Stadium Etiquette & the Art of Crowd Noise — a Baltimore primer

November 01, 2011 | Thyrl Nelson

Let me start by saying that I’m proud of you Baltimore, I’m proud of us. Fans of the Ravens it seems are as passionate and enthusiastic as any that you’ll find in the NFL. Your excitement is unbridled; your fervor contagious and your presence undeniably impacts most games. The legacy of the onetime “World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum” from 33rd Street and Memorial Stadium is apparently alive and well and residing at M&T Bank Stadium.

That said, one man’s passion and boisterousness is another man’s craziness and embarrassment. There’s no manual on how to behave when attending Ravens games, and no shortage of opinions as to what constitutes proper fan decorum.

Booing

The “boo birds” were out en mass on Sunday and for reasons that are obvious if not completely justifiable. WNST’s own Peter DiLutis stirred up a fair amount of controversy a couple of weeks ago by taking exception to fans’ willingness to boo the home team, and in particular the offense. Pete felt embarrassed to be associated with the crowd sentiment and many agreed with his stance. Just as many though felt it not only their right but their duty to let the home team know of their displeasure when merited.

In the course of their postgame reaction from Sunday’s game the Ravens players seemed to echo and acknowledge the fans’ frustrations and didn’t seem to take issue with the booing at all. As the boos rained down from the stands however, there’s little reason to believe that this served to inspire or motivate a team likely booing themselves already if not outright cursing their own efforts. Likewise there’s little doubt that the disgruntled and vocal few served to alienate and incite the masses that disagreed with that harsh stance and even harsher reaction.

While I try to refrain at all costs from booing the home team, I acknowledge the rights of other fans to do so, and simply don’t allow it to bother me (or at least I try not to). There are far worse things that fans can do or say in voicing their displeasure than booing (see: cheering for Kyle Boller’s injury or hurling profanities).

Don’t Be A Jerk…Don’t Be A Rat

The Ravens have lain down this edict at every home game that I can seem to remember since at least their arrival at M&T Bank Stadium. “Show respect for the fans around you, and don’t be a jerk” is the mandate. While sound in theory, the definition of jerkdom is a tough line to draw. Recently the Ravens have added an additional message about respecting other fans, including those of the visiting team which includes a number to which fans put off by the behavior of others can text their complaints anonymously. Talk about being a jerk. Unruly behavior shouldn’t be tolerated and usually isn’t. The stands are full of do-gooders capable of summoning an usher and/or police officer to sort out fan disagreements. My guess is that these can usually be resolved peacefully and amicably once addressed. Allowing fans though to lodge anonymous complaints without first making the offending party aware of their issue is plain cruddy.

My advice…don’t be a jerk, and if you feel like someone else is being one, say so…to them. If you’re right, you’ll find typically find plenty of back up in support of your request. Texting complaints about unsuspecting offenders without first asking them to stop whatever their offensive behavior might be, is divisive and counterproductive. Being a jerk is one thing, being a rat however is something else altogether.

Do You “O”?

The practice of yelling “O” during the national anthem is a long standing Baltimore tradition. As I said earlier, Baltimore fans represent for sure, both at home and on the road. It’s always heartening to hear the roar of the “O” on the road to signify the presence of the Ravens’ well-traveled fan base (Reeeeeeeeeeed and formerly Heeeeeeaaaaaap chants are other fun fan barometers).

I can understand how this could be off-putting to those not “down” with this tradition. It’s always fun to see if the anthem singer has been apprised of the forthcoming “O” or if the fans surprise them with it. While some might see the practice as disrespectful, practitioners would argue that it’s anything but. Regardless of your stance on that, the anthem represents the ideals of this country, free speech and free expression amongst them. To take umbrage with fans exercising that right during the anthem seems to miss the point of the celebration of freedom that the anthem represents in the first place.

Disclaimer: Soap Box Time – As an Army veteran who freely enlisted during wartime, I don’t believe it to be anyone’s right to criticize my (or anyone else’s) observance of the anthem no matter how deviant or disrespectful said behavior might be. Being a veteran doesn’t give me that right; it simply makes me appreciate it a bit more than I otherwise would have. Being an American is what gives me that right, plain and simple. The song is a celebration of that notion.

For my money, it’s far more disrespectful for those who take umbrage with the practice to impose that point of view on others who don’t. Likewise, demanding that others “honor the anthem” by browbeating them to stand or remove their hats during its playing are missing the point too. Observe the anthem any way you see fit I say, but allow me and others to do the same.

Speaking of “O”

How do you like the “7 Nation Army” chant that has taken over the better part of second halves at M&T and league wide for that matter?

I like it but admittedly don’t love it yet. Maybe that in part is due to the fact that I hear it on more and more game broadcasts throughout the nation. Maybe if the Ravens had a song that was specific or unique to them, one that also allowed for crowd participation I’d like it more. Surely if they did, others would soon copy anyway.

How about this instead? The Baltimore Orioles Wikipedia page mentions the practice discussed above of yelling “O” during the anthem. The page also points out that “O” is not only the first letter in Orioles but also a standout aspect of the Baltimore accent. Perhaps Baltimore could still own the “7 Nation Army” chant, but only if they willingly embraced their inner “hon” and delivered it as “Ooooowe Owe owe owe” in their truest and most exaggerated “Bawlmerese”.

When Is It Cool to Stand?

While booing seems to get all of the press, it might be the practice of standing and of determining the right time to stand that is the most divisive issue that fans deal with on a regular basis.

What’s interesting about his is that most game attendees are season ticket holders and PSL owners, to that end they’ve mostly been sitting around the same group of “friends” for 10 years or more. By now, most understand the preferences and pet peeves of their “seat neighbors”. The guys behind me for example (friends of my Dad’s) used to hate my Dad’s standing throughout the game. While respecting the view of others is important, seeing the game yourself is paramount meaning that most are bound by the practices of those immediately in front of them. If the guy in front of you stands up, then you in turn stand up too. Therefore those of you sitting in the first rows of your respective sections wield great power.

My take is that if your section begins with a #1 then you should expect to be standing on every defensive 3rd down , other “key downs” throughout most games, and more often than not in important and or contentiously played games. If your section doesn’t begin with a #1 the line is a bit fuzzier. I’m not sure that you can make more noise standing than sitting, and it’s inconceivable that players on the field even take notice of whether the upper deck crowd is standing or even care. That said, you should still expect to be standing on important third downs at least.

What does kill me though are the guys who feel compelled when standing up themselves to turn to the crowd behind them and incite them to stand as well “Wild Bill Hagy style” by waving their arms at the fans behind them in an upward motion. As I’m there to see the game first and foremost, I’ll stand when I feel compelled or when it’s necessary to keep an eye on the action. Those wanna be cheerleaders feeling the need to rally the crowd should direct their efforts and energy at the action and players on the field rather than facing backward and choreographing the troops.

Choreographed Noise

While baseball fans (those that remain) seem to resent being prompted by the scoreboard to make noise, football fans it seems may thrive on it. Clearly because of the difficulty in communicating the impact of crowd noise on football is much greater than in other sports. In that way, I’ve always wondered whether or not false cadence from the crowd would inhibit the offense. Clearly when the defensive line yells, “hike” it can be a problem for the opposing offense (which is why it’s not legal). I wonder if cries of “hut hut hut” from the crowd might negatively impact the quarterback’s ability call out snap counts and have them heard.

“Move those chains” is a fun ritual but doesn’t exactly fit with the sound effect assigned to it at M&T. For that reason it seems that each section or cluster of rows is doing it to the beat of their “own drum”. A better sound effect might bring about a more unified and concerted effort.

Simulating the Road Environment

As encouraging as the Ravens comeback win over the Cardinals was on Sunday, the fact that it happened primarily from the shotgun formation is both telling and concerning. Telling as to the nature of the offensive line and their shortcomings and concerning because the Ravens look in the shotgun on the road is glaringly inefficient. By resorting to silent snap counts on the road the Ravens have precluded their ability to change the play once set as no one is listening for the quarterbacks voice anyway, and are giving the defensive clues on when it’s safe for the defense to change their look and when the snap is coming by way of the movements of both RG Marshal Yanda and C Matt Birk pre-snap.

This night and day difference between home and road efficiency, particularly in the shotgun seem to cast a greater onus on the Ravens getting home games in the playoffs instead of having to win in hostile road environs. The catch-22 being that they’ll have to find a way to win games on the road in the regular season in order to get those home playoff games.

Maybe the fans can do the team a favor, if and when they find themselves in firm control of a home game late by getting loud for (or in opposition of) the offense to prepare them for those issues on the road. The Ravens treated Jacksonville last Monday night like it was the Georgia Dome or Ford Field instead of the lightly attended venue that it is in reality. If that is indeed going to be an issue going forward, then who better to prepare the offense for noise and hostility then the “World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum” reincarnated?

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