.”
Courtesy of Ables familyTom Ables hangs with SDSU's Aztec Warrior at the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl in December 2011.
Former Aztecs coach Brady Hoke asked Ables to speak to the team after a December practice two seasons ago, and the Aztecs subsequently won their first bowl game since 1969.
“A lot of people ask, ‘What does your family think?’" Ables said. "It’s always been a family deal. My wife has gone to [440 games] and still goes to all the home games. My son [Ken] has been to [348 games]."
Ables has traveled as far as Japan to root for the Aztecs, having attended a game against Air Force billed as the 1981 Mirage Bowl in Tokyo.
“It was really fun, because the game was played in Olympic Stadium," Ables said. "One of our players was chosen to run up and light the torch. They had about 80,000 people, and they didn’t have a clue about football. So they had Japanese cheerleaders who told [fans] when to cheer.”
Setterberg's sports loyalties are spread all across the country.
He grew up in Arizona, where he used to attend Phoenix Firebirds minor league baseball games and Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey games -- before the area became home to MLB and the NHL.
But his family is from Minnesota, which means he was raised to love the Vikings, the Twins and, especially, hockey.
Courtesy of Michael SetterbergMichael Setterberg gets ready for a Premier League soccer match at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England.
“Hockey is my favorite sport," Setterberg said. “Once I saw it live, that was it for me. I wanted to go to as many games as I could.”
He and his family had season tickets to the Coyotes for 12 years, and he served as a mascot for the now-defunct Phoenix Cobras roller hockey team.
Setterberg counts the 1994 World Cup final, in which Brazil beat Italy on penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl, and the Hockey World Cup in Toronto in 2004 as his favorite sports moments.
“Being a big hockey fan, I’ve always had a secret love for Canada," Setterberg said. "I got to put on a Team Canada sweater and be Canadian for a night.”
He will also always remember going Minnesota and seeing the Vikings beat the Chargers in 2007, when Adrian Peterson set an NFL record with 296 rushing yards.
“We actually stayed in the same hotel as the Chargers team, and we rode the elevator down with [then-defensive coordinator] Ron Rivera before the game," Setterberg said. "We actually didn’t have high hopes for the game, so we told him to take it easy on us.”
Setterberg now lives in New Jersey, where he has season tickets to the New York Red Bulls of MLS.
Michael Casiano and Gary Herman
Finally, we come to the unquestioned royalty of superfans.
The two New Yorkers hold season tickets to most of the teams in the New York-New Jersey area. Attending two games in a day isn't uncommon, and they trade their tickets when game schedules conflict.
Herman estimates he's seen more than 7,000 pro and college sporting events. Casiano pegs his figure at about 12,000, tallying hundreds of games per year back to the 1970s.
The numbers are staggering, but they have game logs and scorebooks to bolster their claims. They try to see between 350 and 400 games per year, primarily in the Northeast, and have no intention of slowing down.
Courtesy of Gary Herman Michael Casiano and Gary Herman soak up the Citi Field atmosphere at the Mets home opener in 2011.
"My goal back in the early 1980s was to see how many venues in each sport as possible," Herman said. "I wanted to get to the best ones first. Then in 1985, I met [Casiano] as well as a number of other sports junkies who traveled all over to see live sporting events. ... I've achieved my goal and then some. Once I finally got to all the venues in the four major sports, the leagues expanded and new venues replaced the older ones. So it gave me reason to see many places and new venues."
Casiano said he never gets bored of travel or going to games, and he's perfectly content to take in the action from the upper deck. “I’d be priced out if I wanted to sit in a good seat," he said. "That’s for sure.”
Casiano's favorite venue, past or present, is Wrigley Field, with Camden Yards also ranking highly on his list.
“I love Camden Yards. First game ever there, I couldn’t get a ticket. So I climbed over a fence," Casiano said. "Since 1990, that is the only game I don’t have a ticket stub for.”
Casiano and Herman point to Games 6 and 7 of the 1986 World Series, when the Mets enjoyed a comeback for the ages against the Red Sox, as the most memorable games they have attended.
To Herman, there are inherent advantages to enjoying sports in person instead of on television or radio.
"I can draw my own opinion of what I'm watching as to listening to an announcer who's going to tell me what he wants me to believe, especially on the radio," Herman said. "Another reason is there's always the potential to see history. If I stay home and something special happens on that particular day or night, I would have a hard time living with myself."