Where sports and culture intersect in the USA.
NFL players are responsible for what happens to their respective teams on any given Sunday (or Monday) night during football season. But as seasons string together and years stretch into decades, the lore surrounding each team is decided by the fan base.
The geography of NFL teams factors heavily into the fan influence equation. Each team takes on the unique characteristics of its home city or region. In this way, football is more than a game–it’s a reflection of provincial culture. This concept is demonstrated through team monikers, fan traditions, corporate naming rights to stadiums, and a host of other ways.
Here’s a look at how seven iconic NFL fan bases have shaped the history of their associated teams.
For decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers have built a loyal fan base that stretches well beyond the Western Pennsylvania city. Former President Barack Obama, billionaire Mark Cuban, and rapper/actor Snoop Dogg are just a few famous personalities among the black and yellow faithful, a fan tribe known since 1978 as Steelers Nation.
The rise of Steelers Nation was influenced by Pittsburgh’s position as a steel producing hub. The team’s name comes from the steel industry.
As the industry went through a steep decline in the 1970s, the Steelers won an incredible four Super Bowls in six seasons–1975, 1976, 1979, and 1980. Football fans around the nation embraced the Steelers, both as the era’s dominant NFL team and in support of the city’s adverse industrial transformation.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers hold a hallowed position in NFL history. The franchise, which dates back to 1919, is the third oldest in the NFL. Legendary coach Vince Lombardi led the Pack to victory in the 1967 and 1968 Super Bowls, the first two years the NFL held its marquee event.
Packers fans, a proud bunch known to wear cheese hats inspired by Wisconsin’s claim as America’s Dairyland, quite literally own the team. Public offerings of Packers ownership stock have occurred five times since 1923, giving fans a chance to purchase shares in the franchise. Currently, 360,760 lucky stockholders control over five million shares of Packers stock.
Packers stock isn’t like publicly traded shares on a stock exchange; the shares don’t pay dividends and aren’t available from brokerages. Still, how awesome would it be to become a part-owner of your favorite football team?
New Orleans Saints
The Saints stand as a shining example of a team that reflects the heritage of its home city.
Since 1967, the Saints have used a fleur-de-lis design as their logo–a common symbol used around New Orleans with roots tracing back to France’s Royal Family and the early French settlement here.
Jazz music is also an indelible part of the New Orleans experience. The Saints team moniker is borrowed from the jazz standard “When the Saints Go Marching In”, the definitive anthem of New Orleans. The song will undoubtedly ring from every corner of The Big Easy if the Saints, a top odds pick in Super Bowl LIV, are the last team standing in February.
The Cowboys are heralded as America’s Team thanks to the franchise’s historical success and frequent TV appearances in the early days of televised NFL contests.
While it’s bold to presume a single team represents the entire countr,y considering the NFL’s 31 other teams, Cowboy fans are happy to take up the cause. They have supporting evidence.
Dallas takes the national stage each Thanksgiving Day with a televised game. It’s been that way annually since 1966, except for 1975 and 1977. The Cowboys Cheerleaders are the most iconic in sports, frequently making off-field appearances at events and on TV.
From AT&T Stadium, the team’s 80,000-seat home venue, to the five Super Bowl championships, everything about the Cowboys appeals to a big audience.
New York Jets
The loyalty of Jets fans should never be underestimated. The team hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1969, when quarterback “Broadway” Joe Namath delivered a championship win in the big game’s third installment. In fact, the Jets haven’t appeared in a Super Bowl since then.
Meanwhile, the Giants, co-residents at MetLife Stadium. are often seen as the bigger apple of the Big Apple’s eye. The Giants have appeared in five Super Bowls since 1987 and won four. Jets fans have had a lot less to cheer about historically.
But it’s the scrappy, ‘never-say-die’ attitude of the consummate underdog that lands the Jets fan base on our list. Proud New Yorkers never give up, and Jets fans return year after year to support the green and white.
Sundays are a sacred day in Chicago, as the city all but shuts down to rally around the beloved Bears. The franchise began in the Windy City as the Staleys in 1921 and is as old as the NFL itself. Yes, the Bears have endeared fans for nearly a century. No wonder they’re a staple of America’s third-largest city.
The adulation of Bears fans was exposed nationally in the 1990s thanks to “Bill Swerski’s Super Fans”, a recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live. In the sketch, Robert Smigel and late comedian Chris Farley lead a roundtable of beer-swilling, cigar-puffing sports fans who celebrated legendary Bears coach Mike Ditka as a larger-than-life folk hero.
The first installment depicted Farley, a Chicago native, and company speculating that Ditka could single-handedly defeat the Giants. The “Super Fans” also coined the classic catchphrase “Da Bears!”
While the “Super Fans” sketch was embellished comedy, it illustrated a very real point: the Bears’ rabid fan culture could only come from Chicago.
Seahawks fans are considered a collective team member and notably take on the role of the 12th Man.
And the 12th Man is not just a title. Fans have the responsibility to create as much noise as possible during home games at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. In fact, the stadium noise gets so loud that opposing teams occasionally miss signals.
The 12th Man was responsible for setting two Guinness World Records for the loudest crowd noise at a sporting event during the Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning 2013 season.