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Boo-bird nation

Fans more vocal than ever -- often for good reason

Posted: Thursday December 7, 2006 3:56PM; Updated: Thursday December 7, 2006 4:39PM
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Ever since they booed Santa Clause, Eagles fans have had a reputation as the nastiest in all of sports.
Ever since they booed Santa Clause, Eagles fans have had a reputation as the nastiest in all of sports.
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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jeff Garcia absorbed a couple of teeth-rattling hits during Philly's 27-24 win over Carolina on Monday night, and while he was momentarily dazed and confused, checking to make sure his head bone was still connected to his neck bone, the Eagles' hometown fans found a way to express their profound concern for his well being, the same way they express just about everything. They booed him.

Very nice. You stay classy, Philadelphia.

More specifically, the Eagles' fans booed Garcia's good health, apparently angry that he didn't have the decency to be hurt seriously enough to be replaced by the Eagles' backup quarterback. Only in Philadelphia could someone be booed for not being A.J. Feely.

Philadelphia fans have long been the undisputed heavyweight champions of booing, but the rest of the country is closing the gap. Booing has become almost a hobby for the American sports fan, no longer just a way of expressing displeasure, but a form of pleasure in and of itself. People used to boo because they were mad -- at their team, at the opponent, at the refs. Now you get the feeling that many of them boo just because they like it.

If you don't believe that, watch as the television camera pans across a booing crowd sometime. Take a look at how many of the customers are smiling and laughing as they boo. It's as if the booing is what they came for. It's so much fun that they're not very picky about their targets. Fans will boo national anthem singers for taking too long. They will boo other fans for missing the halfcourt shot at halftime. They will boo anyone and anything at any time.

Fans will also boo against their best interests. The New York Knicks have played much better on the road than they have at Madison Square Garden this year, partly because the Garden fans start booing almost as soon as the Knicks miss their first jumper. Presumably these fans would like the Knicks to be more successful, so they might actually get to see some decent games for their entertainment dollar, so why would they purposely make it harder for their team to play well?

Maybe it's because booing is one of the few ways left in which a fan can feel powerful. They can't stop ticket prices from rising or free agents from bolting or players from snubbing their autograph requests, but they can boo to their heart's content, and there's not a thing that athletes or owners can do to stop them.

Fans have a right to boo whomever and whenever they please, of course, for whatever reason they choose. As long as they're not throwing objects or otherwise disrupting the game, spectators have the freedom to express verbally in almost any way they want to. But they shouldn't be surprised when they get equally uncivil treatment in return, as some Atlanta Falcons fans did recently when quarterback Michael Vick gave them the middle-finger salute with both hands in response to their heckling, which is booing's first cousin.

Maybe it's time to re-state the basic rules of booing etiquette. Booing injured players, (or cheering their injury, which is essentially the same thing), is never justified, as in the booing of Garcia or of former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin a few years ago when he was hurt during a game -- where else? -- in Philadelphia. Booing lack of effort, on the other hand, is always justified. When Randy Moss reaches lazily for a pass or a batter jogs to first on a ground ball, booing is not only justified, it's an obligation.

But in other cases, a little common sense and common decency would go a long way. There is, after all, no place quite like Philadelphia. Let's keep it that way.