I have long been fascinated by the concept of visiting fans. You have a whole stadium of people all banded together in support of one team, one concept, one way of life. Yet there are a few pockets of hateful resistance who reject your beliefs, who reject your way of life, who reject your team! In your own stadium no less! Those people take on larger than life importance suddenly and all you want to do is send them home an unhappy loser. Those people are the rabble rousing minority I know to be visiting fans.
That all being said, I got the delightful joy last night of being one of those visiting fans.
Detroit Red Wings VS. Anaheim Ducks. Game 4 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Ducks and Wings had played each other very tough in the first 3 games of this series. Each game decided by one goal, including a toiugh Ducks victory in overtime in game 2. In game 3 the Red Wings scored what looked to be a game tying goal late which was disallowed by the ref’s under bad pretense. This all set the stage for game 4, where the Ducks had a 2-1 series lead, despite being the 8 seed underdogs to the Detroit 2 seed juggernaut.
It was myself, Matt, Julia, and Rick. A interesting dynamic to say the least. Matt is a fellow Detroiter, and one who is likely to not cause a riff in any way. He wore a Lidstrom jersey. Rick is a Chicagoan who had no rooting interest. Julia is a Canadian who also had no rooting interest, except a desire to see me an unhappy loser. I was decked out in my old school #20 Martin LaPointe jersey. LaPointe was an important cog in the Red Wings machine when they won their first 2 recent cups in 1997 and 1998.
We took our nosebleed seats (Although give the Honda Center credit, there are no bad seats) with our various beers, hot dogs, and pretzels. Within the first minute of play the Ducks scored. It was unreal. The place just came alive as if it was Anaheim fans who had a birthright to win that cup.
There was a row of Duck fans behind me who had already singled me out as one who they planned to antagonize. One leaned forward close to me and said (To his friend) ‘You know the papers said that the Red Wings would come out all fired up early in this game after what happened in game 3. So much for that, right?’.
I sat on my hands, as a visiting fan is supposed to do when there is nothing to say. In fact, when the Ducks scored or made a good play I was right there clapping for them, still knowing my team was better, but applauding for good hockey. See, I’m not SO hateful.
The Red Wings scored 2 goals to equalize and then take the lead in the first period. I jumped up, cheered, and high fived nearby Detroit fans each time they scored, as I do believe I should given my excitement in those moments. I turned to Matt and said (So the guys behind me could hear it) ‘You know, the papers said that the Red Wings were going to come out and play well today given what happened in game 3. I guess they were right’.
It is at this point that I must acknowledge a particular skill that I have. I possess an inherent ability to piss people off. For whatever reason I discovered long ago how to push people’s buttons (Sometimes without doing much at all) and I do not hate this fact. life is supposed to be fun, and what is fun without villains? Well, comic book/movie villains, not the real ones who kill you and stuff. So when I say I cheered and clapped and got excited, know that this grated on all the Ducks fans around me.
When I think of visiting fans, I remember being at the World Series in 1999. I was (And still am) a fan of the Atlanta Braves. And due to an advertising job I had at the time, I got the chance to acquire free, good seats to a World Series game in Atlanta against the hated New York Yankees. In that game (And series) we got just killed. We lost something like 8-1. But what I remember was 2 Yankees fan who sat behind us and just played the part of loud visiting fans the whole game. I just hated them, but there is not much to say when you are down 8-1 is there? I mean, they went back and forth with people around them, kept it clean, kept it smart, and I could at least appreciate them, if not the game I was watching, ugh.
Anyways, during the intermission I went and got another beer, settled back into my seat, and began to enjoy the 2nd period.
And so it goes, the Ducks scored a on a 2 on 1 play to tie the score at 2. The place came alive, I clapped for them. The goal was a little weak, but you could totally see the play develop and they deserved to score. That goal brought me sadness and I sat on my hands for a while, because there was not much to say.
Then the Red Wings scored to take the lead again! Right in front of me! It was awesome! I have been to many sporting events in many different cities. I have never seen so many opposing jerseys in a home stadium than I saw last night. Let’s face facts, LA is filled with people from the midwest, and those Michigan folks come out in droves to support their team. Huzzah for Detroiters! When the Wings scored the goal to make it 3-2, everyone in the stadium who was wearing Red (Except Matt, shame on you) stood up and went crazy. I mean, in my section alone I could high five 4 different Detroit fans without taking a single step. And when they scored that goal, I sure did.
It was around this time that the first volleys of hatred started. The Ducks fans started to realize that their team was no good, and they needed someone tangible to blame. And there I was. Some middle aged woman seated in the row in front of me and about 4 seats to my right turned and started yelling at me. ‘You are such a front runner! When did you become a Red Wings fan, last week? You don’t know anything about hockey!’ My responses were easy; ‘I’m looking at the scoreboard right now. I’m sorry, did Anaheim even have a team 15 years ago? Are you guys still known as the Mighty Ducks? Stop pretending that your team can hang with an original 6 like Detroit’.
The Red Wings scored yet another goal to make the game 4-2 at the end of the 2nd period. At this point I felt very good about the outcome, and was certain that we were going to win. A Ducks fan on the other side of the aisle that I never caught a glimpse of but who from what I hear had a crazy drunken look in his eye offered Rick 100 bucks to throw his beer at me. I told him if he cuts me in for half I’d let him do it. He did not. This brings me to my personal beliefs as to a code of conduct for fans at games, especially visiting fans;
1) Do not swear. I am pretty sure I kept it clean all night. Gosh willing I sure tried to. Julia did not remember me cursing, Matt seems to remember a word or 2 flying out, but all in all generally clean. This is important to me. There is a difference between having a good time and yelling stuff back and forth at a sporting event, and that guy who curses with his potty mouth and is just generally unpleasant to be around. I never want to be that guy.
2) Let the other fans have their moments. If the other team scores, sit on your hands and shut your mouth unless engaged by the others around you. When your team scores they should allow you to jump up and down and be excited as well. Nobody likes a poor sport, and you should always take losing like a man.
3) Be creative. This is also important. Nobody wants to hear the same thing over and over again, whether they are on your side or not. When you yell things, whether at the game or each other, make it interesting!
4) Remember that this is fun. Oh my God we are at a sporting event. Nobody is going to live or die as a result of this game. Sports are supposed to be fun, and ribbing is part of the deal. If you do not want to be around some good natured shit talking, stay home and watch the game on your TV with your cats.
5) Never get physical. I mean, what are we 8 years old? If you can’t go to a sporting event without getting into a fist fight it means that something is wrong with you. Going back to point 4 it doesn’t matter what happens in the game, there is no reason to physically abuse another person. This should go without saying, but as will be seen later needs to be said.
A couple years ago I was duped into watching the Michigan/Ohio State game at an Ohio State friendly bar. By friendly I mean I walked in expecting there to fans of both teams, only to see an Ohio State flag on the wall, buckeye beads strung everywhere, and a HUGE see of Red around me. This was when the 2 teams were ranked #1 and #2. We had a really good time yelling things back and forth at each other. A very young Ohio State fan drew me a picture (That I still have) that had a buckeye on it and said ‘Ohio State rules’. He also was nice enough to make me one with a big blue M on it that said ‘Go Blue’ later on, that was sweet of him. But anyways, during the game we were razzing each other, I was in my hateful visiting fans form, and Michigan lost the game by 3 points. After it was all over many of the OSU fans came over, shook my hand, gave me a hug, and wished me and my team well. Um, that is EXACTLY how it supposed to go down. We jeer each other for the length of the game, then when it’s over we shake hands, smile, and go about our day.
Ducks fans have not had a team for long enough apparently to have gotten that memo.
The third period starts and there is a chill that filled the stadium. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath as a Red Wings fan around me said. It was like being at a funeral. Detroit scored ANOTHER goal to make the game 5-2. At this point all the Ducks fans around me needed somewhere to vent their anger and frustration. Guess who they found a dance partner in?
I started suddenly hearing it from all corners. The crazy guy across the aisle started yelling things down on me. For the second time I got blasted as ‘Not being a real fan, what do you know about hockey?’ This seemed weird being that I am from Hockeytown and Anaheim only got a team like 15 years ago. I mean for realsies people? I fired back with a ‘Maybe it’s time y’all start beating the traffic’ blast. A Ducks fan behind me and to the left got off with ‘I don’t know what you’re cheering for, you’re down 2 games to 1 to an 8 seed!’ I responded ‘Only for another 10 minutes or so, then we’re back in the drivers seat my man.’ The OC Redneck sitting behind me wanted to get into me. He started yelling at me to ‘Drink your beer’. I thanked him for the instruction and mentioned that I bought the beer with the intention of drinking it. He leaned forward, got right in my ear and started loudly chanting ‘Bald Ass Announcer clap clap clapclapclap Bald Ass Announcer clap clap clapclapclap’. He seemed to do this one chant FOREVER, as I stated before, at least be creative. My response to that guy was simple; ‘You can talk about my genetics all you want, I would rather talk about how my team is KILLING your team’. Now the middle aged guy sitting right in front of me turned around and got brave! ‘You are classless, I am here with my family trying to enjoy the game and you have ruined my having a good time for 2 and a half periods’. My response; ‘No sir, the Ducks are ruining your time by being horrible, don’t blame me for that’. And on top of that he actually pulled out the ‘I’m here with my family’ line? His ‘kids’ were in their 20′s!!! When he said that part I immediately said ‘I haven’t been cursing, I’ve been clean, don’t get on me like that!’ His wife disagreed with me. I still do not remember swearing at all. It was wild suddenly seeing everyone get mad at me though, had the game been more in doubt I do not think they would have acted the way they did.
With 5 minutes to go in the game a Ducks player started a fight with a Red Wings player. This got the fans up and out of their seats. The OC Redneck behind me especially seemed to enjoy the scene of barbarity. He took his orange ‘Fowl Towel’ and whipped it in such a way that it slapped me in the face from behind like almost a half dozen times during the fight on the ice. This broke my personal rule of ‘Never get physical’ and really got the Detroit in me up. I turned around, gave the OC redneck a light slap on his arm, looked him dead in the eyes and just said, ‘Hey, that shit isn’t cool alright? That shit isn’t cool man.’ That chilled him the fuck out quickly. Afterwards, Julia claimed that had she seen him hit me with the towel, she would have pushed me out of the way and got in his face herself. The jury is still out on that statement. That would have been sorta awesome to see though. One of the people I came with (I forget who) told me that I was just being awful and even the old Detroit fan sitting in front of us and to the left wouldn’t have had my back. Remember that statement for later.
Final Score: Detroit Red Wings 6 – Anaheim Ducks 3.
So the game ends, and every one of those brave Ducks fans quickly exits the building, not one had the temerity to even say ‘Good game’ to me. Nothing, and they called me classless. Not one shook my hand after the game, or allowed me to wish them well in life and bring it all back to the fact that it’s just a game. This rubbed me a little raw, and to me showed no grace in defeat. I will tell you right now that had the Red Wings lost that game I would have reached out and congratulated them on their victory, and wished them well. But again, they only got their team a short while ago, and winning the cup a couple years ago must have skewed their perspective.
We start to file out at the end of the game. The old Detroit fan who sat in front of us turned and shook my hand. To paraphrase him, ‘You were awesome my man, you made this game so much more fun. please tell me you are coming back for game 6.’ Sadly I had to tell him that I was not because I can’t afford to. Some random chick leans over and high fives me on the way down the aisle. It turned out to be the girlfriend of the angry crazy eye guy who wanted Rick to dump beer on me. I continue out the door trying to slap hands with every single excited Detroit fan I can find, and feel general joy about the victory. On the way out the door of the stadium, and young, retarded Ducks fan held the door for me. I mean he was literally retarded. He says ‘You better look out, the Ducks are still going to kick your ass in this series’. What do you say to that guy saying that? all I had to come back with was ‘Very well could happen my man, be well.’
We found the car (After a struggle) and I proceeded to spend the ride home feeling like I needed to defend myself from persecution as we recapped the evening of fan interaction. To me it was all in solid fun, to them they were worried about a massive riot. Julia says to me, ‘Can I be real for a second here? You really seem to revel in people hating you, and that’s just not good, for real.’ I mean really? Really? Yes, I do enjoy being the big, bold, abrasive person that I am. What choice do I have, you can’t change what you are right? And when I am at a sporting event that I actually care about the outcome of, I love the back and forth chiding that goes on. Should I need to defend that? Seriously? I found her statements to be silly. I guess some people either get the 2 sides to my coin or they just plain do not. Oh well, whatcha gonna do?
And for the record, having the skill of making people want to root against you is very handy in pro wrestling. I am so happy that I found an arena where that particular talent is worth something. Again though, 2 sides to a coin. If I know how to piss you off and get under your skin, I also know how bring you deep joy and get under your skin in a positive way. I guess it all depends on if you’re cheering for my team, or against it. Both in sports and in life. As said, the Ducks fans hated me and bailed, the Red Wings fans loved me and thanked me for making the game more fun. Welcome to a day in the life of Almighty Ray, dear friends.
And that is the story of how I was a hateful visiting fan at an NHL playoff game.