Mind you, I live in a city now where leaving early has long been turned in to an art form. Once I went to a Cubs-Dodgers game in Los Angeles, and so many hometown fans left Dodger Stadium early (even far more than usual because Chicago was so far ahead) that near the end I swear it seemed like you were at Wrigley Field. Cries of "Jo-dee, Jo-dee!!" for the Cubs catcher Jody Davis, a cheer that was a tradition in Chicago, filled the ballpark when he came to bat in the ninth inning.
The week before Pope John Paul II was about to lead a Mass at Dodger Stadium in 1987, I wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times -- which they printed -- that said, "There is no truth to the rumor that during the Pope's Mass, a third of the attendees will leave before the Final Benediction."
All of which brings us to (as best I can tell) the press conference held on Wednesday by Nick Saban, head football coach of the University of Alabama, as well as comments on his radio show and an interview with the Al.com website. On his mind, he decided to talk about fans and, well...sort of shred them.
I've talked about players playing for 60 minutes in the game and competing for 60 minutes in the game. And, in some kind of way, everybody that choses to go to the game should stay there and support the team for the game."Maybe if you're not interested in doing that, you should let someone else go who would really like to go because I have a lot of people who want to go"
"My sense of it is, I always say the fans are a part of the team. Everybody else should have the same sort of commitment. You don't have to do the work all week, you don't have to practice, you don't have to come in at 7 in the morning and leave at 11 at night, you don't have to do any of that stuff. All you have to do is come to the game, drink beer, do whatever you want, party in the parking lot. I've never been at a tailgate in my life. All I'm asking is that you just come and have fun and stay for the whole game."
"Maybe if you're not interested in doing that, you should let someone else go who would really like to go because I have a lot of people who want to go,"
"We have lots of recruits there, we like to see an enthusiastic full stadium. We have a beautiful stadium and one of the nicest venues in all of college football and I think we all should show our appreciation for it by staying and supporting our team for the whole game."
But beyond all that -- what a laughably whiny thing to say. But it's even more ridiculous than this. I'll get to that in a moment.
On ESPN Friday night, they showed the clip of Nick Saban chastising the un-enthusiastic Alabama fans during a segment when commentators Lou Holtz and Mark May were on the set. Lou Holtz is a former long-time coach who tends to get very defensive when it comes to criticism of coaches. Mark May is a thoughtful, generally low-key, insightful former player. After the clip was aired and ESPN cut back to the studio, Holtz and May were sitting there clearly fighting from bursting into laughter, straining to keep their mouths clenched. They barely made it and were only saved when the host changed the subject.
Nick Saban is a great coach, arguably one of the best and most successful ever. He's won four national championships. He's the only coach in college football history to win national championships at two different schools. His team this year is ranked #1 in country, and are 7-0.
But Lou Holtz and Mark May had the right idea. Except for holding the laughter back.
When you have 102,000 fans all leaving at the same time, wanting to beat the traffic is actually a very, very smart thing to do. And yet, very smart as that is, it's not the reason Saban's whine is ridiculous. In fact, what makes it so ridiculous is that the reason is something that should actually impress potential recruits.
The University of Alabama crushes its opponents.
I mean, seriously crushes them. Last week, Alabama beat Arkansas 52-0. After three quarters, it was 45-0. At that point, the team likely was just playing with some their third string, actually they probably had some of the band members in the game. Who wouldn't at least consider leaving at that point, early??! Especially with 102,000 fans around you, who you know will all be leaving soon, at the same time.
And further, in the four home games that Alabama has played this year, they have won them by a combined score of 153-9.
You read that right. 153-9.
If Nick Saban doesn't want any of the 102,000 fans to leave early, he should consider starting his third string (or the tuba section) and make the games closer.
Rather than being bothered that fans are leaving, potential recruits are probably in awe by what they're seeing around them...and most especially seeing on the field. A spectacular football team.
(In fact, the biggest problem for Alabama in convincing recruits to come play for the college may well be telling a high school star that they might not start -- or even play much -- for two years because there are better players on this great, well-stocked team ahead of them.)
But mainly, it's just stupid to rip maniacal, deeply supportive fans who are only there cheering for you. And the thing is, of course, even if they weren't so supportive, they paid for their tickets. It's their choice how long they stay, not yours. So, just turn around to the field and coach the football players, not the fans.
As it happens, football is king at the University of Alabama, and when Nick Saban sighs,"Who wouldst rid me of this turbulent priest?", his accolytes take it upon themselves to to kill Sir Thomas More. On Friday, the school suspended the "block seating" privileges of 20 student groups. They can still attend, but no longer have their sections reserved for them. Any student can sit anywhere. "Unacceptable behavior" -- like being tardy or leaving early -- can result in privileges being suspended for the rest of the year.
Of course one understands why Nick Saban wants the fans to stay to the bitter end. It's perfectly reasonable to want that, for all the reasons. But to stand in front of a microphone and camera and say it out loud is so pathetically laughable it makes you think of Asif Manvi's wonderful political rejoinder last week on The Daily Show to a North Carolina Republican official making a total fool of himself --
"You know we can hear this?"