RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It's hard to root for the home team when your teeth are chattering. But that's what fans did last weekend during the frigid opening round of the NFL playoffs. It was five degrees in Green Bay, 25 in Philadelphia, and in the 30s in Cincinnati. As for the fans who watched from the comfort of their warm living rooms, commentator Frank Deford does not question their dedication.
FRANK DEFORD: How well I remember when a savvy old promoter told me that the cleverest thing that sports ever did was to emphasize the concept that fans should always support their team - come defeat, discomfort or indignity. Balderdash, he exclaimed. A rotten sports franchise no more deserves your support than does the corner cleaners that ruins your shirts or the bar that gives you weak drinks.
Now, in those hoary days of yesteryear, the only way that a devoted fan could donate the obligatory support was to show up live and buy a ticket to sit. I've been amply reminded of this in these recent godforsaken days, as games have been conducted under the most gruesome of conditions.
First there was hockey's Winter Classic, played in Michigan, where 105,000 supporters, in temperatures approaching zero, peered through a storm, searching for a distant glimpse of the puck whenever snow was cleared from the rink. By contrast, three of the first-round NFL playoff games did not immediately sell out. Which would mean that by league fiat the entire home-team city that failed in its ticketed support would've been summarily punished, deprived of a televised rendition of the game.
The call for attendance volunteers went out. It was like in those war movies where the bad guys threaten to blow up a whole community unless someone steps forward and sacrifices himself by confessing - but still no sellouts.
Now, nobody could've believed that the NFL would've denied, say, all of metropolitan Cincinnati their right to see its Bengals play in the comfort of their own club cellars, and sure enough various sponsors bought up the ugly ticket residue. It was sort of like the Federal Reserve buying dollars or bonds or whatever it does in a similar great American crisis. It was more sell-off than sell-out, but the league's blackmail policy prevailed.
But it made me think: Nowadays, do you have to show your support by purchasing a ticket? Really? The NFL makes much more from TV than at the box office. Aren't you - Bengals supporter, say - doing your fair share by staying comfy, warm downstairs by your own huge HD, where you're surrounded by chosen friends and family, where you have your own choice refreshments, your own toilet facilities? Darn-tooting you're supporting your team, just in 21st century cyber-style. Sports tickets are so passe.
But may I suggest that the next time the NFL finds itself needing bodies to fill up a refrigerator that is doubling as a stadium, that it contact those 105,000 brave souls who went to the hockey game in Michigan and pay them to be professional supporters. Obviously they have the talent for it.
MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday.
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