December 22, 2007

Thank God It Doesn't Happen Here

I grew up a fan of the Washington Redskins, though I never had a chance to attend a game. Indeed, I finally did get to see them play in St. Louis when I was in my mid-30s, after the Rams moved there.

And today I am a big fan of the Houston Texans, with season tickets. But I would drop those tickets in a minute if this sort of stuff ever became the standard at Reliant Stadium.

I went to my last professional football game this month. My son and I braved frigid, remote FedEx Field to see our beloved Chicago Bears, the fallen Super Bowl champions, humiliated 24-16 by the struggling Washington Redskins. It wasn't the depth of our despair that will keep us away from football stadiums for good but the depravity of the fans.

I suppose depravity is a strong word. But what better describes drunken adult men, egged on by other grown beer-swillers, belly-shouting the most spectacular obscenities imaginable as they stand next to a 13-year-old boy? Every play was a competition to produce a more vile insult or a different suggestion about which Bear body part might be stuffed up which orifice. When the Redskins scored their first touchdown, four young women -- I'm guessing they were in high school -- turned around and did a little stripper's dance that made my son blush as I cringed. Even putting aside their ages, it was too cold to bare flesh.

Within 10 minutes of kickoff, I knew I had made a terrible mistake taking my son to the game.

The looming aggression and violence was more troubling than the foul language and drunken boorishness. Some of the men near us were enraged and barely in control of themselves. When Bears quarterback Rex Grossman went down with a knee injury, two obese drunks behind us bellowed that they hoped the [expletive] [expletive] would never walk again. They did this over and over, adding slurs and suggested tortures.

I had already pointed out to these gentlemen that there were kids around. They glared at me, furious. It was obvious to me that if I pursued it, there would be a fight or a screaming match.

And as a season ticket holder, I find this part of the story to be even worse.

My son wore a Bears jersey concealed under his layers of fleece and down. A man two rows in front of us who looked like Cpl. Klinger from "M*A*S*H" took it upon himself to needle my son every time something bad happened to the Bears, which happened a lot. He would turn and stare at him and wave goodbye in a threatening way. I know he was trying to be funny, ribbing us in good spirit. But when I asked him to stop, he just shook his head. The very nice man next to me, a season-ticket holder, told me that if I just waited until the second half, the guy would be too drunk to stand.

That isn't the way things are in our part of Reliant Stadium, or in other parts from my experience (and I've been to 90% of the Texans home games since the team was created). We have an alert staff of ushers and off-duty cops who make sure that everyone has a good time at the game, and that the place is family friendly. They even put up a phone number on the jumbotron for you to call if someone in your area is out-of-hand -- and they do take action.

Indeed, our biggest problem is fans coming from out of town to watch the games. I've been spit on by a Cowboy's fan and throughly cursed by a sluttily dressed Dolphinette for demanding that she quit move so that my wife could get to the bathroom from our handicapped accessible seat ("Move for the wheelchair!" was such an unreasonable expectation). One was thrown out of the stadium, and the other would have been arrested if he hadn't run off into the crowd. But other than the occasional drunk getting a bit out of hand, I've not observed the sort of problems described in this column here in Houston.

That's not to say that there isn't taunting -- there is. The funniest may have been a few weeks back when all the Saints fans started chanting "Reggie! Reggie!" after Reggie Bush made a first down near the goal line -- and when he lost the ball on the 1-yard line the very next play, we all dutifully turned around and reciprocated with the same chant of "Reggie! Reggie!" in honor of the running back we didn't draft a year ago. There was even a bit of laughter from both sides. And therein lies the key -- we are there for fun, for entertainment.

So Dick, I hope you don't give up on the NFL. If you get a chance, bring the boy down here to Houston for a game and see how football can be done right.

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NAME: Greg
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