Fans are an integral part of professional sports. Without fans, much of the professional sporting events we watch today would simply not exist. Whether filling seats at stadiums and arenas, buying jerseys or purchasing expensive cable and satellite packages, the fan is responsible for keeping the teams, clubs and leagues around the world going – even if it seems like some organizations fail to recognize that! For the most part, sports fans follow their players and teams regardless of distances, weather, success or lack of it – cough Maple Leafs, cough. Even if we don’t feel important sometimes, you must always remember the fan is the reason why professional sports exist on the scale they do. That’s why there are stadiums, advertising, television coverage, autographs, replica jerseys and fan days.
Yes, being a sports fan can be an emotional rollercoaster at times. Watching your team on television can be one thing, but taking in the game in person can be a whole other experience. The sights and sounds of a live game make for a different experience in comparison to televised coverage. The athletes are closer, the crowd energy more noticeable, the plays seem more real and beer costs a lot more. Sometimes the play comes to the fans. A ball or puck is hit, thrown or deflected into the crowd. Perhaps a player even comes over the barrier, propelled by their momentum, only to find themselves among the fans. It’s all part of the game – for the most part.
The following list looks at 15 of the most shocking and crazy moments involving fans at sporting events. From angry athletes to terrible tragedy to funny moments and ‘typical’ fan stupidity, a wide range of sports and sports fans are covered here. It all just goes to show that in the world of sports, the fan can be an integral part of the action, whether they choose to be or not.
16 Honorable Mention: The 2011 AIK – DIF Derby
Opening up our list is an honorable mention which involves a famous footballing derby in Sweden. The Stockholm derby involving AIK and Djurgarden is considered one of the biggest rivalries in world football. It makes this list not for what happened on the field but what happened in the stands. In September 2011, fans of both clubs staged a silent protest against the policies of the Swedish Football Federation. For the first 10 minutes, tens of thousands of fans were quiet. Then the stadium erupted with cheering and chanting. The atmosphere changed even further when fans at both ends lit up dozens of flares, producing quite a spectacle. The match was stopped by officials as smoke filled the stadium in one of the more memorable sports fan protests.
15 RAW Just Got Real
Remember when you were little and thought that WWE was real? All those great moves, larger-than-life personalities and rivalries – it makes for good TV. Perhaps a bit of the shine was taken off an otherwise successful and entertaining ‘sport’ when you found out it was largely scripted. That said, unexpected events do occur, whether funny or tragic, which occasionally injected realism back into the ring. In 2002, “Latino Heat” Eddie Guerrero and Rob Van Dam were pitted against one another in a RAW ladder match. At one point in the match, Guerrero began climbing the ladder to reach the briefcase suspended above. A fan, having jumped the barrier, climbed into the ring and knocked down the ladder. Fortunately, Guerrero saw the intruder coming and was prepared for the fall. The fan was taken away by security but not before Guerrero landed a few unscripted blows of his own.
14 Way to Go, Dad
For many sons and daughters, heading to a baseball game with their dad is a big deal. For some dads, especially in San Francisco, catching a flyball while holding your child is a common event. The San Francisco Giants were hosting the Colorado Rockies on Father’s Day, 2014 when Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki smashed a two-run homer over the outfield wall. In a rather nonchalant manner, a man carrying a baby in one arm caught the ball with his bare hand and proceeded back to his seat. Amazingly, that same week, another toddler-carrying dad had caught a foul ball in a similar fashion. As if to prove that San Francisco fans have excellent multi-tasking and child-care skills, a year earlier another dad had snagged a foul ball with a baby on-board during the visit of the Washington Nationals.
13 Riddick Bowe, Evander Holyfield and Fan Man
If you’ve watched enough professional boxing, chances are you’ve seen a range of spectacular and bizarre moments. From George Foreman becoming the oldest Champion to ‘Iron” Mike Tyson feasting on Evander Holyfield’s ear, boxing has its share of memorable moments. In November 1993, a Heavyweight championship fight took place between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe at Caesar’s Palace. The two had met before and appeared to be going the distance as the fight entered round 7. Just then, James Miller (aka Fan Man) crashed into the side of the ring after attempting to paraglide into the middle of the fight. Miller was quickly swarmed and pummeled by fans, officials and security guards. The fight started back up after a delay but more people remember the Fan Man than the fact Holyfield won by decision.
12 Bring Out the Band
Ok, so this one doesn’t involve fans in the traditional sense, but we are certain the band members involved were fans of Stanford Cardinal football team. Led by future NFLer John Elway, Stanford took a 20-19 lead over rivals the California Golden Bears with only four seconds left in the fourth quarter of the 1982 ‘Big Game.’ Stanford looked set for victory and only had to stop the Bears’ kick return to win the game. Stanford opted for a squib kick hoping to end any chance of a return. What happened next has become known as ‘The Play’ and saw the Golden Bears take the kickoff, make five lateral passes and return the ball for the game-winning touchdown. The Stanford band, believing the game was over, charged out on the field while the play was underway. In one of those moments sports shows love showing over and over, Cali’s Kevin Moen is shown charging his way through the confused Stanford band before entering the end zone and steamrolling a totally oblivious trombone player.
11 Two Minutes in the Box with Tie Domi
During his NHL career, Tie Domi was one of the most divisive figures in hockey. Domi was known as a ‘tough man’ and often got involved in fights with players from the other team. If he wasn’t on your team, you despised him. During the 2000-01 season, some Philadelphia Flyers fans let Domi, then with the Toronto Maple Leafs, know just how much they liked him while he was serving a penalty. Not taking kindly to the heckling or objects being thrown at him, Domi turned around and sprayed the fans with his water bottle. One irate fan made the foolish choice of charging forward and ended up falling into the box with Domi. The Maple Leaf proceeded to land blows on the fan until match officials and security moved in to separate the two.
10 Assault with a Deadly Cornhusker
Fans charging the field after an emotional or big win is a common occurrence in many leagues. Of course, as a fan, you should know that charging out onto the field can be like entering a lion’s den. One Missouri Tigers fan found this out the hard way in October, 2003. At the time, Missouri was mired in a 24-game losing streak. The prospect of facing the ranked Nebraska side seemed to suggest that streak would continue. Against the odds, the Tigers recorded a 41-24 victory resulting in a rush of fans onto the field after the game. One fan ran into the path of Huskers cornerback Kellen Huston. Likely frustrated at his team’s loss, Huston proceeded to throw a punch which broke the fan’s nose and knocked him out. Huston faced a suspension, legal action and fine as a result of the assault.
9 McIlroy’s Hole-In-One
In a refreshing twist, this incident didn’t involve an assault on players or fans. During this September’s PGA Tour stop in Atlanta, Northern Irish golfing sensation Rory McIlroy hit what ended up being a rather amazing shot. After teeing off, his shot drifted towards the crowd and struck a tree. Not unusual, right? After all, even the best golfers occasionally pull or slice a shot. This time, however, the ball didn’t end up in the rough. Instead, after striking the tree, McIlroy’s ball ended up in the pocket of a spectator. It was a one-in-a-million shot. The shocked spectator remained still and informed officials that the ball was in his pocket. After some brief discussion it was decided that McIlroy could take a drop ball and play on from that spot. For the spectator, fortunately the rules didn’t literally mean the ball was played from where it landed.
8 Fan Takes Favre’s Snap
On October 30th 2005, the Green Bay Packers were down by a touchdown to the Cincinnati Bengals with 30 seconds remaining. With the ball on the Bengals’ 28-yard line, Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre knew only a touchdown would do. The ball was snapped to Favre who looked set to pass when a fan rushed up from behind, took the ball and started for the Green Bay end zone. Displaying some skill, the thief avoided a couple tackles from security guards before getting taken down hard at the 15 yard line. Cincinnati stepped up security after that and the 31 year old fan faced probation and humiliation.
7 Ron Artest Loses It
Like fans, athletes can get emotional and even let their emotions and bad judgement overtake them. Looking past the decision to change his name to Metta World Peace, this NBAer’s bad decision-making came to a head in November 2004 during a game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. After some on-court altercations near the end of the game, Artest was hit by a cup of pop. The player charged into the stands and started beating on a fan he incorrectly thought had thrown the object. Other players were soon involved and a number of fans and players were assaulted during the course of events. Artest ended up being banned for 86 games and several other players and fans faced a variety of bans and fines for their role in the brawl.
6 CFL Fan Makes a Bad Choice
Sometimes when a fan jumps on the field and runs around, the rest of us laugh or just shake our heads. Then there are the guys who jump on the field and try to have a go at a player. In the 2002 CFL semi-final between the BC Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, one fan jumped on the field with just seconds left and jumped on one of the Lions’ players. Going after a player who is probably not happy about losing 30-3 is not a good idea. The results were not pretty for anyone. The fan was thrown to the ground where he received a beat down which included a number of kicks from Lions’ linebacker Carl Kidd. And you thought the CFL wasn’t exciting?
5 Bruce Lee or Eric Cantona?
In the world of football (that’s soccer to the rest of you) Eric Cantona achieved legendary status for saying and doing strange things. On the field, the Frenchman was skilled and scored some great goals. He did have a bit of a temper which, for one unfortunate fan, came out in full during a match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace in 1995. After being sent off for kicking a Palace player, Cantona responded to a barrage of heckling and abuse from a particular Palace fan by launching himself into the crowd. Initially he struck with the now legendary kung-fu kick right into the fan’s chest. This was followed up with a few punches before the fan was seen running away. Cantona faced several fines, an eight month ban and community service.
4 Fan Takes on the Buffalo Sabres Bench
Back in 1992 the NHL still had a team from Quebec City. On April 14th of that year, the Buffalo Sabres were playing the Nordiques at Le Colisée and losing 7-3. In the dying seconds, a 21 year old Nordiques fan jumped the glass and took on the whole Buffalo bench. Players who were in the middle of a fight on ice were in such disbelief that they stopped fighting and watched as the fan was grabbed by the players on the Buffalo bench. Not done there, Rob Ray, one of the iconic NHL tough men, proceeded to rain over a dozen blows onto the head and upper body of the fan. While television commentators could only watch and say “oh no,” the bizarre scene became similar to a National Geographic special where a small (and in this case very stupid) gazelle is pounced on by a herd of lions. In this case, the gazelle was pulled from the lions by a couple of arena security guards.
3 The Bruins Invade Madison Square Gardens
In December 1979, the Boston Bruins took on the New York Rangers in a game which ended in scenes which would not have been out of place in the 1977 film Slapshot. Boston won the game 4-3 but the final buzzer only signalled the beginning. A Boston defenceman punched a Rangers player to get even for an earlier altercation. Arguments started and soon a scrum developed on ice. Fans soon became involved, swatting and striking at the Bruins on the ice. Television cameras caught almost the entire Bruins team climb over the glass and go after the fans who only moments before had been attacking them. The image which has become the icon of this event is that of Bruins defenceman Mike Milbury pulling the shoe off of a fan and then proceeding to beat him with it.
2 No Love for Monica Seles
Some fans go to great lengths to support their favorite team or athlete. Then there are those fans who go too far. Extreme fans have trouble controlling their emotions and rationalizing that athletes are, for the most part, just people. Unfortunately for Monica Seles, she became the victim of one of these extreme fans. In the early 1990s, Seles was ‘the’ female tennis star, winning eight Grand Slam singles titles before she was even 20 years old. In 1993, this success came to a sudden halt when she was attacked during a match in Hamburg, Germany. Gunter Parche, reportedly an obsessed Stefi Graf fan, ran down towards the court and stabbed Seles in the back with a knife. Parche apparently wanted to see Graf become #1 and saw Seles as the biggest threat to that happening. Seles eventually returned to the court in 1995, but never returned to the dominant form she displayed before the attack.
1 Front Row at LeMans
We’d like to end this one off with something funny or witty but when it comes to notable incidents of fan involvement at a sporting event, unfortunately, the 1955 24 Hours of LeMans race takes top spot. In any racing event, fans love being right up close to the action. Today, this is far less risky than it was even a few decades ago thanks to safety equipment and regulations. In 1955, protection was generally limited to a small wall or a fence, at most. At LeMans, this was insufficient to stop Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes from launching up and into the crowd. Film footage is as spectacular as it is horrifying. The Mercedes’ axel and hood are shown flying through the crowd of spectators while the rest of the car bursts into flames, all resulting in the deaths of 83 spectators and Levegh himself. The race world has come a long way and fan safety has improved tremendously since that terrible day.