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Sports, without fans, would cease to be the perfect drama that draws us in so deeply.
And it's the most passionate fan bases that make games and matches pop whether being attended in-person or on TV. The power that comes from the collective experience of fandom, whether in euphoria or misery, is what makes these games so compelling. And when stakes are heightened with championships on the line, it's all the more riveting. Sports fans have their rituals and superstitions, their pain points and past triumphs. Yet, the one thing fans will never agree on is the question of which fan base is the best.
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While the reality is that there is no right or wrong answer to this impossible question, we polled our team at USA TODAY Sports, asking them which fans are the best in all of sports. Here's what they said.
St. Louis Cardinals
The best fans in baseball, bar none, are the folks in St. Louis. It’s the greatest baseball city in the land where baseball news dominates the city and the sports section is dominated by the Cardinals.
Fans arrive about five hours before games, hang outside Busch Stadium, take pictures of the statues outside the ballpark, hang out and eat and drink at Ballpark Village located next to the stadium, walk inside and keep score. If you hustle and play the game right, you will never be booed. It’s the only place where fans actually cheer opposing players for making good plays. The players love it there because there’s no pressure, a one-newspaper town and the fans always support their players.
— Bob Nightengale, MLB columnist
They play in the 37th-biggest market, yet they’ve drawn at least 2.8 million fans in five of the past 10 years and are averaging nearly 27,000 per game, punching way above their weight. Bratwursts, beer, sausage races, Bernie the Brewer’s slide, there's so much to love about this division rival to the team listed above.
— Gabe Lacques, MLB reporter
No, this is not a typo, nor is this sarcasm. While Philadelphia fans routinely get a bad rap, there is another side to this passionate fan base — one that rarely makes national headlines the same way the bad behavior does. This is a city that loves its sports franchises, including its baseball team, which has won only two World Series in its nearly 140-year history. Phillies fans really only ask three things of their team: play hard, be accountable and win. And while winning has been harder to come by recently — the Phillies have not made the playoffs since 2011 — fans still show up game after game hoping for a win but still willing to rally behind players that play hard and take responsibility even in times of failure.
Consider this recent example: Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm made three errors during an April 11 game against the New York Mets before the Phillies would rally to win 5-4. Bohm went viral on social media that night when TV broadcasts caught him grumbling to Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius, "I hate this (expletive) place." Later that night, Bohm would be bombarded by reporters asking him about his comment. Bohm took ownership; he didn’t try to deflect. He seemed to sincerely regret what he had said: "Look, emotions got the best of me," Bohm told the assembled media. "I said it. Do I mean it? No. It’s a frustrating night for me, obviously. I made a few mistakes in the field. Look, these people, these fans, they just want to win."
Phillies fans heard him. They believed him. When Bohm was introduced as a pinch hitter the next night, likely nervous over how he would be treated, he received a standing ovation from the crowd at Citizens Bank Ballpark. And in 27 games (as of Tuesday) since that fateful April night, Bohm has made just two errors total and leads the team in batting with a .313 average (through Tuesday), proof that this perceived toxic fan base can lift a player up when he’s down.
— Ellen J. Horrow, NOW editor and producer
Los Angeles Lakers
As fickle as Los Angeles sports fans can be, the Lakers may have the league’s best, most boisterous, knowledgeable and most loyal fans. That’s what happens when you’re the league’s most glamorous franchise. Of course, they draw the boldface names because they play in Hollywood. But even away from home, Lakers fans travel better than any fanbase in the NBA. As they struggled through the regular season and spent most of it teetering at the edge of playoff contention, Lakers forward Malik Monk praised Lakers fans for "making every game feel like a home game. … It’s always a home game for us on these road trips."
— Larry Starks, NBA and breaking news editor
Sorry, Canada. Yes, hockey is your sport, but Hurricanes fans are on another level these days and it's showing with a good team. They are always loud, they tailgate like they are attending a college football or NFL game and they stick around for the Storm Surge after wins. The fans fill PNC Arena in what's considered a non-traditional hockey market, and that's why they get our nod.
The Ravens are among, if not the most, underrated fan base in all of sports. It’s possible I feel this way because I’m from Maryland and a number of my friends are Ravens fans, but they seem to be as close to the team as any fan base I’ve been around. I think it has something to do with how Baltimore is often unfairly maligned and there’s a defensiveness there. The Ravens are seen as part of the fabric. Mess with them, mess with us kind of thing.
— Mike Freeman, Sports race and inequality editor
What fan base has a table-breaking tradition? BillsMafia.
— Scott Boeck, MLB and digital editor
The Denver Broncos have a remarkable fanbase because of their commitment to the team through the highs and lows. The Broncos aren't exactly the winningest team in the NFL and it took them lots of heartbreak — losing four Super Bowls — before finally getting the taste of glory when they beat the Green Bay Packers in glamorous fashion in Super Bowl 32. The Helicopter, anyone? This was the moment that I knew how deep blue and orange runs in Broncos fans' blood. That first Super Bowl victory was the first time I remember seeing my dad cry.
Then the Broncos went back-to-back by winning Super Bowl 33 the next year. The faithful fans were there for every minute of it, committed to the blue and orange even in the coldest winter days. The Broncos have the longest active sell-out streak in the NFL with well over 400 games and counting.
You need to look no further than Tim McKernan, more famously known as the Barrel Man, to know the heart of Broncos fans. McKernan is forever cemented in NFL history for wearing nothing but a barrel, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat for nearly every Broncos home game since 1977. His passing in 2009 left a gaping hole in the Broncos community, but his legacy is carried on by fans like the Mile High Monsters, a father-son duo who don suits of orange pom poms as they join 76,000 others in reminding opponents that they are 5,280 feet above sea level, so good luck breathing.
Denver is also a city that doesn't get a lot of national media attention. John Elway was the first Broncos player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and it's the faithful fans rallying online and in coffee shop conversations that have led to the inclusion of players like Floyd Little and Steve Atwater. Now, their mission is to get Randy Gradishar his due justice. Best believe they will get him in or die trying.
— Victoria Hernandez, community engagement producer for USA TODAY Sports+
Fans in Philly catch a bad wrap, but every time I've covered a game there, they have been nothing but kind and passionate. Demanding, sure, but that's what makes sports fans sports fans.
Everyone knows the story about how they infamously booed Santa Claus. And, yes, that's not great. But it reminds me of a dear former editor, Chris, D'Amico. Months before he passed away in the summer of 2017, we were in his beloved Philadelphia, covering the NFL draft, which was held on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the "Rocky Steps." The day's coverage had ended. It was late. It was that Friday night, if I'm not mistaken, though maybe early Saturday morning by that point. We were walking southeast along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, right in the middle of the street because it had been cleared for the weekend's festivities. Chris, of course, started talking about his Philadelphia Eagles.
He talked about being at that game in 1968, when fans not only booed Santa, but threw snowballs and, Chris claimed, beer cans. His version went that Santa was — let's call it — overserved. And, with Philadelphia fans being Philadelphia fans and having exacting demands — again, per Chris — that wasn't good enough. I doubted his account, we laughed about it all and it was the last time I saw Chris in person. When I think about the best fans in sports, I think of how unflinchingly Chris defended Eagles fans, almost 50 years after that snowy day in Philadelphia.
— Lorenzo Reyes, NOW reporter
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sports teams' best fanbases: Who has the best? USA TODAY weighs in