The Washington Huskies on Saturday night won a football game that had the potential to reboot their season. And yet the postgame discussion is dwelling less on the three-hour contest than on the 15 minutes that followed, when several hundred fans ran onto the field.
Oregon State was undefeated and ranked No. 7, and the Huskies, who a few days previous had been mocked as “soft” by a Portland columnist, played with a tough, competitive edge that’s not always evident. Some sort of celebration seemed appropriate.
But storming the field? After a victory over Oregon State?
Some Huskies observers – those old enough to remember the Don James teams that schooled the Beavers year after year – are aghast that fans, most of whom were students, regarded the upset worthy of a spontaneous stampede. Have expectations for excellence at the UW deteriorated to the point that beating Oregon State is considered an epic achievement?
Others see the storming of the field as a positive sign, proof that Washington’s football program still is capable of inciting passion in a sports market all but dominated these days by the Seahawks. Some kids, having weathered a drizzly night, abandoned their seats to participate in some innocent jubilation. What’s the problem?
It’s an intriguing debate, and one that requires a personal disclaimer: The next time I celebrate a victory by rushing onto a football field, or a basketball court, or a baseball diamond, it will be the first time.
When I was a student who went to games without a notepad and a laptop – this was a while ago, a few years after the Pleistocene Era – I clapped and stomped my feet and screamed until I was hoarse. But I never had the urge to rush the field and do, what, precisely? Fist-bump a head coach flanked by two state troopers? Hug a player?
Football victory celebrations should be restricted to the athletes responsible for making them possible. These guys put in the practice time, they survive the brutal collisions, they deserve some space to revel with each other.
Storming the field might strike you as the latest spectator fad – when the Dawg Pound emptied onto the Husky Stadium turf after the 2009 upset of USC, it seemed like a novelty – but fans have been storming fields for as long as there have been fans and fields.
Some of the most famous home runs in baseball history – Gabby Hartnett’s 1938 “Homer in the Gloamin’,” Bobby Thomson’s 1951 “Shot Heard ’Round the World,” Bill Mazeroski’s ninth-inning blast in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, Henry Aaron’s No. 715 – found the hitters sharing their triumphant moment with spectators.
After his home run against Kansas City won the 1976 American League pennant for the Yankees, Chris Chambliss exerted more of an effort trying to negotiate around the basepaths than he did during his two seasons as Mariners hitting coach. (So many fans were on the field that Chambliss had doubts his home-run trot went full circle. He had to be escorted back onto the field to touch the plate in front of the umpire.)
By 1980, it was getting out of hand. The Philadelphia Police Department, wary of bedlam in a stadium where the Phillies had just won the World Series, appeared on the outfield warning track with guard dogs who had the demeanor – and the disposition – of hungry wolves.
The message was clear: You want to storm the field? These dogs will hunt.
Assembling a battalion of attack dogs is one way to discourage fans from leaving their seats. Another is to make home teams accountable for security: If there’s a field-storm celebration in the Southeastern Conference, the school is fined $5,000 for the first incident, $25,000 for the second, and $50,000 for a third.
An overreaction? Maybe not. Last December, 13 fans were injured – two critically – during a storm-the-field celebration at Oklahoma State. That frightening night had no apparent consequences in Stillwater, where 12 more fans were injured last month.
“You couldn’t move, there were so many people,” a command-post medic told reporters. “It was a nasty deal.”
At least Oklahoma State was able to savor its victory, which is more than can be said for the Venezuelan pro soccer players who last weekend wore pink as a gesture for breast-cancer awareness. Deportivo Tachira fans didn’t like the pink look. They wanted the players to wear the traditional black jerseys with yellow stripes.
They stormed the field – er, the pitch – and remained on the field for 40 minutes. This was before the game. The game itself was called off.
Over pink jerseys.
Ah, soccer. You either get it or you don’t.
As for Washington’s second storming-of-the-field incident of 2012 – the Saturday night celebration was preceded by a similar outpouring of fans last month, after the victory over Stanford – nobody was hurt, and nobody was arrested. No harm, no foul.
But spectators should stay in their seats, before, during and after games. Mingling with players, whether they’ve beaten Oregon State or Stanford or Notre Dame or Alabama, is not part of the bargain.
They win. You cheer. Everybody goes home safe and happy, wondering only about the Huskies’ alternative uniforms.
Pink, it seems to me, would be a welcome upgrade over those hideous black jerseys.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com