The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 5, 2013

Ojanpa: Fans ready to foam at the mouth

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

— Before the 1972 Super Bowl, enigmatic Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas waxed ironic about all the hype and hubbub:

“If it’s the ultimate game, how come they’re playing it again next year?”

That type of perspective might serve fans well at tonight’s ballyhooed  bacchanal otherwise referred to as the Vikings-Packers playoff game.

Lambeau Field in Green Bay will be the site of this Clash of the Titans. But that’s a reference to the action in the stands, not on the field.

To be blunt, drinking will be involved. Yes, that is a hyperbolic  understatement, delivered for wry effect.

 Saying that drinking will be involved at this uber-heralded Vikings-Packers matchup is like saying a meat wagon is of some interest to a starving dog.

The security staff at Lambeau Field — that has to be a job born in hell — is all too aware of the ramifications of such a commingling of face-painted sots.  

So in hopes of minimizing the alcoholic carnage about to ensue, the Packers organization has taken steps to further protect fans from each other and themselves.

The special rule for this game: No booze will be sold after halftime.

This is a tightening of the normal restriction at Lambeau that ends alcohol sales after the third quarter, but this game is not being viewed as normal because the Vikings and Packers are “hated border rivals,” a media-fueled heap of nonsense that fans have always gulped hook, line and 16-ouncer.

Many jokes have been made about Packer fans’ penchant for pounding  pilsners as if Prohibition starts anew tomorrow. But joking about hammered Wisconsinites is too easy — and too myopic.

Unruly football fans, like creeping charlie, have become an invasive species at virtually all NFL game venues.

And as wildly successful as the NFL has become, its poobahs know its in-stadium Achilles heel is the rowdyism in the stands.

The NFL in 2008 came up with a fan conduct code to serve as a template for each team’s monitoring of fan behavior.

This had led to a chicken-or-egg dynamic: Does the rise in fan ejections at games indicate behavior is getting worse, or does it show that conduct-code enforcement is working?

Jerry M. Lewis, sociologist and author of “Sports Fan Violence in North America,” thinks behavior will continue to worsen.  

He says there’s a lot of anger in our society, and one way to dispel it is at sporting events, where teams encourage fans to scream and flail like banshees.

In this setting, the “please drink responsibly” message tends to get trampled like old roadkill, especially when vendors in every NFL city make nice chunks of change with T shirts reading “(Your city’s name here) is a drinking town with a football problem.”

But fans at tonight’s sort-of-ultimate football game can take heart. If their drunken emotions can’t be held in check, push comes to shove, and they get ejected or arrested, there’s this lifeline: an online behavior class.

To date, seven NFL stadiums, including Lambeau, are participating in the NFL-sanctioned online fan conduct classes.

Fans who are ejected from a game or banned entirely from a stadium must enroll in the $75 class and complete it to re-gain admittance.

It has worked — to a point. At some stadiums, banished fans refusing to take the class have been rooted out at games and arrested for entering a property without permission.

Which poses a beery quandary for these interlopers: On third down and long, do they run or trespass?

 

Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 344-6316 or email bojanpa@mankatofreepress.com.