The other night, I went to the Rangers-Islanders game at Madison Square Garden. Living with rabid Blueshirt fans over the past three years, along with their recent title run has cemented their place as one of my favorite teams to follow. I consider myself something of a causal sports fan. I love playing fantasy football, will root passionately for the New York Football Giants and have been getting my heart broken by the New York Mets since I jumped up and down in my little orange and blue onesie the night Mookie Wilson tapped a little dribbler through the legs of Billy Buckner.
My energy when watching my teams live is usually limited to a few exasperated groans and the celebratory high-five with the stranger sitting behind me. This is something that's changed tremendously over the years. I remember the days when I used to scream bloody murder at the television, or in the ears of the people in front of me at the games. I used to smash furniture, punch walls, scream outlandishly inappropriate things about the players, wish death upon them. I'd cry, yell, pray, plead, beg, fold my hands in front of my face, pound my fist against the bar, stand on stools, start rallying cries and chants, twist my hat into all sorts of contortions in hopes of starting a rally. I'd insult people wearing opposing jerseys, pick fights, swear in front of women and children, take my shirt off and write obscene things on my chest (seriously) - anything and everything to cheer on my favorite teams.
This was predominantly from the ages of 14-21, when it meant a lot more to me. Sure, I'm still a fan, but I did this thing us human beings do called "growing up". Those days of me writing "Fuck the Yankees" on my smooth, puffy-nippled chest and drunkenly running around the upper deck of Shea Stadium screaming "Let's Go Mets, Fuck the Yankees" (when they weren't even playing the Yankees. Seriously) are long behind me.
Which is why, the other night, when I witnessed some of the fans around me at Madison Square Garden belligerently fighting over a game, I couldn't help but feel embarrassed for them.
The Rangers were playing the Islanders, which, as a crosstown rivalry game, brought in a mixed crowd of fans. The first two periods were fairly even, with the Rangers taking a 2-1 lead going into the 3rd. There were some jabbing amongst the fans, though nothing I'd hadn't heard at a game before. But when the Islanders went on a run, scoring four goals in a ten-minutes stretch, the Islander fans began speaking up, with the Ranger faithful slumping in their chairs, getting more and more pissed off. I was one of those Ranger fans, bitterly sipping my beer as my row of friends got quiet. This is the fan I am now, at 30, who will simply slump in my chair and turn to my friends with a shrug. Oh well. Better luck next time.
That's when I saw a brand-new Rangers jersey, tags on it and everything, sail over our heads and onto the shoulder of a young woman about three rows ahead of us.
Apparently, to express his disgust for Henrik Lundqvist letting a few pucks go through his legs, a you man, about my age or a little older, decided to throw the $300 jersey he'd just purchased ten rows down. To prove what? I'm not sure. It didn't take very long to realized that he'd made a bonehead move, so he immediately began yelling down to have the jersey passed back.
It wasn't that easy.
The father of the young woman who'd been hit with the jersey turned, in a rage, and began screaming at the man:
Father - "You wanna throw jerseys, you fucking loser? Now, I'm keeping it! It's mine!"
The father gives him the finger and turns his attention back to the game.
The Islanders score again. The father shares his displeasure for his team.
Father - "OH, FUCK YOU!!! FUCK YOU!!!"
Islander fans begin taunting Ranger fans. Fingers in faces, other fingers being returned.
The man who'd throw the jersey continues to yell and plead to have it passed back up. Eventually, he makes his way down the aisle.
He gets to the father and daughter. In a swift move, he pulls the jersey off the father's shoulder without him looking. The father immediately grabs it back, stretching it out and revealing the "30" over "Lundqvist" on it's back. A tug of war ensues.
The young man yanks the jersey out of the father's hands. The father grabs the young man's arm and pulls him towards him, showing teeth under his thick mustache. The young man smugly laughs as he tries to get out of the father's clutches.
Father - "You hit my daughter, you fucking asshole!"
Security runs down and breaks up the scuffle. The Islanders score again. More booing, more yelling, more taunting and finger-pointing, more cursing and screaming, more beer being spilled.
No one is ejected because the security guard "didn't see the jersey being thrown" despite half the section coming to the defense of the father. The young man is ordered back to his seat, where he jarred with the father over the course of the next fifteen minutes. They swore at each other, while children with half-eaten hot dogs and uncomfortable parents looked on.
The Islanders score again.
Half the section, mostly Ranger fans, get up and head toward the exit. Amongst the sad blueshirt faithful who had given up on the game was the father, with his wife and daughter. The young man watched him head toward the exit, smug smile on his face:
Young Man - "Hey! Where the fuck are you going?!"
The father ignores him. The young man springs up, and climbs over six or seven people to follow the father in the concourse. All I saw next was the young man giving chase, disappearing into the crowded exit. Several moments later, the security abandoned his post and sprinted into the concourse area, likely breaking up another altercation between the father and young man.
I can't think of a more asinine story to tell, from either end. Think about getting arrested for something like that. It's very possible that the two of them got ejected from the area and right into police custody. And for what? Because some thirty-something dickhead wanted to throw his Henrik Lundqvist jersey to show that, after allowing a few goals, he's no longer pledging allegiance to this player or the team he plays on? Or the father, who after seeing his daughter get hit with a weightless piece of fabric, wanted to show the people of his section that he's not to be reckoned with?
This is all over a game. All the tension, all the temper-flaring, all of the confrontation, all the bad vibes - it's all over a few goals in an early-season hockey game.
One of the things that changed the way I behave at a sporting event happened when I was in high school. From 1999-2001, my family had partial season tickets for the New York Mets. It was during the Mike Piazza/Bobby Valentine years, when the Mets were reasonably relevant. We always sat in the same seats, surrounded same group of people, tucked away in the first baseline section of the darl-green chaired mezzanine. Everyone got along well and no one ever really showed up drunk and caused a scene. It also helped that the Mets won often, so spirits were always high.
The pleasantness and lack of people screaming obscenities was a good thing, because my Old Man doesn't stand for that shit. It's ironic that he raised me, a well-renowned potty-mouth, considering he won't let anyone say so much as "god damn" in front of his wife and kids. Whenever someone in our section, usually a guest of one of the regulars, would scream "you fucking suck" at one of the visiting players, the Old Man would politely lean over and say, "Hey, buddy, you mind? I'm here with my family."
The gentleman approach always worked. Now, for all of the foul words I've concocted over the years in this here blog, it's been embedded in me to respect those around me and not swear in front of women and children. I strayed from that a bit as a youngster (see: running around Shea Stadium with "Fuck the Yankees" written in Sharpie on my chest), though got with the program after this particular incident:
2001, the year after the Mets lost to the Yankees in the World Series, would be the last year my father took us to games. Having the Subway Series the year before only ignited the crosstown rivalry even further, and ticket demands for the following regular-season series at Shea were sky-high. This caused our section of faithful, low-key fans to be moved into the upper deck for the lone Yankee game that was part of our ticket package. On that Friday night game, my family was luck enough to be seated right in front of where the Yankee's infamous "Bleacher Creatures" had bought out a large block of tickets. If you're unaware of who these guys are, check out this video. It pretty much sums it up - a band of loud, drunken assholes who chant terribly obscene things and taunt people who have to balls to go to the game rooting for the opposition.
Of all the games we went to over those three years, this was the only one I sat out. I had a sweet sixteen that night, and I spent the evening working up the courage to ask a girl I'd had a crush on to dance with me. The DJ played N' SYNC's This I Promise You first. I chickened out. After doing a few shots of 99 Bananas in the bathroom with my friend, I came back out, mustered up all my courage, and asked her to dance to the tune of KC & Jojo's All My Life.
As I was attempting to hide my erection in a hideously awkward slow-dance with a girl whom, as I found out later that evening, had a crush on one of my friends, my Old Man's temper was burning up in the 4th inning at Shea. For the past hour, he's sat there an listened to these animals chant things like, "Shea Stadium, burn the motherfucker down!" Knowing he was out-numbered by about 20 to 1, and not having his eldest son there to help him should things escalate (not that I would have done anything productive in a brawl), he sat there and took it.
It wasn't till a couple of innings later, when the Bleacher Creatures sang their rendition of "YMCA", replacing "Y-M-C-A/It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A" with ""Why are you gay?/ I say you sucking some D-I-C-K", he looked at his then-four-year-old daughter, his nine-year-old son, and his wife. My mother pleaded for him not to go, but it was already too late. He sprinted up the steps, confronting every last one of them for ruining his night out with his wife and children. This immediately let to fists being thrown, beer bring poured, and more filthy profanities being hurled, all at my father.
My Old Man fought till the bitter end. My mom instructed my brother to go get security, and the melee was eventually broken up with my father being pulled, bruised and bloodied and covered in beer, out from underneath. It's sad - having gone to a place for so many years, all the memories and great times had - to have the last thing you experience in that building be a beating in front of your wife and kids at the hands of a pack of drunken animals.
No arrests were made that night, despite everyone in the section witnessing at least ten men pummeling my defenseless father. My family left right away, filing a police report at the nearby Queens precinct. Nothing ever came of it. Shea Stadium was torn down seven years later, with my father vehemently refusing to ever return.
I still went, yet my behavior and attitude about attending games, hell, about sports in general, changed. It made me think:
Do people honestly think that Derek Jeter would be happy that they're cursing out someone who comes to the ballpark wearing a Boston Red Sox hat?
Do they believe that getting to a fistfight, followed by a night spent in jail is really what the New York Jets need to win the Super Bowl?
Do they think that screaming "Fuck you! You suck, you fucking fag!" at an athlete, in front of children is going to help their team win?
Does Eli Manning stay up at night wondering how many hands were broken by guys punching walls following a costly interception he made in the 4th quarter? Is he grateful for those people, because they're obviously "true, loyal fans"?
Do players look up in the stands, see a rumble between guys wearing opposite team jerseys and think, "man, I'm glad we have fans that will fight for our honor!"?
What the fuck is wrong with these people?
It's a game. These guys are getting paid no matter what. It's not life-altering, and it's, at the end of the day, not remotely worth fighting over.
And as far as swearing at a game in front of women and children - one can argue that it's a hazard of the environment. That if you buy tickets to a night game, one can expect to hear a few crass words being yelled from time to time. That people get drunk and yell. It's happens.
That's bull shit.
A six year old kid, enjoying his first ball game, doesn't need to be subjected to some drunken asshole screaming "Jason Bay, you fucking cock sucker!" as his dad tries to have a little father-son time. People can yell and be fans without being disrespectful.
I curse a lot on this blog. Watch - cock, shit, fuck, balls, asshole, uncle, pussy, taint, cunt, turd, twat!
See? But there's a thing you can do if it offends you - exit out of this tab, open a new one, and find something else to read on the internet. There's plenty of stuff, I assure you.
If I spend hundreds of dollars on tickets, food, and beverage, I shouldn't have to be subjected to some baboon who takes the game a liiiiitle too seriously, especially if I want to bring my children to enjoy the festivities.