One of the most common questions I get about roller derby from a fan’s perspective is: how do you decide who your “favorite” teams are? I understand cheering for the home team, but aren’t the house teams pretty much all home teams?
Well, yeah… but there’s more to it than that. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for my part, I just let the teams come to me. That’s literally all there is to it — I show up, watch some derby action, and my mind picks my favorites for me. Imagine what that was like at the Show-Me Der-B-Q when two of my favorite teams, Houston and Omaha, faced off on the last day. Minutes into it, I knew my heart was behind Omaha.
I remember perusing the KCRW site about three months before the 2010 season began. I’d never been to a bout before, I didn’t know any of the skaters, and at that point in time, I had no idea where my loyalties might lie. Based on the web site, the team photos, and unfathomably, the uniforms (which can have a remarkable effect on a fan’s psyche), I assumed intuitively that the Victory Vixens would be my favorites. Everything about them screamed, “We’re your team.”
And something about “standing at attention,” but anyway.
March 27, 2010 showed up, and I found that I loved the Vixens, all right… but before the first game was even over, my whole heart belonged to the Black Eye Susans. From an early stage, four little words altered the landscape of my derbytude and laid the foundation for my love of the greatest sport in the world, and those four words are BLACK EYE OR DIE.
With Dead Girl Derby, I thought it would work in much the same way, and for a while it did.
Until it didn’t.
I immediately latched on to the Royal Pains. For one thing, my alma mater’s colors are purple and white, so we’re off to a good start. Throw in strong leaders, skaters, and personalities like Dir-T Diana, Azz Catch-em, Dixie Danger, and top-scoring Poison Evie, and you’ve got America’s all-American midwestern team of all-Americans, America. (I don’t even know what that means.)
Meanwhile, as surely as my favorites reveal themselves over the course of the season, so do the villains — and this league’s villain team was, without question, the Fearleaders. I’ve no idea why; it’s not like any of them were rude, cocky, or showed poor sportsmanship. In fact, they hadn’t done anything. They didn’t even have anything in common with KCRW‘s dyed-in-the-wool villains, the Dreadnought Dorothys; at least the Dorothys’ villainy was justified by their iron-clad un-defeat-ability. By contrast, it seemed that the only team the Fearleaders could beat for the first half of the season was themselves.
But that was how I liked it, and the Fearleaders maintained their villain status in my mind for the better part of the season. I delighted in their consecutive losses, and much like the Kansas Jayhawks, I felt the irresistible urge to cheer for anyone who was playing against them. This included the Lovely Lethals, who pulled out a last-second win in game three that marked the very last time I ever Thought Pink. I was not necessarily a Lethals fan, but I couldn’t have been happier to see the Fearleaders go home winless yet again, particularly after such a nailbiting ending. Those are the worst.
So what the hell happened? Didn’t I say in a previous post that I wound up on their side? What the hell happened?
Well… they beat my favorite team. Wait, what?
I went into game five knowing there was no way the winless Fearleaders were going to beat my Azz-catching team of All-Americans. Regardless of the fight they’d put up against the powerful Lethals, an entire season (thus far) of coming up short would have to take its toll. And beyond that, I was pretty confident about the Pains’ ability to take them down, since they’d done it already.
But that’s not how it went. To their credit, the Fearleaders brought it to the track and left it on the track — and by the time it was over, they’d scored their first win of the season against Their Highnesses, the Purple Passion, the one team in Dead Girl Derby I’d give my left skate for, the Royal Pains. I was incredulous. Throw in the Deadly Sirens‘ first-ever loss at the hands of the Lethals that same night, and I went home less than enthused with roller derby for the first time ever. That’s because I’m a bad sport, you see.
Pictured: the opposite of me.
One of the good things about being “just” a fan is that strictly speaking, you’re not under any real obligation to show good sportsmanship. It’s a bit hypocritical, since sportsmanship is something I value so highly in a derby league, but since I’m a paying customer, I’ll cheer for (and against) anyone I want. And I wasn’t about to lose any sleep over the Fearleaders‘ win, but I was certainly in no mood to congratulate them on accomplishing what I’d considered impossible only three hours earlier.
The next morning, though, it was all I could think about. Twelve hours prior, I’d watched two dedicated, hard-hitting teams slugging it out on the track, but only one was really fighting for its dignity in the face of an entire season of losses; you can’t really overstate that part. Once they’d pulled out the win, all four teams were out on the track, hugging and butt-slapping (ok, I made that up) and congratulating the Fearleaders on their very first-ever hard-earned win. The level of camaraderie and straight-up friendship on display that night showed me, the Most Important Fan Ever, exactly what this league was made of: integrity, grit, guts, and massive… massive ladyballs. It takes a great deal of character to congratulate the underdog who just beat you 30 seconds earlier; the Dead Girls are certainly made of finer stuff than I.
As proud as I was of the Royal Pains for their extraordinary show of character, I was finally realizing that the Fearleaders, with their endless tenacity, dedication, and competitive spirit, were setting up shop in my heart whether I liked it or not. If the entire league could stand up in front of everyone and congratulate them on getting over that hump, then there’s no reason that shouldn’t be good enough for me. The Fearleaders didn’t lose another goddamn game all year, and I’ve been right behind them, cheering them on every inch of the way ever since — even at the Zombie Apocalypse, when they faced off (once again) against the Royal Pains, this time for third place. It was the first time Their Highnesses didn’t have me in their corner.
If you had told me six months ago that I’d be cheering for the Fearleaders against the Royal Pains before the season was over, I’d have said you were smokin’ banana peels. All things being equal, though, you may never see me at another Dead Girl Derby game wearing anything but the black and grey.