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TOUGH LOVE.
October 11, 2002

by Bill Hogan

 
 

Cleveland Browns fans are doing their best to take the heat off the loud, obnoxious football fanatics located in the game's most notorious cities. And I'm sure a lot of people in Philadelphia, New York, Oakland and New Orleans are very grateful.

Like showing up at a black-tie affair wearing a brown suit, it's nice to see some idiot walk through the door wearing a tuxedo tee shirt. It takes a lot of pressure off.

 
 


Cleveland fans fell from grace last December when they littered the field with beer bottles after a bad call by the officials. They solidified their position at the bottom of the fan totem pole by cheering when their own quarterback was injured last Sunday.

I can understand Tim Couch being upset at that sort of reaction. What I can't understand is him being equally upset at the fact that the fans booed him and the Browns throughout the game. And he was not alone.

Other Browns players made it clear that they were insulted and appalled that their own fans would boo.

When a player or team plays poorly, when their individual or collective performance is unacceptable, it's not only the fans' right to boo, it's their obligation.

Fans in cities like Cincinnati should start booing when the players arrive at the stadium.

One Browns player lamented that if the fans aren't going to be 100 percent behind the team they shouldn't come to the stadium. I'm sure the Browns ownership – any team owner - would disagree: "come, boo, and by the way, the concession stand is open for business".

If football fans demonstrated their displeasure with a team's performance by staying away, there would be no Bengals. The Saints and Buccaneers wouldn't have made it out of the seventies. And the Steelers would not have survived long enough to win Super Bowl IX.

The boo is a timeless fan reaction. Gladiators were booed. So was Ted Williams – often. And Y.A. Tittle and John Elway. Great athletes are motivated by the boo, they don't sit in front of their locker crying about it. They get better.

John Madden has often called a booing home crowd "savvy" and "knowledgeable". Because he knows that we know a bad product when we see one. And he also knows that the same crowd is just looking for any sign of improvement to turn those boos into cheers.

Tim Couch should understand that as well. It's called tough love. Like when your dad used to say "this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you" right before he gave you a couple of whacks on the backside.

There is no post-game press conference for the fans. There are only two ways fans can communicate with the team they love. By cheering and by booing. If players don't want to hear the 'boo-birds', there's a simple solution: perform well.

I'd like to see the boo incorporated into every day life. When that nasty sales clerk gets snippy, step back from the counter and boo.

The waiter brings your meal and the meat's overdone, there's no ketchup for your fries and you have a better chance of Gunga Din refilling your water glass – stand up and boo.

A guy cuts you off on the road then slams on his breaks – forget about the finger – pull up next to him at the light, roll down your window and boo.

The boo can be a very effective form of communication when used properly. A way of letting someone know that their poor performance will not be tolerated.

But it's not like fans really want to boo – it's a lot more fun to cheer for the home team. It takes weeks, and sometimes years, of really crappy football before a crowd's first instinct is to boo.

And it's not 'paying the price of admission' that gives a fan the right to boo. That right is earned by years of dedication and loyalty to one team. Earned by sitting in section 115, row 28, seat 9 through good times and bad. Earned by watching the price of parking double, then triple and quadruple – and paying it anyway.

If the crowd cheers when a player is injured – be offended, even outraged. But when the crowd boos – take it in the spirit with which it is intended - and do a better job.

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