Minnesota fans, as a rule, love homegrown players who make it big in college or the pros. We love them so much that an apt term has come to describe such sports figures: One Of Us.
Joe Mauer, rumored to be from St. Paul, is One Of Us. John Carlson, the Litchfield High product who signed Wednesday with the Vikings, is One Of Us.
But when Minnesotans talk about wanting someone with local connections to be hired as the new U of M athletic director or pine for Flip Saunders to get a job that is not even open (as Gophers men's basketball coach), are they any different than fans on the East Coast or in Chicago or anywhere else in the world?
This query called for a One Of Us expert, and luckily we found him. Stephen Ross has a Ph.D. in leisure behavior from the University of Illinois and has been an associate professor of sport management in the U of M's School of Kinesiology since 2003. He didn't grow up here, so he's not quite One Of Us. But his research on fan behavior and sports consumer psychology make him quite qualified to speak on the subject. He started off talking about "points of attachment" and how they relates to fandom.
"There are a lot of different areas that people can attach themselves to," Ross said. "Someone can certainly identify with Wolves players or Gophers players. But if there is a player or coach from that geographical region, that just intensifies the thoughts or feelings. ... People feel a liking to that individual because they have something in common. That's across the board -- nothing particular to Minnesota."
OK, but ...
"It does seem a little more intense here," Ross said,
Aha! So we do love One Of Us more than other regions. But why?
Ross explained that he thinks our relative isolation is the trigger, noting there's "not much between here and Seattle ... and not much between here and Chicago." (Wisconsin might beg to differ, but we're backing Ross on this one).
Provincialism has other side-effects, too, Ross said.
"I don't think I've ever lived anywhere that there were more fair-weather fans," said Ross, who has lived in Illinois, Connecticut and South Carolina, among other places. "When a team is tanking, people disassociate themselves immediately."
That gets back to the trump card: winning. The Startribune.com online comments about the Vikings signing Carlson indicate fans aren't sold on the move, regardless of his hometown.
"When it comes down to a decision, the homegrown connection is big. People think of it in terms of marketing," Ross said. "But at the end of the day, it's about wins."