Review Fix chats with “Maybe Next Year: Long-Suffering Sports Fans and the Teams That Never Deliver” author Greg Pearson, who discusses the creative process behind it and what he’s up to next.
About the Book:
Sports fans are a devoted bunch, win or lose. Millions sit in the wind and the cold, watching their team slip ever further from the playoffs—only to come back for more next year. What is it that keeps them going?
This book, published just before the Cubs ended the longest active drought in pro sports, features more than 100 loyal followers of 23 teams who explain their reasons for never giving up. They tell stories of devotion and determination: the Toronto Maple Leafs fans who got married, on the ice, before a game; the Sacramento Kings supporters who fought to keep their team from leaving town; and the fans of Mississippi State football with their never-say-die cowbells. For these fans, optimism outweighs disappointment.
About Greg Pearson:
Greg Pearson is a writer and editor who has spent his career in newspapers. He lives in Perry Hall, Maryland.
Review Fix: What inspired this book?
Greg Pearson: I started following baseball in 1961 when I was six, and I quickly latched on to other sports. Right from the start I was a passionate fan, especially for the teams I cared about the most as a young kid in Connecticut – the Boston Red Sox and UConn basketball. There were many years of frustrating Red Sox moments – 1978 and Game 6 of the 1986 World Series come to mind. Because of tough losses like that, I developed empathy for fans of losing teams, and perhaps even more empathy for fans of good teams that were never quite good enough. I started to think about that question that haunts many fans – why do I keep rooting for a team that finds new ways to break my heart? I wanted to ask other fans how they would answer that question.
Another inspiration for me was my late father. He was a sports fan, but he never had a strong rooting interest in a particular team, at least not before my brother and I started following the Red Sox. He was the kind of fan who always rooted for the underdog.
Review Fix: What was the research process like?
Pearson: I set some parameters for the teams I would write about. I focused on teams that hadn’t won a championship in 40 years or more, figuring that would cover a couple of generations. I limited the teams to ones that had been in the same city for all or most of that time, figuring that would have helped build a passionate fan base in that city.
The first step I took with each team was to research its history – great moments, bad losses, good seasons, terrible seasons. That work was time-consuming but also relatively easy. For some teams I had a good sense of the major moments. The Internet made it easy to fill in the gaps and to find details about certain seasons or specific games.
Tracking down fans was a mixed bag. I couldn’t travel to every city, so I had to find fans by searching the Internet or calling people I knew in a particular city. In some cases I found information online about team fan clubs. For some teams, I started with a person who was a reporter and/or blogger who followed the team. Often, they would recommend other fans that I should contact. Sometimes it was a struggle to find enough fans, but in most cases I was able to come up with enough good interviews without too much of a struggle. The chapter I did on Northwestern basketball was a prime example. Every person I talked to named someone else I needed to interview. (At the time of the book, the Northwestern basketball team had never qualified for the NCAA tournament, a streak that ended a few years later.)
The cities that I was able to travel to were a breeze. Those stops included interviewing Milwaukee Brewers fans standing in line on the first day that single-game tickets went on sale. (It was a frigid February morn), visiting a Philadelphia bar/restaurant during an Eagles game, attending a Cleveland Browns Backers game-day get-together in Towson, Maryland.
One thing is certain. Fans love to talk about their teams. Some had funny stories. Many relived the agony of painful losses. Others shared poignant tales about watching a game with a late parent.
Review Fix: What did you learn that you weren’t expecting?
Pearson: There are plenty of teams and fans that have gone through a lot of heartache. Teams like the Red Sox and Chicago Cubs have received lots of media attention for their long droughts without a championship. But fans of many other teams have lived equally painful existences, even if the drought hasn’t lasted 108 years, as was the case with the Cubs. Take a team like the Texas Rangers. Within a six-year period (2010-15), they lost two World Series, including one they probably should have won, they suffered a miserable September collapse and they had a heartbreaking loss in the American League Division Series. That’s a lot of pain in half a decade. Then, of course, there are the Buffalo Bills. Four straight Super Bowls. Four straight Super Bowl losses. That’s putting your fans to the test.
Review Fix: Did anything shock you?
Pearson: I really was struck by the fans’ optimism. There were a few touches of bitterness, but most fans spoke hopefully of the day their team was going to win it all. It was joyful.
I also was impressed at the recollection of many fans. They talked about games from 25 years ago in detail. I would do the research to make sure they were remembering correctly, and in most cases they were.
Review Fix: How did this change your appreciation for the sports you covered and their fans?
Pearson: I had written “Fenway Fanatics” (2013, Surry Cottage Books), a book with a similar theme that was about Red Sox fans. As with “Maybe Next Year,” there was a great sense of optimism. It helped me appreciate the joy of sports more. Since interviewing fans for both books, I’ve tried to appreciate the games for what they are and not get so wrapped up in the outcome. Of course, I’ve been lucky to see the Red Sox win four championships, something my father’s generation wouldn’t have dreamed was possible. Winning at least one title does help ease the pain a bit.
Review Fix: Any teams just barely miss the cut?
Pearson: The Washington Capitals. Before winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, the Caps could match any team in any sport for playoff pain. I saved the Capitals for the last chapter I was going to write, and I simply ran out of time. There were plenty of other teams I could have included – the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cleveland Indians – but I worried that if I had too many chapters, some of the stories and quotes would get repetitive.
One oddity about the book. It’s proven to be a bit of a good luck charm. The Chicago Cubs had gone 108 years without a championship and then went and won one five days after my book came out in October 2016. Since then, three other teams I wrote about – the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Astros – have won titles, and the Northwestern basketball team finally qualified for its first NCAA tournament.
In the preface, I mentioned that by the time you read this book, a team may have broken its long dry spell. I didn’t expect so many of them to be champions so quickly!
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy this book the most?
Pearson: I think it’s a book for any sports fan. Even teams that are successful suffer some painful losses. Look at the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers. They broke through this year, but there were plenty of painful playoff moments leading up to their World Series title.
While we celebrate champions and dynasties, most sports fans do like seeing the underdog win at least every now and then.
Review Fix: How would you like the book to be remembered?
Pearson: For the joy we all get out of sports. A common theme I heard was this: When my team wins it all, it will be worth having suffered through all the painful losses.
The book also is a tribute to loyalty and devotion. As Matt Verderame told me in reference to his Kansas City Chiefs, “They can’t do anything to shake us.” I think most sports fans feel that way about their team.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Pearson: No immediate plans. I’ve been doing a little writing here and there. Here’s a piece about sportsmanship I wrote last year for The Hartford Courant:
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Pearson: I think the pandemic has been a good time for many folks to turn to books. I’m in the midst of re-reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s marvelous “Wait Till Next Year,” about her youthful days as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.