Anybody who watched the New England Patriots’ fabulous game against the Chicago Bears last Sunday must chuckle at the memory of Referee Bob McElwee playing charades at midfield in an attempt to explain to several thousand irritated Bears’ fans exactly why he was overturning his earlier call and giving the Patriots another, ultimately successful, shot at victory. McElwee’s gesticulation was a meager attempt to explain ‘possession’ according to NFL regulations. On Friday, ESPN reported that a judge in San Francisco will take up to a month â€“ well beyond the time frame in which McElwee was permitted to dance at midfield â€“ to define ‘possession’ according to, not only the law, but also the established rules of baseball. The judge is attempting to resolve a dispute over Barry Bonds’s 73rd homerun ball in which videotape suggests that one man had control of a ball for six-tenths of a second before being attacked “as if part of ‘a European soccer riot’” and dropping the ball into another man’s hands.
Speaking of European soccer riots, while McElwee discussed the bobbling ball like a bumbling fool, in Italy another fool â€“ er, fan â€“ jumped onto the field and punched the opposing goalkeeper, Emanuele Manitta, in the face, sending him to the hospital. The event is reminiscent of last baseball season when an inebriated father led his teenage son onto the field at Comiskey Park in Chicago and tackled Kansas City Royals’ first base coach Tom Gamboa. And that event is reminiscent of the time a few baseball seasons ago when the entire Dodgers’ bench climbed into the baseball stands at Wrigley Field in Chicago and attacked fans after a player was attacked there.
One might attribute this trend to the chemical make-up of water in Chicago and soccer frenzied countries that transforms sports fans there into violent gladiators, intent on assisting their teams on the field where, at least in Chicago, the professional athletes aren’t up to the proverbial snuff. I’d rather, though, attribute this trend to an increased zealousness in sports fans across the world. Take, for example, the current efforts being taken in Sudbury, Mass., where Red Sox fans are attempting to assist the Sox in breaking the ominous curse of the Bambino. ESPN reported on Friday that John Fish of American Underwater Search and Survey, who assisted in the searches at Ground Zero and the crash site of TWA Flight 800, is bringing his expertise to the most important realms. Fish is attempting to locate Babe Ruth’s piano, which, according to legend, rests peacefully at the bottom of a pond in Sudbury. He and the population of Sudbury hope that by fishing out the famed piano, Ruth’s soul might be able to rest more peacefully and the Red Sox might be, just might be, able to fish out a title in the next hundred years. Look at the lengths fans are going to these days.
This is important. It is important that the fans become more involved in sports. Only when fans form an intimate relationship, like the one that father and son had with Tom Gamboa, with the players that they can enjoy such fruitful social experiences as the one fans at Wrigley had with the Dodgers a few years back. And, it is important that the players begin to become more social with the fans. Michael Vick, for one, is up to the task of acting as a role model in this venture. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Michael Vick is leaving a telephone message with every season ticket holder thanking “the 12th man out there.” Terrell Owens, too, furthered player-fan relations with his gesture towards a faithful fan during his game against Seattle on Monday Night Football a few weeks back. After scoring a touchdown after beating Seattle defensive back Shawn Springs to the ball, the San Francisco receiver pulled an indelible marker from his sock, signed the football and presented it to a fan sitting in Springs’s field-level suite he’d reserved for family and friends. It’s acts like these that remind fans that they’re always welcome at the games, to be involved in the heroic fight for truth and honor. What would we do without these little reminders that we, the fans, matter?
If only Canadians could act towards these goals like the good American people. Indeed, while McElwee was dancing at midfield and the Italian soccer fan was sparring with the opposing goalie, Jody Remple, your average, do-gooder fan, dashed onto the field to say hello to one of the players. Apparently, though, the Canadian Football League’s players are not as welcoming as the NFL’s do-gooder duo of Vick and Owens. There, the players felt threatened and in retaliation promptly tackled Remple before beating and kicking him. Ironically, the impolite and unwelcoming professional athletes could not injure Remple (perhaps they should take lessons from Italian soccer fans), who was fined by the also cold-hearted Canadian court $180 for “causing a disturbance.” Who could honestly call Remple’s attempt at player-fan diplomacy a disturbance?
At least I can count on the fact that if I ever go to a football game in Canada, the officials will be too antisocial to let go and give their physical impression of an interception like Bob McElwee did last week.