Fans for life — or longer?
The next spot in ESPN’s It’s Not Crazy. It’s Sports campaign hits the air today. The “Team Spirit” project also includes short “trailers” and an eight-minute documentary about the trend of sports-themed funerals and extraordinary expressions of sports fandom post mortem.
Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris takes a lighthearted approach to the subject by interviewing fans, funeral directors, tombstone makers and cemetery officials from all parts of the country.
“People always say, when you’re a fan you’re a fan for life. But that might be a little short-sighted,” says Chuck Kaczorowski of Kaczorowski Funeral Home in Baltimore in the videos. He’s witnessed many sports themed memorials in Charm City — from a fan buried in an Orioles casket to a funeral procession where every vehicle flew Ravens flags.
Across the miles, a rival town’s fans are just as dedicated. In 2005, James Henry Smith, a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, was displayed at his wake as though he had fallen asleep on his recliner watching his favorite team play.
“He had a TV in front of him with the Steelers playing. We even had his favorite blanket on him,” said Roland Criswell of Coston Funeral Home in Pittsburgh in the videos. “He didn’t love them until he died. He loved the Steelers even in his death.”
One way to demonstrate eternal devotion to the hometown team is through specially designed sports tombstones. David DeFilippo of Woodlawn Memorials in Boston frequently fulfills these special requests for fans across the country.
In College Station, fans of Texas A&M University can be buried in the Aggie Field of Honor, a special cemetery for students, alumni, family and friends of the institution. The graves are designed, foot to head, to point straight to Kyle Stadium through the Spirit Gates so that “your spirit [can be] partaking in game day activities,” according to David Schmitz, Director of Parks and Recreation at the Memorial Cemetery and Aggie Field of Honor.
Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Cubs and NASCAR fans all share additional stories about unique last wishes from requesting that the entire family and pastor wear team attire to taking a drive around a NASCAR course with an urn of ashes.
“Fans don’t just live and breathe sports. In many cases, they take their fandom to the grave,” said Carol Kruse, ESPN’s senior vice president, marketing.
“The last wishes chronicled here are extraordinary expressions of fandom that prove that nothing is crazy within the context of sports.”