It was billed as the Battle in Seattle, the NFL contest between the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks, but there was no fight to it. Truth to tell, the Redskins were quite capable of losing by themselves, dropped passes, a missed field goal, a couple of interceptions, and a quarterback left defenseless most of the afternoon. But there was something else, billed proudly in Seattle by the numeral 12.
Twelve was the twelfth man conjured by the fans to represent their shrill noise made to prevent the guest team from hearing the snap count and initiating fair combat. In the Q-West stadium built to capture the noise created by 68,000 partisans it worked like a charm, or more properly, a curse. The visitors were unable to hear over the crowd noise and were reduced to initiating play without first huddling. Seattle is uniformly proud of the fans’ participation in the games. In reality, 12 is multiplied by thousands who scream during the period when an opponent is about to play. The disruptive effect is said to be multiplied in the Seattle arena by the stadium’s close construction which captivates the crowd noise and washes it down on the field of play.
Fair? Well, Seattle thinks so. After all, isn’t that what fans are for — to root, root, root for the home team? There is such a thing as too much home field advantage. But it is emblematic of what fandom has become, and not just in the NFL. The NBA has adopted it as a matter of policy. The introduction of the teams, mastered entirely by the home team, is a point of fact. As the home basketball five is about to be introduced, the house lights dim, the crowd is hushed, and through the darkness an announcer’s amplified voice booms, “A-n-n-n-d…N-o-o-o-w…Introducing your… [substitute here whatever the home team happens to be].” As each player’s name is announced, he races into a spotlight on the floor, accompanied by explosions and klieg-light flashes in the cavernous room. The home team fans scream their adoration of each and finally their total abnegation to the whole. Finally, the house lights are brought up and the visiting team is routinely and quietly announced as if an afterthought. The crowd is not discouraged from booing at this point.
There is of course a reciprocity in this boorish behavior. When the home team is a visitor, it will be similarly treated by its hosts. Child’s play? Of course. And involving 7-foot tall multi-millionaires, paid by rich business professionals who know better.
That isn’t the end of it. The fans these days are encouraged to bring “clappers” to the games — two sticks which when banged together make a lot of noise, especially in the end of a basketball court where the visiting team may be trying a free throw or two. Fan behavior in years past, many years past, used to be respectful of this moment. Now, however, fans are allowed to be as disruptive as possible, presenting a backdrop of clapping, clanging motion to a shooter at the free-throw line whose vision is good enough to see what is happening in the background. There was a time when a fan would not want to be seen demonstrating in such a way.
Disrespect for authority extends now to the rules of the game in the NFL. Coaches on the sidelines are allowed protests to referees’ calls which are reviewed on the spot by replays from various cameras at various play-back speeds. Many calls are overruled, further eroding authority of those charged with keeping the game in bounds.
But disrespect is total in another region: the traditional singing of the National Anthem. There is no limit to the melismatic variations that may now be brought to the rendition of a simple if far-ranging melody. Too often this unfortunate moment sets the tone for much of what follows.