The Fan Club: Spectacular Stories of Storied Spectators

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It's a great day for people who root for stuff. Over at YesButNoButYes, our good friend Jellio has a great post on the world's most rabid fan bases. As a companion piece, we've compiled a less controversial list of noteworthy fans. Some of these not-so-secret admirers could sell their own jerseys in stadium stores; some should be locked up (and one is).

+Bobby Murcer's Biggest Fan. Our first story has a fairy-tale middle and a horrible ending. In August of '77, Bobby Murcer of the Cubs promised to hit a home run for terminally ill fan Scott Crull. That night, Murcer hit two of them. Pretty amazing, especially when you consider Murcer only hit nine homers the whole next season. But that's not why Crull "“ a 12-year-old from Calumet City, Illinois, with bone cancer "“ makes this list.

Broadcasting the game nationally on ABC, Keith Jackson told the country how Murcer had fulfilled the dying boy's last wish. Eyes watered, spines tingled. There was only one problem "“ nobody had ever told the boy he was dying. His parents were horrified. Three weeks later, Crull passed away.

stewart_hair.jpg+The John 3:16 Guy. Also known as "Rainbow Man," the born-again Rollen Stewart and his John 3:16 signs were fixtures at major events in the 1970s and 80s. He brought his message to the World Series, Super Bowl, Olympics, and World Cup. He was outside Buckingham Palace when Di & Charles wed; he went to see the Pope in Alaska. But he was more religious fanatic than sports fan. According to the LA Times, Stewart planned to assassinate President Bush and candidate Clinton in 1992. And he's now serving three life sentences for holding a maid hostage at a Los Angeles Hyatt, also in 1992.

By the way, chapter three, verse sixteen of the Gospel of John says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." This is also printed on cups at the In-N-Out Burger.

+The All-Star Heckler. For 12 years, Maryland lawyer and Washington Bullets fan Robin Ficker was the NBA's most prominent heckler. robin_ficker.jpgWith season tickets behind the visiting team's bench, his antics were legendary. When he reminded Frank Layden of the Jazz that USA Today had rated him Worst Dressed Coach, Layden had to be restrained by security. With the Bulls in town, Ficker loudly read excerpts of Maverick, coach Phil Jackson's sex-laden 1975 autobiography. During the 1993 Suns-Bulls NBA Finals, Charles Barkley (of the Suns) flew Ficker to Phoenix and bought him a ticket behind the Chicago bench. Ficker was ejected in the first quarter.

The Bullets became the Wizards in 1997 and moved into the MCI Center the following season. Ficker's new seats were not in shouting distance from the visiting team, forcing him into heckling retirement. Last week he received 9.5% of the vote in a losing bid for for Montgomery County Executive.

+Kim Jong-il. That's right, the world's most feared dictator is a hoops junkie. During a 2000 visit, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented him a basketball signed by Michael Jordan. The Chicago Bulls are the favorite team of Kim Jong-il, who is reported to curate a video library of every game Jordan ever played. At 5'3", the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army is roughly the same height as Mugsy Bogues.

+The Good Luck Charmers. Every sport has its own strange traditions. I'd argue hockey's "throwing an octopus on the ice for good luck" is the weirdest. Tossing the eight-tentacled cephalopod was the brainchild of Detroit storeowners Pete & Jerry Cusimano. The date was April 15, 1952; the logic was one tentacle for each of the eight victories it took to win the Stanley Cup. Later that spring, most likely fueled by the good luck octopus, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. PETA has objected to this practice, which continues to this day. The Red Wings mascot is not a Red Wing, but Al the Octopus.

+David Letterman's Stalker. David Letterman's biggest fan was also his biggest headache. When she was arrested for stealing Dave's Porsche in 1988, Ray told police she was Mrs. Letterman. She was a frequent trespasser on Dave's estate, once camping out on his tennis court. Ray's antics made her a regular target. But the jokes stopped in 1998, when Ray jumped in front of a moving train. The collective guilt spread when we learned she was schizophrenic, as were her two brothers, who also committed suicide.

+Joe from Saddle River. A die-hard Jets, Mets and Rangers fan, Joe Benigno was a frequent caller to WFAN, New York's sports radio station. benigno.jpgBenigno won the station's Fan Appreciation Day contest in 1994, earning a chance to guest-host his own show. By 1995, Joe was WFAN's overnight guy, a title he held for almost a decade. In 2004, he was deemed ready for daytime and given the 10am-1pm timeslot. For all the lonely and passionate talk radio callers out there, Joe gives hope.

+Steffi Graf's Biggest Fanatic. Deranged and obsessed with seeing Steffi Graf return to the top of the rankings, Gunter Parche stabbed Monica Seles during a 1993 match in one of the most disturbing incidents in sports history. Almost as disturbing was his punishment. Parche received a two-year suspended sentence and was ordered to attend mandatory counseling. Even more shocking, I can't find footage of any of this on YouTube.

Also receiving votes: John Hinckley; the fan who started the Pistons-Pacers brawl in 2004 ("The Artest Melee"); The Kissing Bandit; "Butch" from Middlebury; every Little League parent; Metallica superfan-turned-bass player Jason Newstead; Steve Bartman; AC/DShe; and Bill Rancic.

I'm sure the noteworthy fans I failed to mention could fill Giants Stadium. Consider this a wiki, and add your selections in the comments.

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November 21, 2006 - 6:55am
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