It's time to drop the penalty flag on sports fans behaving badly

December 01, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

The problem with TV commercials is that they serve as a mirror of society, and sometimes what you see in the mirror ain't too pretty.

Case in point: those clever MasterCard commercials starring Peyton Manning.

Have you seen the new one yet?

Here the star quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts reprises his role as a lunatic fan of ordinary people going about their everyday jobs.

He fawningly asks a supermarket stock boy to autograph a melon, and gushes "Oh, man, that's awesome!" when the kid obliges.

He cheers through a bullhorn for a mechanic changing a car's oil.

He holds up signs and chants "DE-CAF! DE-CAF!" for a waitress in a diner.

And he plants himself at the entrance to a restaurant and greets workers as they come off their shift ("Nice salad bar today!"), dissolving in paroxysms of joy when one of them throws him his apron.

The commercial, of course, is an absolute hoot. And it's probably generating a lot of attention for MasterCard.

(Although in an unofficial survey of a half-dozen people conducted amid the plush cubicles of The Sun's newsroom, all six said they loved the spot, yet not one could tell me what product Manning was pitching.)

But it's also a not-so-gentle parody of the way we worship big-time athletes in this country, and of the lunatic antics of many sports fans.

And there's definitely no shortage of lunatic- fan antics.

Look what's happening in sports these days.

You've got all those boozy fat guys in the stands at NFL games with the painted faces and the costumes and beads and what-not, shrieking at the TV cameras.

(There used to be only a handful of these psychos at every game. Now there are hundreds of them. They must come in their own fleet of Greyhound buses.)

You've got fans brawling with players in the stands. You've got fans celebrating championships by rioting and setting cars on fire.

(We had that kind of a Kodak moment in College Park a few years ago, remember? When the University of Maryland men's basketball team won the NCAA championship? I remember watching the ensuing rioting on the 11 o'clock news and wondering what a proud parent would think if he was paying hefty tuition bills and spotted his kid going nuts in the crowd. Look, Marge, there's Jeremy kicking in that store window. ... Doesn't he have a chem exam tomorrow?)

Then, taking the whole idea of lunatic fan behavior to the next level - to the penthouse suite, if you will - you've got what happened last weekend in Philadelphia during the Eagles game against the Green Bay Packers.

Maybe you saw this on your local news or on ESPN highlights.

Anyway, what happened was this: A fan ran onto the field during the game.

No big deal, you thought at first. Just another beered-up nutcase trying to draw attention.

Except this nutcase definitely had a style all his own.

According to the Associated Press, he was holding a plastic bag, from which some sort of dark powder was spilling onto the field.

And when he reached the 30-yard line, he knelt, made the sign of the cross, and flopped down on his stomach.

Seconds later, the security people grabbed him.

Now the guy says he ran onto the field to - I can't believe I'm actually typing this - spread his dead mother's ashes, the mother having died of emphysema last January.

"She never cared for any other team except the Eagles," the man, Christopher Noteboom, a native of Doylestown, Pa., told a Philly TV station. "I know that the last handful of ashes I had are laying on the field and will never be taken away."

Ohhhh-kay.

Isn't that a little, um, over the top? Even for the most hard-core Eagles fan?

Look, if you're the Eagles, you just can't let people jump on the field to spread their mom's ashes whenever they want.

You don't want to start a trend here.

If you let one fan get away with this, you better believe there'll be 200 fans packing urns with their mom's ashes at the next game.

And with all these fans jumping on the field to spread their mom's ashes, how will you ever get the game in?

Then there's this: In this post-9/11 world of ours, a man leaping onto the field in a packed stadium with a plastic bag full of anything tends to make people jittery.

Are you kidding? I'd be sprinting for the exit, even if the only thing in the plastic bag was chocolate-chip cookies.

Anyway, the guy with the ashes was just the latest example of the nutso fan behavior we're seeing more and more of these days.

Maybe that's why Peyton Manning's antics in that MasterCard commercial resonate so much.

It's a funny commercial, all right.

Except what it tells us about ourselves isn't so funny.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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