I have always loved sports. From a young age I was enamored, which is interesting in retrospect since my Dad didn’t play any sports consistently. He never made me feel obligated to root for a team he liked. I grew into my love with some help from the unique geography of my childhood home, some influence of my older brother, and lastly the sports heavy weights of the mid-90’s.
What resulted was a assortment of team allegiances that has provided endless shit talking and eye rolls from people when they hear the full list of the teams I like. In college I resorted to a pre-rehearsed bit justifying and explaining my teams to skeptical fellow beer pong players. We rehashed every sports topic known to man for countless hours, but despite my efforts to convince my friends, who are mostly All Maryland-based sports fans, my practiced speech rarely did anything except convince them that I deserved every single ounce of shit talking that they were throwing and planned to throw at me in the future.
I grew up in Garrett County, Maryland. A portion of western Maryland with so few people that it makes more sense to describe the whole county as my home rather than my actual hometown, Grantsville, MD (population: 750). Garrett County is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains along the furthest reaches of the Maryland panhandle. It is the reddest county that consistently votes counter to the decidedly blue regions of the rest of the state. It is rural and mountainous; a stark contrast I would come to find from urban sprawl of the 95 corridor. It is a mostly forgotten part of the state. My hometown is 45 minutes east of Morgantown, WV, 5 minutes from the Pennsylvania border, and roughly 2 hours from Pittsburgh (Closer than Baltimore, DC, etc).
As a result of this unique geographical position, we’re a bit of a Frankenstein when it comes to sports allegiance. If you have ever watched local Maryland news channels during any type of weather event, you will notice a small map of Maryland superimposed on the top right of the screen, which flashes the outline of certain counties involved in the storm or what have you. What’s interesting about this little map is that it is incomplete. The state’s thin panhandle ends prematurely at Washington County (two counties over from Garrett). This is because Garrett County and our neighbor Allegany fall under the broadcasting umbrella of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Guess what that means. Yup, no Maryland sports. None. No Ravens, no Redskins, no Orioles, no Nationals, no Capitals, no Wizards. Add this little difference to the laundry list of things that set us apart from the rest of the Old Line State.
And so what are we left with? Pittsburgh sports. All of them. Garrett County is a sea of Black & Gold. It’s Steeler country. I had seen dozens of Pirates games as a child before I even got the chance to see an Orioles game. Penguins flags stick up proudly from cars all along I-68 and Route 219 throughout the county. Capitals fans were not a welcome sight. The same goes for Ravens fans. The Steelers were the one true overlords of my homeland and to say anything else was a fools errand.
My county is a Pittsburgh sports county, but for one exception. College sports. Garrett County bleeds yellow and blue. West Virginia University (likely because of the number of folks who attend the school and eventually settle across the border in Maryland) is the predominate choice of sports fans. Prior to WVU’s move to the Big 12, they had a long storied rivalry with Pittsburgh University. The Backyard Brawl was legendary. Despite the proximity of all their professional teams located in one city, our fans hated the biggest college in Pittsburgh and were loyal to their fiercest rivals, the Mountaineers. As I said, we’re a strange bunch. Where I fall into this situation is analogous to how Garrett County compares to the rest of the state. I don’t quite fit in all the way.
My house wasn’t a sports house. I got my fandom from outside sources. My best friend in elementary school was a Steelers fan from birth. He gave me my first trading card (Neil O’Donnell Topps card) and our friendship was built on the mutual love of the Steelers and the game of football. We played at recess calling out button hooks and slants from Kordell Stewart to Hines Ward and Yancy Thigpen.
As much as I liked football. Basketball is my love. I started playing as a second grader in my elementary school gym. My parents built me and my brother a hoop and paved part of the driveway so we could play all the time. I ate that shit up. My brother was a fan of Shaq and the Orlando Magic. He would doodle Shaq and Penny Hardaway all over his notebooks. I liked big Diesel, too, but I was captured and enthralled with Michael Jordan. I looked up his stats in the library, wrote down the years he’d won championships and the scores of the all the games on the inside of my school binders. In 1998 I begged my mom to buy me this Bull six-peat. I wish for the life of me I still had it.
But then, Jordan retired. My little 9 year old brain had no way of comprehending what had happened. My favorite player was gone. I didn’t know how to deal. Thankfully, my older brother came in the clutch. His favorite player, Shaq, signed with the Lakers as a free agent. The Beast of the East became the Best of the West, and Collen’s allegiance followed him to the City of Angels. So did mine. Within three years the Lakers were the best team in the league and I was just as, if not more, enamored with Kobe Bryant as I had been for those few short years with Jordan. I had never even really heard of the Wizards/Bullets, but I thought the name was cool. Strike one for Brooks for being a bandwagon Lakers fan.
Baseball growing up wasn’t something I really cared about. I went to a lot of Pirates games, but they were mostly a trip to the big city and not because I loved the team. Plus, let’s face it, they fucking sucked. I went for the Dip n Dots. It was dope. The person who did love baseball was my Uncle Bruce. He was raised in New Jersey and a die hard, lifetime Yankees fan. I had no chance. The Pirates sucked, the Orioles weren’t on TV, and the Nationals were still playing in Olympic Stadium. Uncle Bruce converted me without even really meaning to, and I was welcomed into the fold just in time to acquaint myself with a team who would win 4 championships in 5 years from 1996-2000. Derek Jeter played the game the way it was supposed to be played and was a rare unblemished figure in the age of HGH. The dude was a role model unlike any other. Side note: Jeter was my favorite player for sure, but you’re lying if you didn’t fucking love McGuire and Sosa crushing 70+ homers each in 1998. That was all flash for sure, but I was more dazzled by the hardware. Those late 90s Yankees teams were unbelievable: Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Joe fucking Girardi. I know now that those teams were really easy to hate, but at the time as a 8, 9, 10 year old, they were the easiest thing to love. I could stay up until midnight on school nights in October. I remember Bob Costas’ call on that iconic Jeter running backhand across his body throw to beat the Braves. That stuff was magical.
Little did I know that my Yankees love was a resounding Strike Two, but it most definitely was. It culminated in the spring of 2004 when the Yankees traded one of my favorite players Alfonso Soriano for third baseman and noted douchebag Alex Rodriguez. I hated it. At the time he was one of the biggest assholes in the sport, but there was nothing I could do. After the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, with the help of A-Roid, my love for the team diminished incredibly. Derek Jeter had been the main reason I had loved those Yankees teams of yore, and he was in the twilight of his career. Once he retired I had no real connection to the team. I don’t own any Yankees gear and I would never openly admit that I like the team. I live in Baltimore now and I would probably call myself a baseball agnostic.
My uncle wasn’t finished with me quite yet either (pause). Not only was he a dyed in the wool Yankee-lover, but he was a graduate of the prestigious school and producer of some of of the finest douchebags in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University. He graduated in 1976 and brought back with him a rabid fandom for Blue Devil basketball that few others possess. If being a Yankee fan is pledging your allegiance to the evil empire then being a fan of Duke basketball in the 90s was like promising your first born child to the devil himself. Everyone hated Duke basketball, but I had no idea. Little Brooks liked counting down the imaginary shot clock in the driveway and hit (hopefully) Kobe Bryant-like fadeaway jumpers at the buzzer.
Once I caught wind of Duke basketball I fell for them hard. This is not a proud period of my life to look back on. I was swindled and duped. I demanded that my youth soccer team be named the Blue Devils, but was rebuked by the devoutly Mennonite coach. My youth basketball team was the Blue Devils two years in a row. Going into middle school was probably the first time I realized that I didn’t have the same sports allegiance as some kids. All of my friends it turned out were MARYLAND fans, ya know because we live in MARYLAND. They were Terps fans who lived and died with Gary Williams’ teams. I was over here with my Blue Devils hat rooting on hotdog head Shane Battier, Elton Brand, and Alaskan Assassin Trajan fucking Langdon. I have to admit something that few people know. I was rooting for Duke in 2001. The Miracle Minute? I was a Duke fan for that. I was in a basement with all of my other little 12 year old friends and while they were crying that their team had blown a 10 point lead in 60 seconds I was happy. I was a little asshole. But soon after that scene I began to realize that I liked Duke for literally one reason and that was they were good when I discovered what basketball was. Still that is most definitely, and decidedly a Strike 3. Thanks Uncle Bruce.
As I grew up and began to think about where to go for college there was only one option. Maryland. It made the most sense for a million reasons. But it was a legitimate concern that my past of being a Dookie would haunt me. My friends whom I had been at odds with over the Duke-Maryland rivalry for years would never leave me alone about my love of the Durham Dbags. Something had to give.