A few nights ago, I dropped my son off for an overnight event, and on my way home, traffic came to a stop in the highway just outside a coliseum where the teams in a well-known college basketball rivalry had just finished a game. One of them had won, apparently.
Even though the game had just let out, the traffic jam didn’t seem to be due to traffic leaving the parking lot and entering the highway. This felt more like an accident – a suspicion that was confirmed when a police car sped by on the shoulder.
Normally I don’t text while driving, but technically, I wasn’t driving – I was parked on a road where I should have been driving. So I broke out the phone and texted my wife, asking if she could look up the location of the accident and text it back to me, so I could decide whether I needed to take an upcoming exit. Soon she texted back that she couldn’t find any information, and suggested that maybe there wasn’t an accident, that maybe the traffic was due to all those ______ students celebrating their team’s victory. I took the next exit and figured she was right.
That intro not only serves to get 200 words out of the way when I don’t have a lot to write on a topic but still need to get paid for writing a lot, it also illustrates the point I hope to eventually make – that when your team wins a big game, you can pretty much get away with doing whatever you want.
At the very least, people believe that. Kim thought it possible that fans of the winning team had shut down a highway in celebration, and let’s be honest – it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. Ever been on Franklin Street after Carolina wins the big one? Wait, forget I asked – let’s stick with situations that happen more frequently.
It’s also worth noting that a team doesn’t even have to win to rationalize crazed behavior. I’m writing this on the eve of the Superbowl, and I can guarantee you three things about tomorrow: 1) fans in the winning city will do something destructive in exuberance; 2) fans in the losing city will do something destructive in frustration; and 3) utility employees in both cities have spent the past week hoping their water systems can handle the frenzy of halftime flushes.
But this is pro football, right? Surely college basketball fans have a little more decorum? Tell that to the Cameron Crazies. Sure, any game is going to have its share of catcalls against the opposing team, but come on – those fans aren’t crazy, they’re just mean. Their chants go beyond showing support for their team, to verbally attacking their opponents over issues that have nothing to do with the game. For a group who will undoubtedly remind the rest of us that their education is far superior to ours, they sure seem to forget some of the basic good sportsmanship lessons that are typically taught in kindergarten.
How else can you describe a group who would chant, “How’s your grandma?” to an opposing player whose grandmother just passed away? Or would make light of an athlete’s sexual abuse allegations? Yep, nothing funnier than rape, is there, you crazy kids? I guess money can buy an education, but it can’t buy any class.
It’s also interesting that, for a group of dedicated fans, we hear nothing from them during football season. Why aren’t there any Wade Wackies to go along with the Cameron Crazies? Because despite their faults, at least they live by a code – the team has to have a winning season before the fans can start acting like jerks.
And as long as I’m feeling magnanimous, I might as well acknowledge one other small positive point about the Crazies – at least they don’t break anything more than the boundaries of good taste. Some fans overturn cars, burn public property, and/or maim animals in celebration. The worst the Crazies do after winning the big game is go back to their lab and maybe break an Erlenmeyer flask, or toss a 20-sided die out the window. As for the rowdier fans, they justify it by saying it’s all in the name of supporting a winning team, so that must make it okay.
I know I’m taking things too seriously – after all, you’re reading someone who thinks it’s cheating when the fans behind the backboard try to distract whoever’s trying to shoot a free throw. Hey, it’s interfering with the players. Just like Jeff Maier in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series. The umps pretty much had to rule it a homer for Derek Cheater, because if they had called it for the fan interference it truly was, that kid wouldn’t have made it out of Yankee Stadium alive – he’d probably still be there today, maybe right next to Jimmy Hoffa.
See, it’s not our job to play the game; it’s our job to watch. And cheer. And avoid overreacting. If we are to retain our humanity, we really need to act a little more human.
Maybe it would help if we pretended every game is golf – you never see golf fans acting up. (For the purpose of this argument, we’ll go ahead and leave John Daly out of the category of “fans.”) Next year, our state is going to host both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens; do you think Pinehurst is concerned about unruly fans?
Golf fans don’t even get excited when they applaud; they have the quiet clap down to a tee (no pun intended). Can you imagine if they instead acted like other sports fans? What if a Webb Simpson fan leaned over the green and just gave the ball a little push toward the cup? Or stood behind the flag and waved his arms, trying to throw off Geoff Ogilvy’s putt? Ever seen anyone with “Rory McIlroy” painted on his otherwise bare chest, singing, “Go to hell, Graeme McDowell”? Or has an Angel Cabrera fan ever set a Prius on fire because it had a Phil Mickelson sticker on it?
I admit there have been some concerns in recent years about drunken golf fans acting up, but come on – it’s nowhere near the level of ardor displayed by fans of other sports. The game was invented by the Scots; it ought to be the most barbaric of them all, yet fans manage to keep their cool. Maybe the rest of us should take a lesson from that.
So let’s get out there and enjoy the March Madness, but let’s not make it literal. Let’s try to compartmentalize a little, before we’re all put in time-out. Watch. Enjoy. Cheer. Maybe even talk some smack. But for sports’ sake, let’s behave out there.
[Originally published in the March/April issue of Midtown.]