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Original Issue


The greatest fans in the world used to go out to Ebbets Field to
watch the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hilda Chester and her cowbell,
Shorty Laurice and the Brooklyn Sym-Phony, Big Abe, the cab
driver with the leather lungs who used to arrange his work
schedule so that he saw every Dodgers home game--yep, they were
the greatest.

But as much as they loved their Dodgers, here's one thing they
didn't do: change the outcome of a game by creating a
competitive disadvantage, figuring out a way to screw up the
enemy so that he couldn't function, like dropping a smoke bomb
on the field so that the batter couldn't see the third base
coach's signals. It was probably because they never thought of
it, or maybe it was just a simpler age.

In the NFL, destroying competitive balance is an accepted way of
life. It's called home field advantage. Fans yell like crazy,
and the game is changed. In the unholy din at the line of
scrimmage, some players can't even hear the snap count; the
offensive tackles sometimes have to hold hands with the guards,
who have a better chance of hearing the signals, and when the
guards let go, the tackles know the play has started. Under
those conditions, teams can't run a no-huddle offense.

Late in the first quarter of the Falcons-Panthers game in
Carolina in Week 1, Atlanta had a key third-and-six on the
Panthers' 15. Falcons quarterback Jeff George called an audible,
a screen pass to J.J. Birden. The play failed because Birden
didn't hear the call. Falcons kicker Morten Andersen then
missed the field goal. The score remained 7-3 for Carolina, and
the Panthers went on to win 29-6.

That same day, in the Detroit-Minnesota game at the Metrodome,
the Lions' Scott Mitchell threw a hitch pass to Herman Moore.
Someone in the stands blew a whistle loud enough to be heard on
the field. Cornerback Corey Fuller stopped running, but Moore
went through with the play and got a 10-yard completion out of
it. Referee Red Cashion turned on his mike and asked the fans
not to blow whistles, whereupon the stadium erupted in
whistling, mostly of the fingers-in-the-mouth variety. Crowd
noise reached such a crescendo that Mitchell had to back away
from the center. The score was 7-7, and the Lions were on the
Vikings' 24. They eventually settled for a field goal and
ultimately lost 17-13.

The NFL has a rule in the books to address this matter, and it
should enforce it. Drop a flag on the fans. The rule calls for a
warning announcement from the officials, and if that just makes
things louder--as it usually does--then the home team can be
charged with a timeout. If that doesn't quiet the crowd, the
officials can start marking off five-yard penalties when they
have gone through all of the team's timeouts. It's in the rules.
Either enforce the rules or get rid of them.

Now, I realize this is a very unpopular position. I could get
very few people to agree with me, even quarterbacks or offensive
coordinators. The reasoning? It's part of the game. They do it
to us on the road, our fans will do it to them at home. See, two
wrongs make a right. That's football.

No, it isn't. Football is something to be decided by the guys
wearing the pads, not a bunch of screamers spurred on by the
P.A. system simulating crowd noise or a message board flashing
NOISE! on the screen or a coach on his talk show begging the
fans to come out and "give us all the help you can."

How well I remember former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs's old
Saturday radio show: "Now I want to hear that noise when number
72 [defensive end Dexter Manley] waves that big right fist of
his...remember, not when we have the ball. That's no good." He
was appealing to the lowest common denominator, the dummies who
don't even know when to yell.

And those dummies keep reading about how great they are, how
much noise they make, and the next week they try to top it. It
becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative reinforcement. I
say drop the flag on them.

A strict adherence to the antinoise statute will undoubtedly
make for a wild afternoon and the fans will scream bloody murder
and the next day all sorts of editorials will be written about
the brutal way in which the NFL is trampling on the rights of
the paying customers. But eventually the fans will quiet down,
if the league has the guts to stick to its rule. It might take a
week or two, but the purpose will be achieved--let the game be
decided by the people on the field, not in the stands.


Dr. Z's weekly Internet NFL preview is at

COLOR PHOTO MICKEY PFLEGER Who should decide the outcome of games: the players or fans like this? [Oakland Raiders fan]