Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Noisy Minority; or, Idiot Fans

There are few things about my job that I hate, but near the top of the list would be idiot fans. I've got some behind me as I type this (at the NCAA tournament in Portland, Ore.). "Call the game fair!" one lady just yelled in a grating tone. Yeah, lady, they're being paid by the other team. Conspiracy! Oh, wait, the other fans are saying the same thing, though.

I'm continually amazed at the general stupidity of some fans. I'm assuming it's only the loud ones that are stupid, because smart people tend to keep quiet. The total lack of knowledge of the sport these people are watching astounds me. They don't know a moving screen from a moving van. And of course, only the most obvious of calls – and sometimes those – aren't derided as the greatest of injustices. How could you, ref? You might as well have blown up an orphanage.

The problem, besides lacking a basic knowledge of the rules, is blind loyalty. I mean, Hitler didn't have followers this deluded. (Bad analogy perhaps, but you get my point.) The funny part is that the refs usually can't hear the fans, and if they could, so what? What isn't funny is that when a player, say, takes a charge, the knucklehead fans don't applaud the player's defensive effort. No, they'll say, "About time, ref! Been doing it all game!"

I feel a kinship with the officials. Like me, their job is to be objective and impartial. And like me, they often are showered with laughable accusations of favoritism or incompetence. Sorry, we're not the idiots.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Portland Hospitality; or, Big City Love

I am in Portland, Ore., this week to cover the first round of the NCAA tournament, and this fine city reinforces what I've learned about big cities: They're not all bad.

I was, quite frankly, stunned by the friendliness of Chicagoans when my family visited the Windy City in 2006. Nary a grumble was heard when I loaded our huge four-wheel drive baby stroller on the bus. In fact, our kids received smiles and Rachel and I received help in finding places. After we watched the Cubs beat the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, a Cubs fan told me, "Good luck in the playoffs." (A prophet, that man.) It's a cold place, Chicago, but it has not frozen the residents' hearts. My sister-in-law, who lives there, can verify this.

I went to New York over the summer, and it lived down to expectations. And I've figured it out: New York has spoiled it for all the other big cities. I couldn't walk five feet without hearing someone cursing – it's just a part of the casual lexicon up there – and most everyone walked around with ears plugged and eyes looking straight ahead. Being an expert on the finer points of Southern hospitality, I was greatly offended many times over. And NYC casts such a long shadow over our culture, its characteristics become assigned, in the mind of Southerners anyway, to all metropolitan areas.

So even though I'd heard how nice and friendly a city it was, I still wasn't sure what to expect of Portland. I hadn't even left the airport last night before a casually dressed Arab fellow helped me figure out how to buy a ticket for the Light Rail. As I type this, I haven't even been here 24 hours, but I've already met a couple of nice shuttle bus drivers and have had no reason not to tip generously.

Portland is indeed a beautiful city. Not that I'd want to live here, mind you. Much as I like nice people, the drawback of a big city is this: There's too many of them.