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Sports May Be Better, but Not Sportsmanship

In the second quarter, with the score Good Guys, a.k.a. USC Trojans, 14, Bad Guys, a.k.a. Michigan Wolverines, 3, I saw something I’ve never seen in 30 years of Rose Bowls. And hope I never do again.

As the Michigan marching band, all 300-strong or whatever it was, came streaming to the staging area in front of the SC stands for their preparation for the halftime show, the student body in the seats rose to pelt the musicians with plastic cushions.

I couldn’t believe these were sane adults. I mean, what was this--Yankee Stadium? The Metrodome? Ebbets Field?

This was the Rose Bowl. Not the bleachers in Wrigley Field. This was Pasadena, citadel of culture and charm. This was a fiesta of flowers and music, not a dock fight.

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These were our guests. They hadn’t come to steal the silverware. They had come to take part in a pageant, not a gang war. They were to add their bit to our New Year’s festival, not dodge missiles.

Well, you say, so what? Just a little pillow fight? Well, I saw one cushion knock a fellow’s glasses off. I don’t know about you, but with me that would be serious.

Anyway, when did we become ruffians? Bullies? A mob, not an audience?

These were not even 250-pound linebackers they were pelting. These were fluegelhornists. These guys looked like a whole bunch of Saturday Evening Post covers. All they wanted to do was prance onto the field in their spats and go into “Hail to the Victors Valiant,” not gang-tackle Rodney Peete. They looked like Orel Hershiser carrying a glockenspiel, not Dick Butkus carrying a grudge.

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I don’t know what’s happened to the American sports fan in this decade, anyway. I would read the stories about the riots at English soccer games and think, “Oh, well, those people badly need a war. If they don’t get one every 20 years or so, they get edgy.”

But what’s our excuse?

I don’t know when this country’s sports fans felt they had to get into the act. I know it’s recent. When I was a kid, I can remember going to Fenway Park in Boston, which had the most rabid fans in the whole spectrum. But if a rival pitcher had a shutout going, or even a well-pitched game, by the ninth inning and he came to bat, they didn’t pelt him with cushions and abuse. They rose to give him a standing ovation. I thought it was what sportsmanship was all about.

Today, intimidation is what it’s all about. I was at Yankee Stadium one night when somebody threw a knife at Wally Joyner.

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Football is a national disgrace. In the domed stadiums, the fans set up a deliberate, malicious, meretricious din when the visiting team has the ball, which has the effect of demoralizing its attack. Pro football, with its sophisticated, adjustable defenses, often requires changing the play at the line of scrimmage. It is necessary to make a play work. The play designed in the huddle has been neutralized by an artful zone.

Except, you can’t call a new play at the line of scrimmage in, say, Seattle’s Kingdome, Minneapolis’ Metrodome, Houston’s Astrodome--or any place else where a hostile, power-lunged crowd is drowning you out. This is cheating, plain and simple. It is giving an unfair advantage to the home team, about like letting them hold or interfere with impunity.

Fans, of course, like football coaches, are copycats. The fan in Duluth sees the fan in Denver do something that looks like mayhem--fans in Denver once pelted a kicker with snowballs to make him miss--they want to do it, too.

It is like coughing on a guy’s backswing in golf, pitching coins on the ice in hockey, waving a white handkerchief in a pitcher’s eyes from a dugout box seat in baseball, as some lady in Shea Stadium did at the baseball playoffs last year.

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I guess it gives some cretins a great deal of satisfaction to be able to go home and say, “Well, I beat the Raiders today. Their quarterback won’t be able to hear--or talk--for a month.”

It’s never been our style out here. We’re a people who go home in the seventh inning. Unless there are fireworks after the game. The California credo has been, “Please try to win, baby!” and not the Eastern, “Stick it in his ear, Sal!” Our cheers are, “Way to go, Duke!” not, “We will, we will--rock you!”

And we don’t throw cushions at trombone players. We throw roses.


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