Hope and Glory

A major league team could be the ticket to putting Hampton Roads on "the map", but after so many defeats, are local fans still able to stand and cheer?



Major League Sports in Hampton Roads

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Eric Kevitz was cheering too loudly.

At least that’s what the so-called fan next to him said.

Kevitz, a civil engineer by trade, had been standing and yelling and rooting for the Norfolk Nighthawks, a now-defunct team in a now defunct Arena Football league at a game at Norfolk Scope 10 years ago.

It had seemed like the right thing to do. Kevitz loves sports. Growing up in Western Branch, he went to Tides games and Admirals games. As an adult he attended professional indoor soccer matches and yes, even developmental Arena League football games. Each fall, he splurges and takes a trip to Chicago to cheer for his beloved Chicago Bears in person. And every time there are rumors of an NHL or MLB or NBA team moving to Hampton Roads, Kevitz hopes this is the year it happens.

But at this moment, at this minor league arena football game, he was struck by a series of questions. Too loud? At a football game?

How could Hampton Roads ever have a professional sports team of its own with so-called fans like this? When Kevitz tells the story today, he answers the questions himself. First, you can’t be too loud at a football game. Second, the repeated teasing and near-miss opportunities of a professional team moving to southeastern Virginia has sucked the life out of fans and led to situations like this.

Roll the highlights:

  • In 1997, leaders in Norfolk tried to bring an NHL team to the region. League officials decided on four other cities instead.
  • In 2002, leaders in Norfolk thought they had won over the ownership of the Charlotte Hornets. The team moved to New Orleans instead.
  • In 2004, leaders in Norfolk believed they could win over the Montreal Expos. The team became the Washington Nationals.
  • And earlier this year, leaders in Virginia Beach were negotiating with the owners of the Sacramento Kings to move to Virginia Beach. Now it appears the team may go to Seattle.

This close. So close. Almost there. Heartbreak and failure are the pedestals of professional sports. Fans associate their own identity and their cities’ identities by the teams that play there: the last-second collapses of Cleveland, the ruthlessness of Philadelphia, the arrogance of New York City, the small-market surprise in Oklahoma City.

In pro sports towns, fans are disappointed by what happens on the field. Unfair calls from referees. Boneheaded coaching gaffes. In Hampton Roads, sports fans are disappointed by what happens off the field. Arena deals. Legislation. League negotiations.

But is Kevitz right? Has the cynicism sucked the life out of fans?

Better yet, can fans in Hampton Roads who feel the need to second-guess every decision do so without players and coaches to second-guess? Can they feel a kind of regret every time they turn on ESPN and see teams that they believe should have been their own? Has, in some sick way, the disappointments of the last 15 years created a new kind of extra-acerbic, Hampton Roads sports fan?