Those of us who love sports probably keep some lasting image of the enduring love between fans and players locked in our hearts somewhere like a golden memory of how things should be. These sorts of memories and images surround us at every sporting event. Just think of the warm, nostalgic patriotism an Olympic hockey game can evoke, with the adoring crowd chanting “USA” to the equally shocked American players and Al Michaels jubilantly asking “Do you believe in miracles?!?” Or how about Cam Newton handing out footballs to fans like they were candy. Even something as basic as the ‘Lambeau Leap’ or infielders handing out foul pop-ups to kids in the stands brings fans and players just a little bit closer. If you still don’t believe it, remember those old Coke commercials with the Steelers Mean Joe Greene and that lovable little kid? Talk about illustrating the bond between fan and athlete- that’s iconic, right there.
But… like everything else in sports, there’s always a dark side to the way the two sides interact. There’s always the potential for sports events to end up showcasing fans and athletes who interact in awkward and unhappy ways. We’ve all seen it. Think of the players who shun signing autographs for the little kids waiting during batting practice. Think of the student section at a college basketball game mercilessly taunting a free-throw shooter from the other team with deeply personal insults. Or how about those fans who throw everything from popcorn to batteries (batteries?!?) at the players. Sometimes these awkward moments are simply mildly amusing. Sometimes they are deeply disturbing. But they are always there, waiting to rear their awkward heads. Our list includes a little bit of everything when it comes to unsettling encounters between sports stars and their fans.
15 Big Bad Bruins Go into the Stands
We start off our list with a reasonably violent one from 1979. Back in the 70s, when the Bs were the Big Bad Bruins and didn’t take any guff from anyone, especially New York fans, Bruins forward Terry O’Reilly was whacked with a game program by Rangers fan John Kaptain, then had his stick stolen. So he took matters into his own hands, climbing the glass and getting into a fight with fans. Other Bruins joined him and we’re left with the indelible image of defenseman Mike Milbury beating on Kaptain with his own shoe. Talk about crazy and awkward!
14 Rosie Ruiz Cheats Marathoners and Fans Alike
This one makes the list for the awkwardness Rosie created for both real fans and real athletes, two groups she shouldn’t ever be allowed to join. You see, Ruiz cheated her way into a first place finish at the 1980 Boston Marathon by jumping onto the course in the last mile. When her chicanery was exposed it also turned out she had done the same thing in the New York City marathon by riding the subway to the end of the race before jumping the course. It’s rare that a “fan/athlete” can upset both groups but Rosie was a winner there, if nowhere else.
13 Patriots Fan Tackles Junior Seau
What happens when you’re a huge fan of Junior Seau, you’re drunk and it’s almost Christmas? Why you rush out onto the field, tackle your hero and wish him Happy Holidays. At least, that’s what you do would do if you were “Superfan” Todd Kobus during a 2008 New England Patriots game. Kobus later said he just wanted to give his favorite player a hug. Poor Junior - he was supposed to be the guy making the tackles, not receiving them. That’s okay, though, as Kobus was pelted with snowballs by his fellow fans as he was escorted away to a night in jail.
12 Aaron Rodgers Tells Fans to R-E-L-A-X
Sometimes athletes just have to tell fans things they don’t want to hear. That’s certainly true of Green Bay quarterback Rodgers public assertion to the team’s fanbase to “R-E-L-A-X” after the Pack started the 2014 season 1-2. If that statement seemed awkward at the time he said it, Rodgers quickly proved he knew what he was talking about when the team went on a winning streak and he made the Pro Bowl. And yes, the fans still love their former MVP and Super Bowl champ, even if he did publicly chastise them.
11 Harvard Cheerleaders Save Their Flag
That’s right, cheerleaders are athletes too! And the last thing you want to do to a cheerleading squad is steal their school flag. That thing is important to those people- they need it for their routines and stuff… Anyway, one Yale fan (or vicious thief, depending upon your alma mater) tried to run onto the field and grab the Harvard flag during the 2007 Harvard-Yale football rivalry game. Or The Game, as Ivy Leaguers like to call it. But the Harvard cheerleaders took this Eli student down hard- a guy, taken out by chicks-awkward!
10 White Sox Father-Son Combo Run Onto Field
Fortunately, Kansas City Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa wasn’t injured back in 2002 when two Chicago White Sox fans rushed him on the field. The two claimed he had it coming for “provoking” them. But we wonder about a shirtless father-son team with a prior history of mayhem. The Dad actually called relatives right before the incident occurred and told them to watch the game. The best part of this crazy-awkward moment came afterward when one of these two nuts was quoted as saying “We ain’t no white trash.” Ummm, you might want to rethink that statement, buddy.
9 Crazed Soccer Fans Chase Whole Team Off Field
This one actually ended better than a lot of international soccer incidents do between fans and players, fans and referees, fans and other fans and even players and players. Soccer has had more than its share of awkward and sometimes really unhappy “Pitch Invasions.” Fortunately, in this 2015 “Friendly” between Israeli club Ashdod and home-town Bulgarian squad CSKA Sofia, irate fans, upset over red cards and flagrant fouls by the visiting club, charged the pitch while the visitors took to their heels and scampered up the empty aisles of the far side of the stadium. Somehow we don’t think Ashdod is going back to Sofia anytime soon.
8 Fan Steals Brett Favre’s Ball
There you are, a potential Hall of Fame quarterback, trying to lead your team to a last-second victory. You take the snap, drop back and… have the ball snatched out of your hands by a crazed Bengals fan who then runs around the field until getting sacked by security. That’s what happened to the Green Bay Packers Brett Favre in 2005. You gotta give this nut credit for an inspired interaction with an NFL player but, seriously, what is it with all these fans running onto the field? The image of Favre standing there in shock is awesome.
7 Indiana Pacers Go into the Stands
You would think fans would learn not to mess with the players. Sooner or later, “If you throw it, they will come.” But when Detroit Pistons fans, protesting a game-stoppage, started throwing things at the visiting team, Pacers Ron Artest (a guy known as much for his off-court hijinks as his play) and Stephen Jackson charged into the stands, setting off fistfights and a near-riot. The sad part about this one was that the whole mess was actually started by hometown player Ben Wallace’s hard foul. He apologized later but the damage was already done.
6 “The Play”
Simply known as “The Play” in college football history, this one’s an awkward player-fan incident for the ages. The “fans” are the prematurely celebrating Stanford Marching Band, who began rushing the field to revel in their team’s 1982 upset over California while the game was still going on. As everybody knows, Cal completed like a million laterals to win on the last play and, to add injury to insult, the final Cal ball carrier flattened a Stanford trombone player in the end zone as the clock expired. Those Cal players sure banded together to get the job done.
5 Seles Stabbed
Okay, we admit this one goes way past just awkward. While playing in a tournament in Germany, then World Number One Seles was attacked by a deranged man with a knife during a set break. Seles was not seriously injured but, needless to say, the incident deeply troubled her and affected tennis as a whole. The whacked-out fan, who claimed to be a fan of Seles’s rival, German player Steffi Graf, wanted Graf to regain the top ranking Seles had won from her two years before. Never has an athlete/fan interaction been so wrongheaded.
4 The Maier Ball
This is the first of two big-time baseball fan interference entries. Young Jeffrey Maier, a lifelong Yankee and Derek Jeter fan, interfered with a Jeter pop fly, causing Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco to miss a chance at catching it. That fly ball was instead ruled a controversial home run. To make it interesting, the play occurred during Game One of the 1996 ALCS. It was an awkward moment for Maier and Tarasco but pretty awesome as well, as Jeter would later say “I will never forget what he did.” Who else can say they “helped" their favorite player hit a home run???
3 Philadelphia Eagles Fans vs. Dallas Cowboys Snowball Fight
Alright, alright, it really wasn’t much of a fight- more of a massacre. We all know the Eagles and the Cowboys are bitter rivals. So, if you’re an Eagles fan, what better way to show your distaste for Cowboys players than to pelt them with snowballs from all the snow your stadium employees “forgot” to remove? Wouldn’t that make for a fun time? That’s just what happened at a 1989 game at the old Veterans Stadium in Philly. Too bad the Cowboys players didn’t have enough snow on the sidelines to build forts to hide behind.
2 Soccer Fans Score Goal
What better way to enjoy a day at the pitch than to score a goal against EPL Heavyweight Man U??? In 2009, two Barnsley fans ran onto the pitch, stole the ball as the United keeper was lining up a goal kick, made a nice pass in the box as the keeper tried to defend and finished strong with a half-volley goal. Yeah, the Sky Sports commentators might have pooh-poohed the whole affair but we think it was awesome. Especially that awkward moment when United keeper Ben Foster tries to steal the ball back from the two bozos and gets schooled.
1 The Bartman Ball
Chicago Cubs fans will always remember this one. What would you do if a foul ball came your way? If you're like Steve Bartman, you'd try to catch it. Except the play happened during the 8th inning of Game Six of the 2003 NLCS, Cubs leftfielder Moises Alou was tracking the ball and the Cubs were winning 3-0 at the time. Bartman’s interference led to a dropped ball, Alou screaming at him and his fellow fans threatening him so much he had to be escorted from the field. So he managed to make it awkward for both the player and other fans. Oh yeah, the Cubs blew the game and the series.