For me it's been a mixed bag. I've been the road fan a few places since I got out of college, and at this point in my life I think I'm just about done with it.
Think about it. When you step into a stadium 99% of the people there are rooting for the home team and wearing that team's colors. If you are wearing the colors of the other team you stick out like a sore thumb. The home fans automatically tab you as different, as an outsider, and as people are wont to do they act accordingly - and it can be very, very unpretty.
That's not an indictment of sports fans in general - most of them are very nice and understanding that the team one cheers for is a personal choice that should be properly respected, but as with all things it only takes a few jackasses to ruin the whole thing.
I remember back when I was a student at the University of Oregon I went to a game at Autzen Stadium against Washington State. As a student I was in the student section, but inexplicably a couple Washington State fans were a couple rows behind my friends and I. I personally don't think Autzen is overly hospitable to visiting fans anyway, but to come sit in the student section? Predictably they had to deal with a bunch of crap from drunken students and by halftime they had left, perhaps to find a place to sit that wasn't as unwelcoming.
That has been something that has always made an impression on me for some reason. For one, why would you put yourself in that position? Sure, you want to cheer your team, but at the same time - in my mind - you can't complain when you know what you are walking into. Again, that's not condoning the behavior - it's instead an understanding of the setting and knowing a positive outcome is less than likely.
I've put myself in that same position in four different venues in the past ten years.
Cheering Oregon State at Husky Stadium
Back in 2000 Wifey bought us season tickets for the first time to Oregon State football. For my birthday she took me up to Seattle for the weekend and we went to the Beavers-Huskies game, sitting with her uncle who is a Husky himself and a season ticket holder. She also bought me a Beaver shirt to wear for the occasion.
We got there early and walked around the stadium a bit, checking out the scene. People were nice to us, perhaps because they didn't at that point feel the Beavers were a threat, and we even got to pet the official Washington Husky (which, I should point out, is actually a Malmute). There were no catcalls or rudeness, but then again the student section was on the opposite side of the field and we were with Huskies, which I have since learned is usually helpful (going with home team fans).
After the game - which the Huskies won, the only game Oregon State would lose that season - I was in the long line at the bathroom. The guy next to me nudged me and, smiling, made a comment about "at least you aren't a Duck." I just smiled. I'm thinking had I been wearing green and yellow my presence wouldn't have been treated the same way. I also am pretty sure it could have been different had Oregon State won that game.
Husky Stadium, in my experience as a Oregon State fan, seems to be a decent place for the road fan.
Cheering the Portland Trail Blazers at KeyArena
I'm hardly an expert on fan rivalries - though that would be an interesting topic to research - but my unexpert opinion is that the NBA simply doesn't inspire the same degree of rivalry as football. Wifey - who is (unfortunately, was) a Seattle SuperSonics fan - and I went up to a couple games at KeyArena one year. In fact, I think we went to all four Blazers-Sonics game that season - two in Seattle and two in Portland.
At each venue she wore her Gary Payton jersey and I wore Blazers stuff. I don't think anybody at either arena said anything. This may go back to my previous point about being with a home fan, but I think it speaks more to the nature of the rivalry than anything else. The Blazers and Sonics had a history, but at that point in time neither team was overly good.
I do think the NBA just doesn't foster that kind of environment the way football does. Maybe it's because fans don't tailgate for basketball games, or maybe it's different if it was Lakers-Celtics or Bulls-Knicks, but I don't think so. No one even looked at us twice.
Sadly the Seattle SuperSonics have moved to Oklahoma City as the Thunder and KeyArena is now void of NBA hoops, but it was a decent spot to be a road fan.
Cheering the Cincinnati Bengals at Seahawk Stadium
This is what really ended it for me. The Bengals, who have been our team since Chad Johnson nee Ochocinco was drafted by them in 2001, come to Seattle roughly every 10 years (I have no idea how often it is, but it's rare), so when we were offered some tickets we snapped them up.
Neither of us had ever been to a NFL game before and because of our largely positive experiences as the road fan in KeyArena and Husky Stadium we didn't think twice about Wifey donning her Johnson jersey and me my own Bengals attire. We arrived early to check out the stadium and get the general look and feel of a NFL game.
Seahawks fans are generally considered some of the most boisterous in the NFL and they take pride in things like their team leading the league in false start penalties forced - due to noise, largely. If there is a fan base I've come across that could be described as rabid, it's them.
To say we felt out of place is an understatement. Not only did our orange and black clearly stand out from the Seahawks blue and green, making us obvious outsiders, but it seemed an inordinate amount of fans went out of their way to make comments and even to be somewhat threatening. The comments I expected; but to be a little worried for our personal safety because of the jersey we chose to wear to cheer on our favorite team? That is taking it too far.
The sad part was seeing a few other Bengal fans...like us, they had their heads on a swivel. Eye contact earned a brief head nod, but most time was spent being wary.
After our Bengals lost we had to walk back to the car through the stadiums tunnels to the parking lot on the other side of Safeco Stadium. We couldn't get out of there fast enough - in the car, on the freeway, head back towards Portland. Yikes. I can't imagine how we would have felt had the Bengals won.
Definitely not a place I would recommend wearing the road team's colors.
Cheering the Oregon Ducks at Reser Stadium
If you have read this blog for awhile you know I'm a Duck and Wifey graduated from Oregon State. We had season tickets down at Reser Stadium for nine years, meaning we got to see Civil War in person five times.
I won't lie - the first time I put on my Oregon sweatshirt for a Civil War game at Reser I didn't know what to expect. I mean, sure, I was with Wifey and a few other Beavers all wearing orange and black, so I wasn't going to be left on an island by myself, but what would I have to deal with? Comments? Threats? Civil War isn't necessarily always civil - or rarely is - so what would it be like?
Knowing my minority status I decided to take the only road I could - have fun with it. I laughed off the comments, even the ones I knew weren't made jokingly. I didn't make an ass of myself by being overly demonstrative in the Beaver season ticket holder section when something went the Ducks way. Of course I wanted Oregon to win - in 2000 a win would have put them in the Rose Bowl - but at the same time I loved that year's Beavers team and the fact Oregon State won - which would eventually send them to the Fiesta Bowl - probably made things a little easier. Both teams were ranked in the top ten before the game, so it was huge.
I took the same stance in each of the next four Civil War games I attended, choosing to simply wear my colors and take a laid back approach. In 2002, 2004, and 2006 I saw my Ducks again fail to win. Finally, in the last game I have been to at Reser - Civil War 2008 - the Ducks did win.
I will tell anyone who asks my experiences as a Duck at Reser Stadium have been generally positive. No threats of violence, very few idiots, that kind of thing, though I'm sure others haven't been as lucky. I know for a fact Autzen isn't as welcoming to Beaver fans, both having been there as a student and from Wifey's own experience there.
Would I do it again? Maybe. I think Beaver fans in general are relatively welcoming, just like the Husky fans were to us in Seattle.
But no matter how positive my experience was in each of these places, I've come to the conclusion, at least for me, that it's no longer worth it. If I see another Bengal game in person, it will be on a pilgrimage to Cincy to see it in The Jungle.
For me it's not a matter of do I think I'll have a good or bad experience, it's the fact I'm opening up to something that could be seriously (and unnecessarily) stressful when it's really just a game. Road and home fans are at a game for the same reason - cheer on their favorite team. People - and when I use that term it's for the proverbial group, not any individual or specific group of individuals - generally act with a mob mentality and can be extremely derisive to those who appear different. Sporting events, fueled by excessive alcohol use, tend to be a breeding ground for this kind of thing.
And for me, it's just enough. I'm not going to put myself in that situation. Besides, the view is just as good from couch without having a line for the bathroom.
So have you ever been the road fan? Did you have a bad experience? A good one? Would you do it again? Or was it something you found it's just better to avoid and watch the game on TV?