Things started so well for the Arizona Wildcat faithful.
College Game Day announced they would be live in Tucson, the Athletic Department successfully organized an almost frighteningly intimidating red-out, and Arizona Stadium was going completely bonkers Saturday evening in a way only Oregon fans could appreciate.
And when the Wildcats got a crucial stop with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Arizona fans were almost certain they had locked up yet another heartbreaking defeat of the Oregon Ducks.
So sure of victory, in fact, that several rows in the student section prematurely spilled onto the field before Jeremiah Masoli ever had a chance to lead the Ducks on their game-tying drive.
And we all know what happened after that.
As a die-hard sports fan for more than 15 years, I can empathize with a team that gets their hopes up just in time for them to come crashing down harder and faster than they ever could imagine. Really, I do.
Being an Oakland A’s fan, I’ve struggled through three absolutely demoralizing American League Division Series defeats where I was positive victory was inevitable.
So I get it, Arizona fans were absolutely crushed when Masoli rumbled his way into the end zone in double overtime to hijack the first ever Wildcats Rose Bowl appearance.
I’m pretty sure I even heard the fans’ collective jaws drop to the floor as the stadium fell into an utter, frozen, stunned silence.
But there was no excuse for what they did next.
So angry about the loss, fans starting throwing water bottles—some still half full—and other debris onto the field. One bottle struck Oregon cheerleader Katelynn Johnson in the head, causing a concussion. She was taken to a local hospital for examination.
“That’s unacceptable,” Masoli said. “That’s just unacceptable behavior from fans, whether they’re Arizona fans or any fan across the nation.”
When you mix alcohol with emotional fans, it’s understandable to imagine how this might happen, and that’s why, like Oregon Athletic Director Mike Belotti said, it’s up to individual schools to police the conduct of their fans.
Sadly, these actions really shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. There is a long history of unhappy fans at sporting events throwing projectiles onto the field. For example, in 2001 Cleveland Browns fans threw plastic beer bottles onto the field in protest of an overturned call by referees in the final minutes.
By no means should the fans receive a pass for their behavior. It’s truly despicable that spectators think throwing objects on the field is the best way to handle their emotions.
I’m guessing they wouldn’t be too thrilled if someone came to their office and hit them with a half-full water bottle every time they were late handing in a TPS report.
But with that being said, it is up to each school to educate their fans about appropriate behavior at sporting events.
Sure, University of Arizona president Robert Shelton issued an apology on behalf of his schools’ fans, but that doesn’t make up for Johnson’s concussion or the endangered safety of each person that was on the field Saturday evening.
The University of Oregon has made it a point to promote their “Code of ConDUCKt” to encourage good sportsmanship among fans in Autzen Stadium.
Along with providing a conDUCKt hotline (541-346-6148) for fans to report any irresponsible behavior, there has been an increased visual presence of the code in the Moshofsky Center, inside the stadium, and even a video public service announcement on the scoreboard during games.
Hopefully University of Arizona will learn from this tragic situation and follow suit to do their best in putting an end to disruptive fan behavior.
“It was disturbing when you think about that. It can hurt somebody—kill somebody, actually—when people are throwing something like that from the stands,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. “It’s definitely something that we’ll continue to look at, security-wise, I’m sure.”
It’s a shame when a game this good gets overshadowed by such horribly irresponsible fan behavior.