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7 of History's Most Terrifying Sports Riots

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Spectator sports have a singular capacity to bring together disparate groups of people towards the common goal of cheering for a favorite team. However, this noble aim is occasionally forgotten by forty-thousand people collectively thinking, "Hey, I bet I could pick up this stadium chair and throw it at that guy! That'll teach him to support my team's rival." In the spirit of that mindset, here are a few riots you might have missed while watching the Pistons-Pacers Malice at the Palace on YouTube.

1. The Richard Riot

Montreal Candiens Hall of Famer Maurice "The Rocket" Richard was undoubtedly the top scorer of his era. As a result of this talent, he was also a target for opposing teams' abuse. On March 13, 1955, Richard snapped after Boston's Hal Laycoe high-sticked him in the head during a power play; Richard retaliated by repeatedly swinging his stick into Laycoe's face before punching out a linesman who tried to restrain him. NHL President Clarence Campbell responded by suspending Richard for the rest of the season and the playoffs, which caused outrage in Montreal.

richardriot.jpgThe suspension of Richard may have been justified, but Campbell's decision to announce that he would attend the next Canadiens home game at the Forum was questionable. Montreal fans prepared well, and when Campbell arrived with his fiancee, he was greeted by a volley of eggs, vegetables, and anything else Canadiens fans could find to chuck his way. At some point a tear gas bomb was set off in the arena, but the smoke only angered the fans and forced them outside, where they began looting and vandalizing the area around the Forum in a full-blown riot that lasted most of the night, causing $500,000 worth of damage. The scene was likely described as "violent even by hockey standards."
In his public statement, Richard apologized and promised the fans he would return the next year to lead the team to the Stanley Cup. He made good on his promise; the Canadiens won the next five Stanley Cups.

2. Nika Riots

Modern racing fans may think their Dale Earnhardt, Jr. gear makes them intimidating, but the aficionados of sixth-century chariot racing at the Hippodrome of Constantinople put them to shame. Fans of the major Byzantine racing teams, the Blues and the Greens, functioned as something of a pair of politically conscious street gangs. On January 10, 532, several drivers were to be executed for deaths occurring at an earlier race, but a Blue and a Green escaped and hid. Their respective fans made impassioned pleas for leniency, and responding to public pressure, Emperor Justinian reduced their death sentences to life imprisonment and called for a set of races on January 13th.

The races didn't go so well for Justinian, though; the racing fans wanted the drivers pardoned entirely. By the end of the day's 22nd race, the Blues and the Greens had stopped cheering for their respective factions and started yelling "Nika!" ("conquer"), and in a rioting twist rarely seen since, the two sets of fans joined forces, leading to absolute mayhem. The unified group launched a siege of the imperial palace and set fire to the city.

Rather than looting, the mob then developed a more political agenda. Its leaders demanded and received the dismissal of three of Justinian's ministers and proclaimed Hypatius to be the new emperor. After five days of violence, Justinian's generals Belisarius and Mundus brutally suppressed the factions of fans. Estimates of the casualties reached as high as 30,000 dead, although history fails to record whether conservative sports commentators of the day blamed the incident on the influence of hip-hop on chariot racing culture.

3. A.C. Milan vs. Inter Milan

An April 2005 Champions League quarterfinal between A.C. and Inter Milan seemed like a great place to renew their bitter intercity rivalry "“ or at least wreak some senseless havoc. Although A.C. won the first of two matches and had gone up 1-0 in the second, Inter thought it had scored an equalizer on a header with twenty minutes left. Much to the displeasure of Inter fans, referee Markus Merk disallowed the goal because an Inter player had fouled A.C. goalkeeper Dida while jockeying for position.

Like any reasonable mob would, Inter fans responded by pelting the field with hails of bottles and that most European of riot weapons: the lit flare. As Dida cleared away bottles from the pitch to set up a goal kick, he was struck in the shoulder with a flare and received minor burns. The match was restarted after a thirty-minute delay, but more thrown flares led to its abandonment and A.C. Milan receiving credit for a 3-0 victory.

Inter Milan was fined a record 200,000 Euros for the riot, and their fans received the sports version of being sent to their rooms: the club's first four 2005-2006 home matches were played in empty stadiums, effectively making them the soccer equivalent of Atlanta Hawks home games. Here's some terrifying amateur video of the events:

4. Red Star Belgrade vs. PAOK Thessaloniki

During a 2006 game for the ULEB Cup (Europe's second-tier basketball league) in Belgrade, a handful of fans of Red Star's rival Partizan showed up to cheer for the visiting Greek squad. Red Star fans were understandably a bit perturbed, and a bit of a brawl ensued. As the hundred or so Partizan fans fought back, things quickly escalated into a heated riot, complete with flare-throwing, an especially questionable tactic in an enclosed arena with a wooden floor and plastic seats. Hundreds of fans streamed onto the court, and many chucked their stadium seats into the air or at fellow rioters.

Amazingly, only six people were injured in the melee, and after a thirty-minute delay, the game was started. Partizan fans apparently got what they came for, though, as PAOK won 85-81.

5. New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers

cobb-ruth.jpgNo list of violent sports episodes could be complete without an appearance by Ty Cobb. On June 13, 1924, the visiting Yankees were leading the Tigers 10-6 in the top of the ninth inning when Cobb, the Tigers' star and manager, allegedly signaled for Tigers pitcher Bert Cole to plunk the Yankees' Bob Meusel. As the story goes, Babe Ruth caught the sign and warned Meusel, who took the pitch on his back and charged the mound. A brawl erupted between players, including a tense staredown between Cobb and Ruth, and hundreds of fans flooded onto the field to join in on the fracas. Police eventually subdued the rioters, but Cole and Meusel both took suspensions from the American League. Ruth and Cole paid fines and the Tigers forfeited the game. On the bright side, the newly released Mitchell Report doesn't connect any of the players on the field that day to performance-enhancing drugs.

6. Andrew Golota vs. Riddick Bowe

Great fighters are often remembered for their signature punch, and Polish heavyweight Andrew Golota could throw a low blow as well as anyone. In July 1996, he got his first big-money fight against former champ Riddick Bowe at Madison Square Garden. Golota dominated the bout despite an absolute unwillingness to stop punching Bowe in the groin. He was ultimately disqualified for a fourth low blow in the seventh round that left Bowe writhing in pain on the mat. Naturally, an in-ring scrum broke out in which Golota was repeatedly bashed on the back of the head with a walkie-talkie by a member of Bowe's entourage.

At this point, a full riot fired up as HBO commentator George Foreman begged for sanity from the crowd. According to the New York Times' account of the event, Polish-flag-toting fans tried to storm the ring only to be stopped and fought by other members of the crowd, which had heavily favored Brooklyn's Bowe. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who had been a spectator, spent over an hour hiding out in Golota's heavily guarded dressing room.

Predictably, Golota and Bowe fought a rematch in Atlantic City. This time things went marginally better for "The Foul Pole"; he made it all the way to the ninth round before being disqualified for three straight shots to Bowe's groin.

Madison Square Garden has been fairly peaceful since, but Knicks fans are only one more questionable Isiah Thomas trade away from making this donnybrook look like a tea party.

(If you want to jump to the rioting, fast forward to the 2:50 mark.)

7. Sydney Riot of 1879

In 1879 a touring team of English cricketers played a heated series of matches against New South Wales throughout Australia. After a little more than a day of play in the second match, New South Wales was batting while behind by 90 runs when their star player Billy Murdoch was given out by the English-chosen umpire George Coulthard after a close play.

The Australian crowd was less than pleased to see their hero given out by the English ref, and a surge of 2,000 fans burst onto the pitch to express their displeasure physically. What followed was an epic throwdown that included English captain Lord Harris being slapped with a stick, English batsman A.N. Hornby being stripped of his shirt, and other Englishmen wielding cricket stumps (pointy sticks) as weapons while trying to defend Coulthard. The crowd was cleared from the pitch twice but kept rushing back onto the field until the day's play was suspended. The match eventually resumed the next day, and the English team claimed the victory. If Ron Artest has a favorite nineteenth-century cricket match (and he almost certainly does), then this one has to be it.

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Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys. His last mental_floss article looked at offbeat clauses in baseball contracts.

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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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History
Hans Schmidt, the "Nazi" Wrestler Who Incited Riots
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Waiting inside the locker room of the Pioneer Memorial Stadium, The Des Moines Register reporter Walter Shotwell thought he had found a clever way to discredit a visiting professional wrestler named Hans Schmidt. Just a few days prior, on August 1, 1953, Schmidt had been seen on national television barking into a microphone using a thick German accent. He dismissed the concept of sportsmanship and vowed to “win ze title and take it back to Germany vere it belongs.”

In the years following World War II, a German nationalist was not likely to be cheered on anywhere in the United States, but the vitriol Schmidt encouraged was unlike anything pro wrestling had ever seen. Schmidt had fans practically frothing at the mouth, stabbing him with hairpins, waving cigarette lighters in his face, and vandalizing his car. Fearing for his safety, police would often have to escort him through angry mobs. It didn’t really seem to matter whether Schmidt was truly anti-American or just playing a role. Either one seemed egregious.

Shotwell suspected the latter. During his interview with Schmidt, he handed him a newspaper clipping and asked him to read it out loud in German. Schmidt refused, saying that Shotwell wouldn’t understand him. Looking at it closely, Schmidt could see it quoted residents of Munich, where he claimed to hail from, who said they had never heard of any Hans Schmidt.

Shotwell pushed it a little further, until Schmidt made it clear he wasn’t going to continue to play along. Had he admitted the truth—that he was not an actual Nazi, but a French-Canadian named Guy Larose—then he likely would have missed out on a career that would eventually make him one of the highest-paid and most reviled athletes in the world.

Courtesy of Dave Drason Burzynski

If pretending to be an enemy of the state was his destiny, then Larose was born at the right time. He was 24 in 1949, the year he decided to become a pro wrestler; his dream of joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had ended while he was still in training after the police and several RCMP students tried to enforce an alcohol ban on a nearby Native community and had their vehicles pummeled with baseball bats.

Eager to exploit his six-foot-four, 240-pound frame, Larose turned to wrestling. In Michigan and across Canada, he was able to book contests but found that neither his persona nor his real name was drawing a crowd.

Arriving in Boston in 1951, Larose met wrestling promoter Paul Bowser, who took one look at the stern-faced wrestler and declared that he should adopt a Nazi persona. Larose wouldn’t be the first—Kurt Von Poppenheim had already devised a similar gimmick—but he’d have an opportunity to do it on television.

At the time, ring sports like boxing and wrestling were ideal for the burgeoning medium. Cheap to produce, they could easily fill programming schedules on networks like the DuMont Television Network, a onetime rival to CBS, NBC, and a burgeoning ABC that aired grappling contests from Chicago. Although Larose—now Schmidt—had been stirring up attention prior, it was his August 1953 appearance and interview with Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse that drew more disdain than usual.

After declaring “Germany has been good to me” and claiming that he believed there was no place for sportsmanship in wrestling, Schmidt was cut off by Brickhouse. With the emotional wounds of World War II still fresh, his appearance had struck a nerve. DuMont, Brickhouse would later recall, received more than 5000 angry letters from viewers who were disgusted by Schmidt. At least one viewer recommended he be deported.

Larose, however, exercised some restraint. The word “Nazi” was rarely tossed around, and he never goosestepped or carried a swastika with him. The implication of his allegiance seemed to be more than enough to stir the crowd into a frenzy, especially when he would remain seated during the National Anthem or turn his back at the sight of the American flag. He had been a motorcycle dispatcher during the war, he told journalists, and was once shot down while in a plane.

Although those details weren’t true, on many nights Larose may have felt as though he was in a war zone. Walking to the ring, he’d often be jabbed by women using their hairpins, or by men trying to singe him with their cigarettes. During matches, his “cheating”—using chairs to brain opponents, or kicking them in the groin—would draw crowds toward the ring in an effort to start a riot. At one engagement in Milwaukee, the ensuing chaos led to a brief ban on pro wrestling in the arena.

When the journalist Shotwell asked him what kind of car he drove, he hesitated. “A Lincoln,” he said. “I don’t want to describe it any more than that. I don’t want it wrecked.” He often came out of arenas to find ice picks in his tires.

Whatever argument existed about the good taste of Larose’s performance, there was no question it was lucrative. People who wished to see him get beaten in programs against the likes of Verne Gagne or Lou Thesz filled arenas. Once, special guest referee Joe Louis decked him in a staged climax. There was some kind of catharsis in watching Larose get pummeled.

Photo (C) by Brian Bukantis, www.wrestleprints.com

According to pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, who inducted the Schmidt character into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2012, Larose made roughly $1 million in his 20-year career, which wound to a close in the mid-1970s. Other “foreign menaces” like Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik were coming in, diversifying wrestling’s villain culture.

The kind of loathing he had drawn from the crowd remained rare in wrestling, which hates its heels but usually doesn’t attempt to stab them or burn them with fire. It wasn’t until Sergeant Slaughter turned away from his patriotism and became an Iraqi sympathizer in the early '90s that emotions got a bit too heated for entertainment’s sake. The WWE (then WWF) was forced to assign security to Slaughter’s family until the act was dropped.

By that point, Larose had long been out of the spotlight, having returned home to Quebec. He died in 2012 at the age of 87, his status as one of the most infamous performers of the 20th century having been largely forgotten. Never once did he admit during his prime that he was from Canada.

“Of course I’m from Germany,” he told Shotwell. “Do you think I’d go on television and say things that weren’t true?”

Additional Sources: Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped Wrestling; The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos (C) Dave Drason Burzynski from the book This Saturday Night: Return to the Cobo, available at Wrestleprints.com. Used with permission.

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