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January 14, 2003 Columns No Comments


Roddy’s Rant: The Truth about Some Things

by Chris Roddy

Fanfare: A Look at the World of Fan Accessories

It makes me sick to my stomach to see people pony up monies to arena vendors for “stuff.” Sure, buy a hat or a shirt to wear out with your friends (although, I’ll have you know that the golden days of wearing a jersey in a social setting was 1992-1997), but someone needs to stand up and talk about how fans are getting out of control with their cheering enhancing boosters. That’s right, I’m talking about fan accessories.

The history behind Fan Accessory Things, or FAT, is rather complex. Yet, we need to unearth its heritage in order to understand what sort of monstrosity we’re dealing with.

Let’s begin in 1837; the year the first baseball card was produced. A small black and white photo of Steven “Roogies” Urbinsky, a third baseman for the Dakota Dakotians, was produced at a local store. Only three were ever sold (two to his mother) and Urbinsky was quoted as saying, “I didn’t even know that was me. I thought it was a picture of a tree stump.”

In 1856, a then unknown man in Georgia was working in his family paper mill when he fell asleep while at work. His hand slipped into the “molding block” and produced three hundred and seventy-two impressions of his hand; only the gooey papyrus was stretched out from the hot southern sun. Pete Snitchdill knew he had to do something with all of these gigantic hands and first tried to sell them as toys to the local school for the blind. After nearly being trampled to death by the town, he put one of the contraptions on his hand as he walked slowly home. A football game nearby was taking place and Snitchdill saw his opportunity. Thus, the first “Abnormally Large Foam Finger” was born.

Fast forward to 1945 and you’ll read about Gretchen Alguerpo, a thirty-nine year old seamstress who had a bit too much of the good “snuff” on a lunch break. She proceeded to rip up a robin’s chest red blouse, attach it to a hand brush and ta-da. A pom-pom.

1978? Darryl Junken, a twenty-eight year old mechanic from Saffrod Springs, New York, was in Washington DC for a political protest rally. He poured a bucket of blue paint over his chest (supposedly to demonstrate how the government was drowning the poor’s cries for help) and ended up at a Bullets championship game as Wes Unseld and scorer phenomenon Elvin Hayes beat the SuperSonics for the title.

What about now? We’ve got these wonderfully long, squiggly balloon thingys that we shake furiously to create a psychedelic visual arts display to distract professional athletes (there’s always has to be that guy, the one who says, “It shouldn’t bother him, you know he’s a professional”).

But, in these tougher times, we’ve gotten more practical. Orange construction cones or bottomless soda cups make excellent megaphones. Others use the natural volumifying technique of cupping one’s hands together to improve sound and range. Towels have made a serious comeback; I’ve seen them twirled over the head, to mop ketchup off jeans and snap-cracked on fellow fans’ bottoms. (Honorable mention: The Broom. Best indicates that a team is going for what is known as a sweep, e.g. winning all the games in a particular set. Brilliant simplicity; I am a big fan of illustrative props.)

We also must pay credence to the specialized field, chiefly known in the industry as the “Random Doohickey.” A cheese hat. A big doughnut. A mask of W.C. Fields. A naked picture of everyone’s favorite rotund Stalinist, Kim Jong II (used predominately for psychological taunting). Good times, good times.

Now, I am not saying that all fan accessories should be banned. Am I a user? No, I’ve been clean for about four years now. Sure, I’m tempted to run to my closet, grab my Notre Dame suspenders with spinning shamrocks, and go watch the big game. But I know afterwards I’d be sorry that I did it. I know I’d disappointed with myself and always wonder how good of a cheerer I could be without the suspenders.

I also know there are others out there like me. You know who you are, sitting on the couch, face painted in a rainbow of your alma mater’s colors sporting a logo embossed pennant in hand. I’m just here to tell you that it’s possible; there is a world of fans that cheer naked. All we’ve got are our emotions, voices and maybe a really intense high-five or two. But we’re doing it on our own, clean and proud!

Sure, there have been attempts by fan associations in the past to try and knock back this billion-dollar industry. Most notably was probably the FFABCE (Fans For A Better Cheering Environment) Accord of 1993. Sheri Willens led a group of sixteen headstrong individuals in a picket outside of a New York City souvenir shop on Canal Street. Later, she realized she had the wrong address and moved two storefronts down to a different souvenir shop.

There have been other demonstrations. The Watercreek Incident in ’81 and the Jeb Tyda Conspiracy in ’84 — a man reportedly died from non-toxic fumes while his wife painted a portrait of Magic Johnson on his chest. (The Afro was said to have taken her six and a half hours to complete.)

None will top the Phantom Streaker. In 1966, a man would periodically come to major sporting events (from the South-East Atlanta Billiards Playoffs to the Sioux City Bowling Invitational) wearing nothing more than a Granny Smith apple green robe. He’d de-robe and then run across the playing field, space or area. Authorities caught him at the Boulder Slalom Skiing Semi-Finals when he stuck his tongue out a fan and it stuck to a pole as he ran by.

Sure, the history is rich and the debate continues. We can only hope that a spirited advertising campaign that reveals the anti-truth truth (a double negative makes it positive, right?) behind fan performance boosters changes the current state of affairs. Until then, just follow the words of Michael Jackson:

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

It all starts with one. Let the revolution begin.

Roddy’s Rant appears whenever he gets ticked off. Tune in next time when Roddy analyzes a psychological ordeal that continues from high school to college to the pros, the group shower.

     

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