Great Dates / The most dangerous game
Dating across divisions
Illustration by Josh Flanigan
In 2007, the Sabres met the New York Rangers in the second round of the NHL Playoffs—and it almost derailed the most important relationship in my life.
My girlfriend at the time, who would eventually become my wife, was a huge Rangers fan, while I am the kind of guy who owns a Vaclav Varada Sabres jersey. (You could say I’m a fan.)
Things were fine through a tight first period of game one, but in the second, the President’s-Trophy-winning Sabres opened it up and scored three unanswered. Every time a goal went in, I celebrated and she sulked. By the end of the game, a 5-2 Sabres win, I was jubilantly rubbing the victory in her face when she (rightly) stormed out of my apartment.
It took a few days and at a few apologies from me to repair the relationship. We decided to watch the rest of the series separately and things calmed down. As the years have progressed, we’ve learned to coexist as fans. We generally go to the Arena whenever the Rangers are in town and enjoy the game without disturbing our marital bliss. To be fair, they haven’t met in the playoffs since then, but for now our relationship is undisturbed.
But not everyone has figured out how to peacefully coexist across divisional rivalries. In this month of love, you may find yourself in a new relationship, and if that person doesn’t share your passion for your beloved teams, it can be a struggle. So here are a few tips and guidelines to keep things calm on the home front when things heat up on the field.
Don’t be that guy or girl
We’ve all had the experience of watching a game live or on TV when someone in the vicinity is ruining everyone else’s experience. Read the room. Singing and dancing to the “Shout” song after a touchdown is fine in section 312, but you might want to cool it if it’s just you and your Pats' fan girlfriend.
“You can’t be over the top,” says New England Patriots fan Jim Simonson. “You have to respect the other team and the rivalry and the other person. Love for one another supersedes sports rivalry.” Simonson knows, because he’s a Pats fan, and his wife, Maureen, is a Bills fan.
When you’re watching a game together, you have to realize that it’s time to temper your reactions a bit. I’m not saying you can’t celebrate a touchdown or a game-winning play, but you don’t need to clap and dance at every first down. Remember, it’s only a game.
Bond over the shared things
He may be a Leafs fan, which is a bummer when they play the Sabres, but this couple can at least agree that the Senators suck. Jim McClincy and Kari Fuller, who currently live in the Charlotte area with their two children, cross fandoms in multiple sports. She’s a Patriots, Bruins, and Red Sox fan, while Jim, who grew up in Western New York, loves the Bills, Sabres, and Indians.
“At one point, it was the main point of contention in our relationship, but we’ve calmed down over the years,” McClincy says. The couple had one of their first arguments over whether Fuller would be allowed to come to McClincy’s fan tailgate before a Bills game. As rocky as their sports relationship has been, they can come together on the hardwood where both are fans of the Syracuse Orange. A shared sports passion can be important, which brings me to my next point.
Adopt a second fandom
When your teams aren’t playing each other, it’s OK to root for the other person’s team.
“I never thought I’d be anything but a Rangers fan, but I can’t help rooting for the Sabres—when it doesn’t matter, of course,” says my wife, Danielle Ossher. “Plus, it makes the postseason that much more fun, especially when one of our teams doesn’t make it.”
In this age of ubiquitous highlights and online information, it’s easier than ever to follow any team. Why not grab hold of your significant other’s team?
Almost everyone agrees that its best to keep sports-related decor to a minimum around the house. Nobody should have to live with logos of a rival team plastered all over. But the Simonsons have found a creative way to decorate. They have a rug that features both the Bills and Patriots logos and says “A House Divided” on it. They bring it out for game days between the teams twice a year.
Respect is important on the field of play; it’s equally important if you’re going to make a sports rivalry work in a romantic relationship. Treat each other, and each other’s teams, with respect. Remember that sports are cyclical, and, just because your team is on top this time, it doesn’t mean it will stay that way.
With love as your guide, you can navigate the tricky waters of co-sports fandom safely.