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The Fans Strike Back: 9 Sports Protests

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In Washington, DC, Redskins fans are mailing "Fan Cards" to team headquarters and local media outlets, renouncing their fandom as a result of the actions of owner Daniel Snyder. In Cleveland, legendary fan "Dawg Pound Mike" is encouraging Browns fans to stay out of their seats for the opening kickoff of the team's Monday night game against the Ravens next week. And in Oakland, it's only a matter of time before Raiders fans think of a creative way to protest the dreadful state of the Silver and Black. Fan protests are alive and well across the NFL, but they're hardly a modern phenomenon. Take a look back at a variety of history's sports protests and then share your own additions in the comments.

1. Who Needs Tickets? The Mayor, For One

For more than a century, ticket scalpers have drawn the ire of fans hoping to attend a game for a price somewhere close to face value. In 1908, scalpers almost put a stop to the World Series. In Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progressive Era, Steven Riess writes that Chicago Mayor Fred Busse was so angry that he hadn't received tickets to the Fall Classic between the Cubs and Tigers that he threatened to dispatch police officers to prevent fans from entering Chicago's West Side Park because of alleged building code violations. A league-wide World Series policy prevented teams from selling tickets to individual games, so Cubs officials had sold the tickets to scalpers before making them available to the general public.

Busse eventually secured some tickets, but some equally annoyed Cubs fans boycotted the games in Chicago. Given that the Cubs haven't won a World Series since, some of those protesters might regret their decision.

2. The Aints

The Saints joined the NFL in 1967 and went 20 years before finishing with a winning record. The team was the laughingstock of the league, even in New Orleans.

In 1980, the Saints started the year 0-9, prompting fan Robert LeCompte to produce 5,000 paper bags for fans to wear to home games. LeCompte's bags, which provided some anonymity for Saints supporters who were too embarrassed to be associated with such a sorry team, were decorated in black and gold and labeled "Aints." The team's ugly record was listed below the eye holes, which naturally featured painted-on tears.

"It's sort of a humorous protest," LeCompte told reporters in 1980. "If anyone wants to go to the game, but doesn't want his friends to know it, he can go with the bag over his head."

According to the New York Times, Derland Moore, who played nose tackle for the Saints from 1973 to 1985, could've used one of LeCompte's paper bags when he went out in public. "We were the league's doormats," Moore once said. "When I went out and people would ask me if I played for the Saints, I would say no."

3. Giants Fans Decide They've Had Enough

The 1978 New York Giants started the season 5-3 and were within a game of the division lead when things began to fall apart, just as they always seemed to for the G-Men at the time. New York hadn't had a winning season since 1972, so it was no surprise that fans' frustrations bubbled over after the Giants slipped to 5-7 with a loss to division rival Philadelphia. Following that game, an ad appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger prompting disgruntled Giants fans to call a phone number. Those who did were invited to a meeting to decide how Giants fans could best exhibit their frustration with the team's ownership. "We wanted to do something that would truly get the Giants' ownership to take notice," Giants fan Peter Valentine recalled in a 1987 New York Times article. "Burning a ticket? Not enough. Staying away? There are a lot of no-shows late in the season when the weather is bad. What could we do that would really get attention?"

Valentine and his fellow fed-up fans chartered a plane to fly over Giants Stadium during a December game against St. Louis. The plane pulled a banner with the message, "15 Yrs. Of Lousy Football—We've Had Enough." The second part of the message was a reference to Howard Beale's famous line in Network, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore," which was released in 1977. The Giants wouldn't win another championship until the 1986-87 season.

4. Pirates Protest Falls Flat

In 2007, the Pittsburgh Pirates were in the midst of yet another losing season, their 15th in a row. A group of fans who were tired of the team's hapless performance organized a pre-game rally outside of PNC Park to protest the team's ownership. The organizers encouraged fans to attend that night's game against the Washington Nationals and to walk out in protest after the third inning. According to newspaper accounts, only a few thousand fans of the crowd of 26,959 were seen leaving their seats after the third inning and only an estimated 100 actually left the ballpark, some of them to boos from other Pirates fans. "I totally understand the fans' frustration," Pirates owner Bob Nutting said during the game. "I respect the people who are trying to make a statement." An unusual offensive outburst from the Pirates in the form of a six-run second inning may have persuaded some fans to remain in their seats.

5. The Old-Fashioned Protest: A Letter to the Editor

Ken_PhelpsIn August 1989, Yankees fan Nicholas D. DeCurtis wrote a letter to the editor of Newsday. His message? Boycott the Yankees. "Realistically, the only way that baseball can perhaps rid itself of this mean-spirited, greedy, egomaniac is if we fans boycott all future games at Yankee Stadium and send the Boss a message—loud and clear—that we are not returning until he unloads the Bronx Bombers, a once-proud and great franchise." The Boss, of course, was George Steinbrenner, longtime meddlesome owner of the Yankees. Twenty years later, the Steinbrenner family still runs baseball's proudest franchise and the Yankees have added five more World Series titles to their legacy. Now, more often than not, it's the fans of other teams who write the letters protesting New York's free-spending owners.

6. MLBFanStrike.com Strikes Out

Facing the prospects of baseball strike in 2002, less than a decade after baseball's last work stoppage, a group of fans across the county organized a National Fan Boycott on July 11, the day that the league resumed play after the All-Star Break. Web sites, including mlbfanstrike.com, were launched to promote the boycott, which urged fans to refrain from going to games, watching games, and purchasing MLB merchandise. "It's time for the fans to take back the game," Don Wadewitz, one of the organizers, told reporters. "If baseball stops again, a lot of fans aren't coming back this time. We are fed up." The protest was perhaps the most organized in the history of baseball, thanks to the advent of the Internet, but the boycott didn't exactly go as planned. As one reporter wrote in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, ""¦attendance around the majors was affected. It jumped by 2,000 per game. So much for replacing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' with The Funeral March."

7. Europeans Show Us How It's Done

Some of the most effective sports protests take place across the pond among fans of European soccer teams. Recently, fans of the Halesowen Town FC promised to stay away from home matches until Morrell Maison and Kelly Gentles relinquished control of the team. It's one thing to boycott a dreadful team and quite another to boycott a winner. Halesowen fans continued the boycott despite the club's strong start to the season, helping put the club in a debt of more than 400,000 pounds. "People are still adamant they won't support the club until Maison is gone," said Gary Willets, one of the leaders of the boycott. "It's a shame because we're doing well and it would be nice to watch the team. But everyone is looking at the big picture right now." The boycott was lifted in October after two groups made bids to purchase the club.

8. Eagles Fans Are Good at Booing, Not Boycotting

Sometimes a team has to be torn down before it can be good again. That's what Philadelphia football fan Frank Sheppard thought of the hometown Eagles in 1968. "The really loyal fans of the Eagles do hope for a bad day," said Sheppard, who helped organize a fan boycott for a home game against New Orleans after the Eagles started the season 1-11. Sheppard and other fans had grown so frustrated with team owner Jerry Wolman and coach-general manager Joe Kuharich that they took out ads in the local newspapers calling for their dismissal. "To hope for a loss is the best thing an Eagles' fan could do," Sheppard said before the game against the Saints. The boycott was a flop—57, 128 fans showed up—and the Eagles won, taking them out of the running to finish with the league's worst record and the right to the No. 1 draft pick, which Buffalo would use to select O.J. Simpson.

9. Mercury Rising in Support of Brandy Reed

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Without fail, when All-Star teams are announced, fans, coaches, and sportswriters will clamor that someone was snubbed. In the case of the 2000 WNBA season, that someone was Phoenix Mercury center Brandy Reed. Mercury fans threatened to boycott the All-Star Game, which was being held in Phoenix, while Phoenix head coach Cheryl Miller grabbed a microphone following the final game before the All-Star break to encourage fans to go to the All-Star Game wearing black shirts in protest. WNBA president Val Ackerman stepped in and added Reed, who was sixth in the league in scoring, to the West's roster. Crisis averted. If only it worked that way in baseball.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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entertainment
9 Things You Might Not Know About 'Macho Man' Randy Savage
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Even by the standards of pro wrestling and its exaggerated personalities, there’s never been anyone quite like Randy “Macho Man” Savage (1952-2011). A staple of WWE and WCW programming in the 1980s and 1990s, Savage’s bulging neck veins, hoarse voice, and inventive gesticulations made him a star. Check out some facts in honor of what would’ve been Savage’s 65th birthday.

1. HE WAS ORIGINALLY A PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER.

Born Randall Poffo in Columbus, Ohio, Savage’s father, Angelo Poffo, was a notable pro wrestler in the 1950s, sometimes wrestling under a mask with a dollar sign on it as “The Masked Miser.” If that was considered the family business, Savage initially strayed from it, pursuing his love of baseball into a spot on the St. Louis Cardinals farm team as a catcher directly out of high school. Savage played nearly 300 minor league games over four seasons. After failing to make the majors, he decided to follow his father into wrestling.

2. A HAWAIIAN WRESTLER INSPIRED HIS FAMOUS TAGLINE.

In 1967, a then-15-year-old Savage accompanied his father to a wrestling event in Hawaii. There, he saw island grappler King Curtis Iaukea deliver a “promo,” or appeal for viewers to watch him in a forthcoming match. Iaukea spoke in a whisper before bellowing, punctuating his sentences with, “Ohhh, yeah!” That peculiar speech pattern stuck with Savage, who adopted it when he began his career in the ring.

3. HIS MOM GAVE HIM THE “MACHO MAN” NICKNAME.


By John McKeon from Lawrence, KS, United States - Randy "Macho Man" Savage, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

According to Savage, his wrestling nickname didn’t come from the Village People song but from an article his mother, Judy, had read in Reader’s Digest announcing that “macho man” was going to be a hot term in the coming years. She mailed it to Savage along with a list of other possible names. Even though neither one seemed to know what a “macho man” was, Savage liked the sound of it. His stage name, Savage, came from Georgia promoter Ole Anderson, who thought Savage’s grappling style was ferocious.

4. HE SCARED OTHER WRESTLERS.

In the early 1980s, Savage’s father had started promoting his own regional shows in the Lexington, Kentucky area. To draw publicity, Savage and the other wrestlers would sometimes show up to rival shows threatening grapplers and offering up wagers that they could beat them up in a real fight. Once, a Memphis wrestler named Bill Dundee pulled a gun on Savage, who allegedly took it away from him and beat him with it. After his father’s promotion closed up, Savage landed in the WWF (now WWE), giving him a national platform.

5. JAKE THE SNAKE’S PYTHON PUT HIM IN THE HOSPITAL.

One of Savage’s recurring feuds in the WWE was with Jake “The Snake” Roberts, a lanky wrestler who carried a python into the ring with him and allowed the reptile to “attack” his opponents. To intensify their rivalry, Savage agreed to allow Roberts’s snake to bite him on the arm during a television taping after being assured it was devenomized. Five days later, Savage was in the hospital with a 104-degree fever. Savage lived, but the snake didn’t; it died just a few days later. “He was devenomized, but maybe I wasn’t,” Savage told IGN in 2004. 

6. HE PLANNED HIS MATCHES DOWN TO THE SECOND.

While outcomes may be planned backstage, the choreography of pro wrestling is left largely up to the participants, who either talk it over prior to going out or call their moves while in the ring. For a 1987 match with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III, Savage wanted everything to be absolutely perfect.

“We both had those yellow legal tablets, and we started making notes,” Steamboat told Sports Illustrated in 2015. “Randy would have his set of notes and I would have mine. Then we got everything addressed—number 1, number 2, number 3—and we went up to number 157. Randy would say, ‘OK, here is up to spot 90, now you tell me the rest.’ I would have to go through the rest, then I would quiz him. I’d never planned out a match that way, so it was very stressful to remember everything.” The effort was worth it: Their match is considered by many fans to be among the greatest of all time.

7. HIS MARRIAGE TO MISS ELIZABETH CAUSED PROBLEMS IN THE LOCKER ROOM.

Savage’s “valet” in the WWE was Miss Elizabeth, a fixture of his corner during most of his career in the 1980s. Although they had an onscreen wedding in 1991, they had been married in real life back in 1984. According to several wrestlers, Savage was jealously guarded with his wife, whom he kept in their own locker room. Savage would also confront wrestlers he believed to have been hitting on her. The strain of working and traveling together was said to have contributed to their (real) divorce in 1991.

8. HE CUT A RAP ALBUM DISSING HULK HOGAN.

In 2003, with his best years in the ring behind him, Savage decided to pursue a new career in rap music. Be a Man featured 13 rap songs, including one that eulogized his late friend, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. But the performance that got the most mainstream attention was the title track, which dissed wrestling star Hulk Hogan. The two had apparently gotten into a rivalry after Hogan made some disparaging comments about Savage on a Tampa, Florida radio show. Whether the sentiment was real or staged, it didn’t do much to help sales: Be a Man moved just 3000 copies.

9. HE MIGHT GET A STATUE IN HIS HOMETOWN.

In 2016, fans circulated a petition to get Savage his own statue in Columbus, Ohio. The initiative was inspired by the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a monument in Columbus, and wrestling fans argue that Savage should get equal time. The mayor has yet to issue a response. In the meantime, a 20-inch-tall resin statue of Savage was released by McFarlane Toys in 2014.

See Also: 10 Larger-Than-Life Facts About Andre the Giant

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