COLUMN

Jilted at the altar of sports

Fred Bruning February 16 1987
COLUMN

Jilted at the altar of sports

Fred Bruning February 16 1987

Jilted at the altar of sports

COLUMN

Fred Bruning

Scalpers asked as much as $1,500 (U.S.) for tickets to this year’s Super Bowl in beautiful Pasadena, Calif., and who knows if there weren’t lunatics out there willing to part with the cash? Numerous deals were consummated in the $300-$500 range—witless enough, since even the vault keepers at the National Football League lacked the courage to set face value at more than $75. But for those with money to burn or corporate plastic in their cowhide billfolds, perhaps no price was too high.

Far more remarkable is the penchant of ordinary folks to travel huge distances for what often turns out to be one of the less compelling games of the season. Such is the depth of the fan’s delirium and devotion, the irresistible urge to be part of the action, the conviction that he or she is dutybound to shore up the team with body and soul.

Poor saps. In his victory address to the 45,000 faithful who gathered in East Rutherford, N.J., two days after the game, New York Giants coach Bill Parcells referred to Giants Stadium as “our house” and to the fans as “family.” Heartwarming, sure, but where is the evidence that big leaguers give a rap for the paying customers—indeed, that athletes and their employers care about much of anything beyond the accumulation and deployment of fabulous wealth? Fans? Fans are a necessary evil, that’s all, soft touches who keep the turnstiles whizzing and peanut vendors on their toes.

Asked to explore the relationship between players and their followers, and the meaning to both of a Super Bowl appearance, tackle Brad Benson of the Giants said only, “I’ll tell you what, it [the game] means a lot to my family and I’m kind of elated with the idea myself.” As for Giants supporters who endured 30 years of heartache waiting for a championship, running back Joe Morris wasn’t especially moved. “Long-suffering Giants fans are everywhere,” he shrugged.

Get the drift? Bleacher bums are situated somewhere aft of the water boy in the pecking order of professional sports. As Bears coach Mike Ditka informed his players before last year’s Super Bowl: “We don’t owe anybody but ourselves by winning this game.” In New York, a similar self-absorption prompted the Giants to abandon Yan-

kee Stadium in the Bronx for the Meadowlands sports complex in New Jersey and the football Jets to hop the first available ferry across the Hudson River themselves.

No doubt the jilted multitudes in the Bronx and Jet fans who once occupied Shea Stadium in Queens thought they were part of a “family” too. Residents of Brooklyn suffered from the same delusion until the day in 1957 when Walter F. O’Malley announced his intention to commit the one act that might warrant capital punishment: moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles. Civic leaders bawled, O’Malley was excoriated, fans cried, “Say it ain’t so.” But westward went the Boys of Summer anyway, landing, at last, in Moonbeam City, where a new stadium was to be built. Before long, Brooklyn’s historic Ebbets Field, no less a national treasure than the Smithsonian Institution, was dismantled in favor of a

The multitudes who mourned the passing of Ebbets Field and the defection of the Colts are still ready to forgive

highrise housing development. Still, there are people who mourn the day and hour of the Dodgers’ passing and who speak of O’Malley in terms usually reserved for Col. Moammar Gadhafi of Libya and auditors at the Internal Revenue Service.

We can assume this record of treachery influenced Mayor Edward I. Koch of New York, who, prior to the Super Bowl, rightly dubbed the Giants “a foreign” team and said he would spend not a cent of municipal funds on a ticker-tape parade should the outlanders bring back a trophy. At the same time, Jerseyites say quite appropriately that the Giants should carry the title of the state in which they play—an idea that never will be implemented, of course, because the name “New York” is worth millions to a franchise and the name “New Jersey” considerably less.

So while the Giants and Jets may show up in the standings as New York teams, the Empire State has but one representative in the National Football League and that is the Buffalo Bills. Not that the Bills are much to

brag about. Despite its name, the team doesn’t really play in Buffalo but in some place called Orchard Park. Koch would allude to them as the Orchard Park Bills. Maybe he should be mayor of Buffalo too.

Modern sports are replete with this kind of carpetbagging—the Baltimore Colts are spirited off to Indianapolis, the Detroit Lions move to Pontiac, Mich.—and still the fans forgive and forgive. All the while, ticket prices soar and so does the tab for stadium parking, souvenir caps and the humble American hotdog. Taking the kids to the ball park can cost the better part of a week’s salary, and that doesn’t take into consideration the price of aggravation once the game begins. Because most stadiums permit the sale of beer, the ball park becomes a free-fire zone before the contest is half over. At that point there is little choice but to don battle gear, get the children under cover and call in air support. Some fun.

In the stands, as on the ticket lines, fans are their own worst enemies. Outside the Rose Bowl, where this year’s NFL championship was played, forlorn souls holding signs saying “I need two tickets” paced back and forth. Some got lucky, some didn’t. One college student from New Mexico, unsuccessful in her search for a $100 ticket, had to watch the Jersey Giants beat the Denver Broncos on a portable TV. Why wasn’t she back on campus devoting her energies to Beowulf or macroeconomics? “I like football quite a bit,” said the New Mexico fan.

Good enough. Big league sports can be entertaining and, on occasion, deliver an afternoon of thrills. Psychologists say cheering our favorites may combat the tedium and tension of modern life, soothe our aggressive instincts and make us more able to cope with defeat and disappointment. But none of those salutary effects are intended by the fat cats who run the show. For them, the bottom line has to do -with ego, tax breaks and longterm investment. Players favoring European motor cars and chinchilla overcoats are not much better. Next year anyone who gets the urge to pay $1,500 for a Super Bowl seat should consider throwing the money instead into a few shares of IBM. If you want to slap high fives, slap them with your stockbroker.

Fred Bruning is a writer with Newsday in New York.