The greatest fans in the world used to go out to Ebbets Field to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hilda Chester and her cowbell, Shorty Laurice and the Brooklyn Sym-Phony, Big Abe, the cab driver with the leather lungs who used to arrange his work schedule so that he saw every Dodgers home game—yep, they were the greatest.
But as much as they loved their Dodgers, here's one thing they didn't do: change the outcome of a game by creating a competitive disadvantage, figuring out a way to screw up the enemy so that he couldn't function, like dropping a smoke bomb on the field so that the batter couldn't see the third base coach's signals. It was probably because they never thought of it, or maybe it was just a simpler age.
In the NFL, destroying competitive balance is an accepted way of life. It's called home field advantage. Fans yell like crazy, and the game is changed. In the unholy din at the line of scrimmage, some players can't even hear the snap count; the offensive tackles sometimes have to hold hands with the guards, who have a better chance of hearing the signals, and when the guards let go, the tackles know the play has started. Under those conditions, teams can't run a no-huddle offense.
Late in the first quarter of the Falcons-Panthers game in Carolina in Week 1, Atlanta had a key third-and-six on the Panthers' 15. Falcons quarterback Jeff George called an audible, a screen pass to J.J. Birden. The play failed because Birden didn't hear the call. Falcons kicker Morten Andersen then missed the field goal. The score remained 7-3 for Carolina, and the Panthers went on to win 29-6.
That same day, in the Detroit-Minnesota game at the Metrodome, the Lions' Scott Mitchell threw a hitch pass to Herman Moore. Someone in the stands blew a whistle loud enough to be heard on the field. Cornerback Corey Fuller stopped running, but Moore went through with the play and got a 10-yard completion out of it. Referee Red Cashion turned on his mike and asked the fans not to blow whistles, whereupon the stadium erupted in whistling, mostly of the fingers-in-the-mouth variety. Crowd noise reached such a crescendo that Mitchell had to back away from the center. The score was 7-7, and the Lions were on the Vikings' 24. They eventually settled for a field goal and ultimately lost 17-13.
The NFL has a rule in the books to address this matter, and it should enforce it. Drop a flag on the fans. The rule calls for a warning announcement from the officials, and if that just makes things louder—as it usually does—then the home team can be charged with a timeout. If that doesn't quiet the crowd, the officials can start marking off five-yard penalties when they have gone through all of the team's timeouts. It's in the rules. Either enforce the rules or get rid of them.
Now, I realize this is a very unpopular position. I could get very few people to agree with me, even quarterbacks or offensive coordinators. The reasoning? It's part of the game. They do it to us on the road, our fans will do it to them at home. See, two wrongs make a right. That's football.
No, it isn't. Football is something to be decided by the guys wearing the pads, not a bunch of screamers spurred on by the PA. system simulating crowd noise or a message board flashing NOISE! on the screen or a coach on his talk show begging the fans to come out and "give us all the help you can."
How well I remember former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs's old Saturday radio show: "Now I want to hear that noise when number 72 [defensive end Dexter Manley] waves that big right fist of his...remember, not when we have the ball. That's no good." He was appealing to the lowest common denominator, the dummies who don't even know when to yell.
And those dummies keep reading about how great they are, how much noise they make, and the next week they try to top it. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative reinforcement. I say drop the flag on them.