Peyton Manning's free agency tour is- THANK GOD- making sure ESPN doesn't have to stop talking about football for even one day. More importantly, it's reminding me that, soon enough, everything you love about your favorite team will be gone.
Well, that's a cheery thought, isn't it? But listen- Manning WAS the Colts for over 12 years. The offense ran through him, all major decisions- even financial and marketing decisions- were made with him firmly in mind. He was the face of the franchise in a way that I don't think any other NFL player could claim (Brady comes closest, but he has to share the spotlight with Belichick). If he can go, who can stay?
Everyone's going to be traded or released or even just retire eventually, and once they do, what do they matter for the team? The Browns aren't really any better off right now because they used to have Jim Brown.
So, what's permanent? What's worth rooting for over the long term, season after season? It's not the managers, either; they leave just as often as the players. Hell, when you've got a situation like the Knicks, the managers end up being LESS permanent than the star players. The front office has a little more staying power, but they're all about two bad seasons away from being swept out. The owners might be more stable- they're the ones at the top, after all, and their role on the team is decidedly not premised on health and age. It's kind of crazy that the most hated element of any team is also the longest-lasting. But even they die or sell the team or go to jail eventually. Jesus, even the Jerseys change every 20 years or so.
So, what's left? Well, the most important thing, actually- the fans. My dad has owned a New York Yankees cap and jersey longer than anyone currently on the Yankees' payroll. Given all the tickets and merchandise he's bought, he's probably contributed more to the team than A.J. Burnett, and he'll keep it up for years after the current Yankees roster retires (which, really, is coming alarmingly fast). And really, in the grand scheme of sports, my dad isn't an outlier; I can name a dozen other guys like him, and two dozen more who will be like him once they're old enough.
Any talk of dads and baseball starts to get pretty gauzy, so let's wrap this up before I cry. The fact is, fans are the permanent element, they're the ones in it for the long haul. And as such, sports policies that empower the fans become incredibly important. These can be simple things like cheaper ticket prices, or more complex, technical issues like open broadcast policies. They can even be abstract and hard to pin down, like accountable ownership and management. The point is, fans need to be actively engaged in sports, because after every trade deadline, after every post season, after every coach that's fired- the fans are still there.