American citizens since the days of Red Grange and the Roaring Twenties have accepted the popularity of pro football as an accepted fact of life. During those years, college football was still king in the eyes of many, but pro football was an infant that was growing in status practically every year.
By the 1970s, the majority of Americans who enjoyed watching the pro game were unquestionably hooked. They became those wild and crazy NFL fans.
You can learn more about this topic in this week’s edition of Pigskin Past, and you can jump down below to the written version of this episode.
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NFL Fans in the 1970s
It was in the 1970s that NFL Properties was formed, and they changed the life of pro football fans forever. They were (and still are) the merchandising arm of the league, and before you knew it, many fans would show up at the stadiums wearing team colors and team logos in sweatshirts, hats and t-shirts, and it has been that way ever since.
But what about the fans themselves? What have they done to bring some measure of excitement to the NFL? Well, you once again you have to look back to the 1970s, when a radio sportscaster in Miami changed everything.
A guy by the name of Rick Weaver came up with the idea during the 1971 season of having Dolphins fans at the Orange Bowl bring their transistor radios and a white handkerchief. Then while those fans were listening to the broadcast in the stadium, Weaver would implore those fans on the airwaves to wave their white hankies, typically after every Dolphins score.
The idea was pure genius. Even today, over four decades later, many Miami traditionalists at the Dolphins games continue to wave their white handkerchiefs after current Miami touchdowns.
The Terrible Towel
A few years later, in 1975 to be precise, another broadcaster came up with a similar idea for his local team. Myron Cope was a longtime radio sportscaster for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it was he who came up with the splendid idea for the Terrible Towels.
Whether they were gold or black, Steelers fans have been waving and twirling their Terrible Towels since 1975, and that activity has continued to this very day.
The Terrible Towels have been proudly displayed in every NFL stadium…wherever the Steelers play on any given week. It’s been quite a spectacle to see, and the Steelers have identified with those towels since their inception.
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A New NFL Fan Tradition
All was not an achievement of a spectacular nature when it came to the fans of the NFL, particularly those of the 1970s.
Throughout that decade, when stadium security was nothing compared to what it is today, a new phenomenon occurred on an individualistic basis. You see, NFL fans who do not have an official field pass, are never allowed to go on the field. Sure, many hundreds of fans would run on the field after their home team won a big game, but they were never arrested or anything like that.
But during the course of a game, every now and then, one single man might decide to take it upon himself to run on the field. I don’t know when it happened for the very first time, but the art of streaking…running onto a football field without any clothes on, seemed to enjoy its zenith during the 1970s. The culprit was quite similar in most instances.
A young man in his late teens or early 20s, would come from out of nowhere and run onto the field naked, and usually while both teams were in a huddle planning for their next play. The streaker in question was often intoxicated with liquor, but others may have just been dared by his friends to attempt such as crazy stunt.
TV Gives Glory to the Streaker!!!
In the early days of streaking, the television networks covering the games actually showed the action! It was quite comical to say the least.
A naked man running around the field with no real destination in mind, other than avoiding a crew of security personnel who were trying to chase him down. The fans in the stands couldn’t help but burst out in laughter. And the longer that the streaker could elude the policemen and the security people chasing him, the louder of an ovation he received from those fans in the stands.
It didn’t take long for everyone involved to realize that the only goal that a streaker had in his mind was to become famous, even for just a moment. He craved attention, and if he could get it, especially national attention.
The spectacle of Monday Night Football in the 1970s, drew millions of people across the nation watching those games on their televisions. The ratings that they got back then just completely dwarfed anything else that was on television at the time. Your typical streaker knew that if his act was captured on Monday Night Football, he could become legendary, as he could be watched by millions of people across America.
It didn’t take too many of these streaking episodes for the networks to realize that if their cameras did not follow the streaker, his action and subsequent arrest would not be aired, making any chance for his fame practically nill.
Today, you still might come across a random streaker at a game, but you saw a lot of them during the 1970s, most often on Monday Night Football.
In the next edition of the Pigskin Past, we will delve a little further into pro football fandom, which a story or two that even today is hard to believe.
The "Me Decade" and the NFL
The decade of the 1970s in America is often described as the “Me Decade,” and with good reason. Following the turbulent 1960s, American citizens consistently looked inward towards their own lives during the 1970s.
This is not to say that many people all of a sudden got greedy or self-absorbed, but if one is being honest in retrospect, a lot of people in the United States made a purposeful effort in addressing themselves, taking more care of themselves, spending money on themselves and their individual pursuits, all at the cost of the patterns and practices that were utilized in the 1960s.
That could have been a good thing or a bad thing, depending I guess on the results. In the world of pro football, for example, more fans attended more NFL games than ever before.
And television? Well, pro football’s television ratings were off the charts. With each successive year, the NFL’s TV ratings were eclipsed annually.
Staples such as the Super Bowl and Monday Night Football were constantly drawing many millions of fans nationwide.
Monday Night Spider-Man
Speaking of Monday Night Football, one particular game in 1975 offered a happening that I, nor I guess anyone else, had seen before or since.
You see, with so many fans across the airwaves watching the game in Buffalo between the New York Giants and the Bills, practically anything that happened during those three hours was going to be discussed along with the next day’s work conversations all throughout the country.
Well, what happened on October 20, 1975, was in point of fact incredible…and extremely dangerous. At the beginning of the third quarter of that game, an intoxicated fan…I say intoxicated because no sober person would do what this moron did…decided to take a hold of the rope which held the placekicking net in place along the west end line of the stadium. The spectacle of this unnamed fan dangling at least 50 feet in the air above the playing surface while the game continued was unnerving, to say the least.
Even the ABC-TV crew chimed in while watching this spectacle. Howard Cosell, a wordsmith for the ages, described this event as “…dangerous, disgraceful, and absurd.” The fan hung on that rope, as the fans and players watched. Many gasps could be heard over the airwaves, and certainly, they were soundly heard by those who were in attendance and who were doing the gasping.
This crazy fan hung on that rope for practically 10 full minutes until he somehow miraculously made it back to his departure point on the front row of the upper ledge of Rich Stadium. He then departed the stadium with several police and security personnel giving him a much-deserved escort.
Another Crazy Incident
While that particular occurrence was hard to believe unless you watched it, one more shocking event also took place later that same year (1975) that turned out to be much more memorable for aficionados of pro football history. It was the NFC Divisional Playoffs in Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota.
It was the Wild Card Dallas Cowboys at the NFC Central Champion and defending NFC Champion Minnesota Vikings.
What happened at the very end of this dramatic contest was disturbing to most onlookers.
The Cowboys came from behind to win the game, thanks to the completion of the very first long bomb termed as a Hail Mary Pass in NFL history. On that memorable play, many thousands of Vikings fans felt…and still to this day feel…that Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson was guilty of offensive pass interference against Minnesota cornerback Nate Wright, just an instant before Pearson caught quarterback Roger Staubach’s 50-yard touchdown pass.
One particular unnamed fan in attendance at Metropolitan Stadium was so upset that a penalty was not called on Pearson, that he decided to take it upon himself to throw a bottle of Corby’s whiskey onto the field. That was bad enough. But with the aim of someone like Nolan Ryan, the angry Vikings fan’s bottle hit field judge Armen Terzian right in the head. Terzian went down immediately, and the stadium, which a moment before was a buzz with boos galore, all of a sudden went immediately silent.
I mean silent. You could hear a pin drop, to use a cliché. The stadium’s public address announcer admonished the fans attending the game to refrain from throwing objects onto the field as if such a plea was needed after Terzian was hit.
After several minutes, Terzian’s head was bandaged while he laid on the turf. He somehow miraculously got up and jogged off the field with just a few seconds remaining in the game. He went to a local hospital and got 11 stitches to close up his wound.
Minnesota middle linebacker Jeff Siemon asserted that the action of this fan was “…unforgivable.
That could have killed him. I hope to never see anything like that again.” Vikings owner Max Winter offered $5,000.00 for the arrest and conviction of the guy who threw the whiskey bottle. A few months later, the entire episode was closed without ever identifying a suspect.
There you have two noteworthy events, both from the same season (1975), where one fan in each instance left his mark on the game, albeit a mark that no sane or well intentioned person would ever want to emulate. It was two more examples of some wild and crazy pro football fans, from an era that we will never see repeated again.