If you’ve watched any major sporting event recently, you may have noticed something unusual. No, not Brady playing for the Buccaneers. I’m talking about the lack of fans in attendance. No kiss cams, no failed attempts at catching foul balls, and no danger of repeating the misfortunes of the gentleman that once sat in the lone Red seat of Fenway park in 1946. Whether good, bad, or ugly, there have been some outrageously memorable and historic moments that involved the fourth wall being broken and fans and players, in one way or another, interacting. Part I of this saga will look at the best of the good interactions, which will be followed up with The Bad and The Ugly in part’s II and III.
#3 An excellent save by Rick Monday, (Major League Baseball), April 25th, 1976, Los Angeles, CA.
1976 was the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of the United States. It had been 200 years since the American colonists risked their lives in the name of freedom. A privilege that remained present in America after two centuries through thick and thin, and no war or scandal would take that away. With this being the case, the average American’s patriotism still outweighed their disappointment over the handling of the Vietnam war that had come to a long overdue end in 1975. This was obvious on April 25th in a game between the L.A. Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs.
In the bottom of the fourth innings, two radical crowd members, later identified by the L.A. times as, “William Eroll Thomas, 37, [unemployed] and his son”, took the chance to show the whole nation what they thought of the United States by streaking onto the diamond with the nation’s flag. They drowned it in lighter fluid and lit a match with the intention of burning it, (actions which lead to a three-day prison sentence for both), infuriating the audience. Rick Monday, a former U.S Marine, and Chicago Cubs center fielder, said to the L.A. times, “I could tell they weren’t throwing holy water on it,”. Sensing that something out of the ordinary was going to happen, Monday acted quickly. He sprinted out to the scene of the crime as if he had just heard the four-minute warning and the flag was an air raid shelter. As he reached the flag, he maintained his speed and scooped up the flag before the streakers could burn it. He proceeded to race down to third base coaches’ box, where he handed the flag to his opposition’s pitcher, Doug Rau. According to a 2016 article by Vice’s David Davis, Dodgers legendary coach, Tommy Lasorda, “Raced over and screamed curses to the would-be-flag-burners and the crowd of 25,167 gave Monday a standing ovation,”. A sight that I’m sure would have restored faith in the American people. The scoreboard lit up and read: “Rick Monday – you made a great play,”. Absolutely right.
#2 “As the players tried to take the field, the marching band refused to yield” (NCAA College Football), November 20th, 1982, Stanford, CA
10 years after Don McClean blessed us with these lyrics, a PAC 12 College Football game in the Fall of 1982 between the Stanford Cardinals and the California Golden Bears, reminded us of American Pie. The Cardinals, led by hall of fame quarterback, John Elway, had a chance to overcome a two-point deficit in the final minutes of the game. After converting a fourth down and 17 play from their own thirteen-yard line with a 29-yard pass from Elway to Emile Harry, the Cardinals found themselves in position to kick the winning field goal. Cardinals kicker, Mark Hardman, did just that with four seconds left, taking a 20-19 lead, prompting the Cardinals players to celebrate to the extent that they drew a fifteen yard un-sportsman like conduct foul that was addressed on the ensuing kickoff, which ended up being the final play of the game.
Bears announcer Joe Starkey took his hat off to Elway and Stanford, announcing to the saddened fans, “Only a miracle can save the Bears now,”. On the kickoff, the Cardinals elected to squib kick the ball, meaning they kicked it a short distance along the ground rather than the usual high kick giving the opposition an opportunity to return the kick. The ball was recovered by Kevin Moen of the Bears, who appeared to be down, giving fans the impression that the game was over. That was not the case.
Moen lateraled the ball to teammate Richard Rodgers at around the 45-yard line of the Bears, who was forced to flip the ball to his right to Dwight Garner. After coming very close to being tackled, Garner managed to release his backwards flip just in the nick of time. After tossing the ball all the way to the other end of the field, it eventually ended up in Mariet Ford’s hands, who looked to have a clear path to the endzone for the walk off touchdown. That’s not exactly how it turned out.
Starkey said it best, when he energetically yelled in disbelief, “The band are on the field! He’s going to go into the End Zone! Touchdown, the Bears have won! The Bears have won [25-20]!”. Ford may have been tackled shy of the goal line if it wasn’t for the epic road-block of what appeared to be close to a hundred Stanford marching band members and fans from the 20-yard line all the way to the back of the end-zone. In what may well have been the most remarkably unanticipated play in the history of sports, the fans, fortuitously, decided the fate of a game that has gone down in history as “The play.”
#1 King Eric and the Hooligan (Premier League Soccer): January 25th ,1995, London, U.K.
France and Manchester United legend Eric Cantona, or King Eric as he was affectionately nicknamed by his fans, was one of the most exciting footballers (Soccer players) of all time and a personal athletic hero of mine. A man of sensational talent, but also a furious temper; a characteristic that was never on greater display than when Manchester United played Crystal Palace away at Selhurst Park in London, one night in 1995.
Cantona had unfortunately been given a red card in an appallingly officiated match for a risky challenge and was sent off. As he walked back to the United dugout, a Palace fan named Matthew Simmons, decided to run all the way down to the very front row to get within an ears’ shot of Cantona. The fan yelled out, “F*** off back to France to your French Wh*** of a mother, you Mother-F*****,”. Nobody can tell this story quite like Jonathan Pearce of BBC sport did whilst commentating live so here it is:
“Where can there be a place in the game for a man of such magnificent talent, yet such wicked temperament? A man who has been quite rightly dismissed, a man who has just… OH MY GOODNESS ME! ERIC CANTONA HAS JUST LAUNCHED HIMSELF SIX FEET INTO THE CROWED AND SICCIOR KUNG-FU KICKED A FAN! I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT IN ALL MY YEARS OF FOOTBALL!”
Cantona also delivered a couple of boxing style punches to Simmons before his teammate, Peter Schmichael, perhaps the only player in the league that could make Cantona look small, escorted him to the tunnel for protection. Whether the protection was for Eric or the Palace fans is up for debate.
This was a fantastic moment in the history of sport. You should feel no sympathy whatsoever for Simmons because he got what he deserved, when he realized that a five-foot-high fence would not protect him from yelling out racial slurs. Simmons, or as Rob Smyth of the Guardian referred to him as, “The gobby fan he [Cantona] dealt with,” received a life time ban from Palace matches after it was revealed that he was in fact a regular trouble causer at Selhurst park, a Nazi Sympathizer, and a member of the British National front (A despicable pro-fascist movement).
Cantona received a nine-month suspension and 120 hours of community service for his actions but once he returned, he continued to add to his phenomenal Manchester United career. He won four league titles and two FA cups during his time at the club. He was also named F.A. player of the season in 1994 but when asked what the best moment of his career was, he said, “My best moment? I have a lot of good moments but the one I prefer is when I kicked the hooligan,”.
As always, thank you for reading, I hope you all enjoyed this segment as much as I enjoyed writing it. I to see you again for the second part of the trilogy looking at fans in sports. Up next time, Part II The Bad.