A man walks into a bar.

Spying an open seat, he bellies up, orders wings and a beer, and cranes his neck to take in the garish array of gargantuan televisions, all tuned to sporting events.

On one, a Dallas Cowboys running back scampers for a long gain. The man claps loudly.

The guy next to him, about half his age, senses an opening.

“Are you a Cowboys fan?” he asks.

“No, I just hate the Jets,” his new companion snorts.


“You mean Giants,” the young man corrects him, pointing out the actual opponent in this contest.

“Jets, Giants, whatever, any team from New York.”

Whatever, indeed. A bond has been formed and soon the men are tilting their heads toward each other in animated conversation: on the football game, on the Boston Red Sox pitching staff, on whether honey mustard makes a better sauce for wings than honey barbecue. Throughout, their eyes never stray from the TVs.

This scene played out in October at Buffalo Wild Wings in South Portland. But it could have been in South Carolina. Or South Dakota.

Anywhere men congregate in America these days, sports – and particularly the discussing of sports – is typically what connects them.

It is evident in the proliferation of radio stations devoted to sports talk. On Internet message boards, where like-minded fans can anonymously mull every aspect of their team’s performance.


And in sports bars, where the consumption of hot wings and cold brews is the perfect coating for all the jocular banter you can stomach.

It is a phenomenon charted by Geoffrey Greif in his book, “Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships.”

“When I asked men what they did with their friends, 80 percent of them said participating in sports or watching sports,” said Greif, a professor of social work at the University of Maryland. “Men have shoulder-to-shoulder friendships and women tend to have more face-to-face friendships. Men get together to do something, like go to the bar to watch the World Series or play golf. Women are more likely to have coffee or just chat.

“The obvious conclusion is if you grew up and were not into sports, it’s going to be harder for you to make friends with men.”


Alec Altman sees this play out nightly at his downtown Portland sports bar, Binga’s Stadium.


It is a 14,400-square-foot refuge for those who like barbecue or sports. Or both. There are 55 televisions fed by 15 DirecTV boxes that can tune in just about any sporting event anywhere. This time of year is the busiest for the 240-seat restaurant.

Football, basketball and hockey are overlapping. The joint overflows when the Portland Pirates play at the Cross Insurance Arena across the street.

“We’re like a multi-denominational kind of place,” said Altman, 42, a co-owner of the restaurant. “You’re here for the comfort, or you’re here for the wings, or you’re here for the sports.”

Buffalo Wild Wings is the pace-setter for the combination of chicken wings, beer and sports. There were 992 of the yellow-hued restaurants in North America by the end of 2013, according to the company’s financial report, and their plan is to reach 1,700 in 10 years.

The company was formed in 1982 and 30 years later was No. 18 on Forbes’ list of best small businesses. Its commercials are ubiquitous during sporting events, rivaling pickup trucks and Viagra.

BWW has blasted open its own niche, and local restaurants like Binga’s follow the formula.


Boston Bruins games typically draw 30-40 regulars to Binga’s, all in their jerseys. Boston Celtics games get a much smaller contingent. Try finding a spot at the bar when the New England Patriots are playing. On Sunday afternoons it is lined end to end with (mostly) guys showing their allegiance to their favorite teams and favorite beverages. You’ll see Patriots jerseys, naturally, but also Eagles, Jets, Bills and even Panthers (huh?).

Still, Altman said his clientele is not entirely the testosterone set. His may be the only sports-themed bar in America that goes through eight pounds of tofu a week.

He estimates that one-third of his customers are the prototypical male sports fans, but that number swells when Boston teams do well. So even though Altman is originally from New York, the 15-year Maine resident is happy to say:

“I root for Boston teams to win because it’s good for business. I have my historical loyalties but it doesn’t matter as much as putting money in my bank and making sure my kids are going to have food, and paying the mortgage.”

So is being around all the sports chatter converting him into a hard-core fan?

“I have to be aware of what sports are on because it’s my business,” Altman said. “As far as social relevance, sports has too much. And what does it do for people other than to let them burn off steam?”



Don Powell would argue that talking about sports does more than that. The clinical psychologist from Michigan puts our boyish dialogue into a perspective that Altman should appreciate.

“Sports cliches are kind of like comfort food,” said Powell, an expert on the subject. “We live in a very fast-changing time and there’s a tendency to turn to things that are familiar. Cliches provide that sense of comfort, that sense of good feeling, that emotional connection.”

Powell, 64, was so inspired by the topic that he wrote a book, “Best Sports Cliches Ever (We’re Taking Them One at a Time).” Inspiration struck while he was on a flight home from Texas and he quickly jotted down 300 sport-isms. Back home he started reading newspapers and watching ESPN’s “SportsCenter” to compile more. He enlisted family and friends to help and eventually reached 4,000 cliches, which he winnowed to 1,771 for his whimsical book. They are arranged by sport, by their origin and more. At the end is a sports jargon quiz. The top score, as you might guess, is 110 percent.

“I did it just for the fun of it. I wanted to look into why cliches are popular and reverting back to a time in life when things were simpler,” Powell said.

“You listen to talk radio and it’s cliche upon cliche. Fans use them unfiltered. Sports announcers try to be judicious about their use of cliches but they fail miserably. I don’t look at them in a negative way, as a lack of creativity. I see the positive things. You can convey ideas simply and easily.”


There is a serious side to the book as well. Powell, who calls himself “Dr. Cliche,” posits that sports is a sort of universal language for many people, a way to connect in the present while subconsciously bathing in the nostalgia of conversations long past.

Powell fell in love with the language of sports while listening to New York Yankees broadcasts on his father’s lap in New York. Now he is a devoted fan of the University of Michigan football team (an act that requires a great deal of devotion these days), and loves to observe and participate in the banter of the spectators around him.

“People around me will inevitably join and use their own cliches to describe what’s going on. They like to use the language associated with the team and the sport,” he said. “It’s almost like a secret handshake. You can tell the amateurs from the veterans in the way they use cliches.”


It’s a completely different vibe when men can don fake names and talk sports on message boards, which sprouted up in the past 20 years with the rise of the Internet.

Every team in every sport has one, a place where rabid fans can hash out every game, every trade and every rumor, where they can squabble with each other over draft picks and coaching decisions. You can find intricate and intelligent discussions employing the most advanced statistics next to coarse trash-talking about opposing players.


Coaches are always under fire on message boards. The only thing fans everywhere agree on – the offensive coordinator of (pick your football team) is a buffoon and must be replaced immediately.

In Maine you’ll find this playing out primarily on MBR.org, a unique message board in that it tries to appeal to all fan bases – from Boston professional teams and Maine minor-league teams, to the University of Maine and even high school sports.

Overseeing all this clamor is Tom Nolette, who founded the website in 1998. The medium was in its infancy then and Nolette recalls fans emailing their comments about stories to him. He would post them all in one long, ungainly file as a way of sparking a conversation.

Soon, Nolette branched out from his narrow focus on basketball, hiring programmers to make it more accessible to fans. It has undergone 10 redesigns since and has defied any attempts by others to start up similar boards in Maine.

“It’s kind of become its own little world. The posters know who each other are more than I do,” Nolette said. “I spend three to four hours loading every (newspaper) story into the forum boards, then I sit back and let the conversation flow. It’s really exciting. They all want to see the car crash.”

Nolette feels one of the values of the modern-day message board is not only to let people engage each other in real time about topics they feel passionately about (public high schools vs. private high schools is a perennially divisive debate here and everywhere in America), but also to serve as a repository for those discussions. They are never erased, so if you want to see what people were saying about a state tournament game from 2010, for example, you can scroll down and read away.


Nolette’s site averages 4,500 visitors per day, but that number doubles during basketball season and peaks during the high school tournaments in February. His site is notorious in those circles, for better or worse.

“Whenever I go anywhere, if I’m meeting a new coach or a new athletic director, they’ll say, ‘We love MBR, except for …’ and they’ll go into a specific comment made by an anonymous poster on the message board. And that’s kind of my world. It’s a double-edged sword,” Nolette said.

Nolette said he monitors the forums and does ban users that he feels engage in personal attacks. But on message boards, normal rules of civility are difficult to enforce.

“I personally defend the use of anonymous users. I think a lot of times people will be at work and maybe they don’t want their bosses to know,” Nolette said. “Or if you happen to disagree with the way the coach coached a game and you don’t want him to know who you are. I tell people they aren’t anonymous to me. They have to register. I have their computer ID number, so it’s very easy to go back at someone if they go over the line.”

Nolette knows he gets women who visit his site. But when it comes to commenting on the forum devoted to UMaine sports, for example: “That’s all men. I don’t know one woman who posts. They love to talk about anything and everything. I honestly can’t figure it out.”



Meanwhile, back at the South Portland Buffalo Wild Wings, men are still making tentative steps toward conversing. One patron notices his neighbor wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates cap and wonders, “How did the Steelers do?”

“They play tomorrow,” is the terse reply.

There is a long pause as the hatless guy searches for another avenue that might lead to some actual chatter. Finally he gives up, turns to the customer on the other side of him and has better luck. Soon they can be heard discussing the merits of Warren Moon, of all people, a quarterback who retired in 2000.

You wouldn’t want to be a fly on that wall, unless you have a high tolerance for greasy food and sports minutiae.

For men who don’t want to actually come in contact with other men while talking sports, talk radio has become an increasingly popular staple. From 2002-12, the number of sports talk radio stations in America increased by 64 percent, from 413 to 677, according to the Sports Business Journal.

It is a genre that began in New York in 1987 with the advent of WFAN, which discovered an audience of men ages 25-54 eager to digest and discuss games and players non-stop. Radio stations in other cities were quick to follow suit. In Boston, WEEI started its hugely successful all-sports format in 1991, though it has been superseded in recent Arbitron/Neilsen ratings by “The Sports Hub” (WBZ-FM), which launched in 2009.


The hunger for sports isn’t limited to big markets. The Portland area has two all-sports radio stations, WJJB (“The Big Jab”) and WPEI, combining for a 3.6 share in the Nielsen ratings of July.

Javier Gorriti, 41, is co-host of the “PM Jab” show from 3-7 p.m. He grew up in Connecticut listening to WFAN and was hooked. The former UMaine hockey goalie was working a job in private business that he wasn’t particularly intrigued by, so about seven years ago he walked into WJJB and asked for a shot. He has been a fixture on the air since.

Gorriti’s show is heavy on callers, and he alternates between being an instigator and a mediator of a rolling discussion that typically touches on how the Boston pro teams could be better (mediator), why Peyton Manning is no Tom Brady (instigator), and beer (appreciator).

Yes, Gorriti is having the time of his life, getting paid to talk about the topics he would be anyway.

“We like to engage our audience and have the conversation, and hash it all out and get mad and get happy. I love nothing more than a great sports debate if it gets kind of ugly,” Gorriti said.

“A lot of our callers are well-informed. They bring up interesting points. But we get a mix of lunatics who aren’t well-informed. We’ll get people calling and they want to trade Albert Pujols for like a minor league prospect. We get a lot of arm-chair GM’ing with very unrealistic trade proposals.”


What don’t they get? Female callers.

Gorriti said there are women who will reach out to the station on Facebook or other social media platforms. But on the telephone, “it’s at least 99 percent male.”

Male and feisty. Talk radio, more than any medium, has revealed what can be called Newton’s Third Law of Sports Fandom – for every action, there is an overreaction.

Monday’s “PM Jab” shows these days are filled with the dissection of every single thing that went wrong in the latest Patriots game. And that’s after a victory.

“I don’t know if they’re miserable. I think some sports fans are naturally pessimistic,” Gorriti is quick to point out. “But I think it’s easier to talk about things that bother you than things that don’t.”



So the question is begged: If sports didn’t exist, would men talk to each other at all?

Greif, author of the book about male friendships, tells a story that will resonate with everyone who shares his gender. He was at a party with his wife’s co-workers and was introduced to one of them. Awkward pauses in the conversation ensued. Finally one of them hit on the magic topic.

“We couldn’t find common ground until we started talking about sports,” Greif said. “Until he put that out, we were having a hard time hanging out together.”

“It’s somewhat related to masculinity,” Greif continued. “Some guys said that they tend to look for men whose level of masculinity, whatever that means, is similar to their own. We all have a sense in our own mind of what a masculine guy looks or acts like. Maybe it’s a throwback to our relating to being young or if we had good experiences with our fathers around sports; we may be subconsciously channeling our father.”

Jonathan Dumont, or “UMaineSuperfan,” as he’s known as one of the most avid users on mbr.org, said he grew up playing sports with his younger brother, and leaving that behind as he ages doesn’t make sense.

“It’s really hard to just do it in all your free time and then when you’re done playing it, you stop talking about it,” he said.


“The tendency of men to talk about sports is culturally ingrained. That’s like a measure of how much of a man you are, whether you’re right or wrong.”

Gorriti, who makes a living talking sports, offers the simplest explanation.

“Men in general hate small talk,” he said. “Sports gives you a forum where you can both talk about something you’re actually interested in.”

Blather. Wings. Repeat.

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