This column, by contributing writer Dave Kindred, first appeared in the Nov. 22, 1993, issue of The Sporting News under the headline, “When a fan becomes a fanatic”.
This just in: We have lost our minds, folks. We are whacko. Somebody get the straitjackets. Late in the 20th century, a loony-tune with a propeller on his back has flown into sports. It’s a trend. They turned over police cars in Montreal to celebrate the Canadiens. Philadelphia, afraid people would happyriot, brought motorcycle cops and horseback cops and canine cops to the ballpark. The de cline and fall of civilization: Morganna ker-lumphs into the batter’s box and now loony-tunes fall from the sky. Sports used to be an institution. Now it ought to be in one.
Wait a minute. This isn’t strong enough. We have absolutely, completely, utterly, inarguably and irretrievably lost our ever-loving sports-loving funloving memorabilia-ized autograph-ized Rotisserie-ized minds.
A propellerized loony-tune lands on the ring ropes during a heavyweight championship fight. Evander Holyfield remembers, “That tennis lady.” He means Monica Seles, who was the target of a German loony-tune who didn’t have a propeller but did have a knife.
He inserted the knife between Monica’s shoulder blades. A German court said, Oh, golly, and sentenced him to sharpen his knife during a weekend on the Riviera
We have lost it, folks. Rock Newman is Riddick Bowe’s manager. He thought the propeller loony-tune might be there to kill Jesse Jackson or Louis Farrakhan. Assassination at Caesars Palace! Next week’s movie of the week! Holyfield had no idea. He only knew he was anxious. But then, who isn’t these days?
Loony-tunes ran onto baseball fields in a summerlong epidemic of loonydom. Remember the ninth-inning rally at Yankee Stadium that was extended because of a fan running onto the field? Football is no better. They’re greasing goal posts so kids won’t take them back to the dorm. Wisconsin beat Michigan for the first time in about 300 years, and every adrenal gland in Wisconsin went into high-rev spitfiring. So loony-tunes stampeded. People were stomped on, like it was Brazil and this was soccer. People went to the hospital, and everybody said, Oh, golly, how ’bout them Badgers?
I’m listening to a sports talk show. The sports-talk expert used to be a pro rassler. He’s a buddy of the town’s NFL coach. He says the coach gets death threats. He talks about the guy who carries the coach’s telephone cord every Sunday. He says the guy’s also a bodyguard. The ex-rassler expert says the coach has a bodyguard, and the bodyguard is armed.
We know there are guns in football. NFL wide receivers usually hand them over to the police late at night. But what about this coach’s telephone cord-carrying guy who may be carrying a Smith & Wesson? Does the NFL know about him? Does the league allow guns on the sideline? If so, what’s the caliber limit? Have we lost our ever-loving minds or is it normal for a coach to walk the sideline with a guy watching his back?
Butch Johnson used to be a wide receiver in Dallas. He would score a touchdown and go through his act, blowing smoke off the barrel of his six-gun. Just an act. Pitchers Pascual Perez and Dennis Eckersley have done the same macho shtick.
This sports-talk expert is talking about the coach under death threats, and I’m thinking this ex-rassler and this coach are paranoiacs on the hoof — except I sat at Mitch Williams’ locker after the World Series and heard the Philadelphia pitcher talk about death threats from somebody who didn’t like Mitch’s work. These weren’t paranoid delusions. The police told Williams about the phone calls and then sat in his driveway waiting for a loony-tune.
So now I’m thinking maybe the NFL coach should have the gun on his own hip, right there where America’s loony-tunes can see it.
It has come to this. Blowing smoke off a six-gun used to be funny. Folks wanted to kill the ump, but only metaphorically. A Brooklyn fan got overheated and beat an umpire with a soda bottle. But that was that. Ty Cobb went into the seats once to nail a fan. These things happen.
Eddie Waitkus got shot. A steamed girlfriend did it to the Phillies first baseman in 1949, She did it in a hotel room, not at the ballpark, and it was evidence of nothing except the state of her steamed mind.
But the evidence now is that we’re over the edge. It’s all of us, make no mistake. Sports is part of the cracked American mirror. We’re hurting each other. The Las Vegas loony-tune with a propeller on his back might have pulled electricity down on a thousand folks. Or somebody might have been chewed up by his propeller. And what’s the price he pays? Oh, golly, that’s a $200 fine and have a nice flight.
Speaking of flights, Thomas Harris, who wrote “Silence of the Lambs,” also wrote “Black Sunday,” in which terrorists fly a blimp with bombs over a Super Bowl stadium. It could happen. Worse things have happened. Munich happened. I was at the Super Bowl during George Bush’s war with Saddam Hussein. That Super Bowi set a record for military hardware.
Before the game, fighter jets made a hero swoop over the stadium rim. President Bush came on the giant video screen to pep us up. Martial music honored each branch of our armed services. People went wow. I went, Wait a minute. If we’d seen the same stuff from Iraq during a soccer game with Hussein up there and Scud missiles roaring over the stadium, we’d have thought those people were loony-tunes.
A friend in Baltimore saw the propeller guy. He thought it was horrible. He is 45. He said, “I was watching the fight with a roomful of 15- and 16-year-old kids. And they all thought the propeller man was the coolest thing they’d ever seen.”
Cooler than Bart Simpson. Even Cooler, if you can imagine, than Beavis and Butt-head.
Makes you think. Makes me think. Makes me think of what the old tight end, Russ Francis, said about defensive linemen: “If their IQs were five points lower, they’d be geraniums.”
Sidebar: Voice of the Fan (Dec. 6, 1993, issue)
The following reader letters first appeared in the Dec. 6, 1993, issue of The Sporting News.
The “Ignorant Act of the Year Award” should be presented to Mr. James Miller for parachuting into the ring during the Holyfield-Bowe heavyweight championship fight November 6. Mr. Miller showed an absolute disregard for the welfare of the spectators and participants involved in the fight. He should be thankful his parachute did not pull down any of the temporary equipment (e.g., lighting) onto the fans.
The ignorance portion of the award is for his complete lack of consideration and respect for the participants in the fight. I am sure Mr. Miller would not appreciate Evander Holyfield or Riddick Bowe showing up at his place of employment and making spectacles of themselves or causing an unwanted circus-type commotion. In performing this attention-seeking stunt, Mr. Miller attempted to ridicule the event that was taking place.
Holyfield and Bowe did not think what was happening in the ring was some kind of joke. For this act of ignorance, Mr. Miller should be given the prize he rightfully deserves, which is a lengthy prison sentence for reckless operation of an aircraft, disorderly conduct, interference in athletic events, nuisance, trespass and disturbing the peace.
— Ray Milburn Annapolis, Md.
Dave Kindred’s column “When a fan becomes a fanatic” (TSN, November 22) hit the nail squarely on the head. All sports teams welcome support from responsible, loyal fans. However, when one fan’s action — or that of a group — disrupts the game or endangers the safety of other fans, then local authorities and the team should come down hard.
One sure method would be a substantial fine, enough to really hurt the whacko. Various leagues need to work with local authorities to obtain passage of tougher laws than are now in place.
Unfortunately, this won’t happen until some whacko causes the death or serious injury to a group of honest fans. Keep it up, Dave.
— Robert Braden Garland, Tex.