On November 3, 2001, Texas Tech football upset No. 17 Texas A&M in a game probably best remembered for what happened after the final whistle.
As the final seconds ticked off, Tech fans went down onto the field and headed toward the south end zone where they tore down the goal-post despite several requests from the stadium PA announcer asking fans to stay off the field.
This group of mostly students then carried the goal-post to the north end zone, toward section 15, where the A&M fans were sitting, kicking off a small skirmish. Known today as the infamous “goal-post incident,” the fan behavior became far more widely discussed than Tech’s upset victory over their ranked rival.
Fast forward over 12 years later to Feb. 8, 2013, the night of Tech basketball’s upset of then-No. 19 Oklahoma State in front of a soldout United Spirit Arena crowd. Hanging on to a narrow lead with just seconds remaining, Tech comes up with the ball and pushes it up court where senior guard Jaye Crockett is fouled by Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart, who ends up on the floor in front of yet another hostile Red Raider crowd.
That’s when Jeff Orr, Tech alumnus and basketball’s biggest supporter, calls Smart a “piece of crap,” inciting the now infamous altercation between the two which ended in Smart’s three-game suspension and Orr’s self-imposed season-long ban from all men’s basketball games, both home and away.
Before the dust even had a chance to settle and the truth come out, Orr was labeled by the court of public opinion a “racist” “redneck” “white dude,” and Smart received the overwhelming majority of support, understanding and grace. After all, he’s a good kid that let his emotions overtake him for a moment, despite a history of such outbursts.
Orr, too, has a history of rowdy behavior at basketball games, where he’s known for taunting a Texas A&M basketball player in 2010 with an obscene gesture and sticking out his tongue. Hardly more than middle-school-level stuff, really, but it all adds up to create a less-than-favorable impression of Tech fans in general.
Though the incident in 2001 and this most recent fiasco span more than a decade, the popular label for Tech fans as “classless clowns” doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. When you wake up tomorrow, we’ll still be considered over-the-top rowdy and Lubbock’s reputation will continue to suffer as a consequence.
My question, though, is why? Why is such behavior so unacceptable in sports? Granted, certain stuff is simply ridiculous. Just watch a soccer game in Egypt or France and you’ll see some pretty disturbing behavior from fans and supporters. Let’s be clear, at most Texas Tech sporting events the worst you’re going to get is a little booing and verbal harassment. Nobody is being killed, maimed or even bruised. When Smart shoved Orr he didn’t even fall down. Hardly hooligan-level stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone what Orr called Smart and I certainly don’t approve of athletes going after fans. However, let’s not think for one second that intimidation and heckling don’t have any place in the sports arena. It’s what such spectacles are all about; us versus them. Especially at a place like Tech, where fans have grown rather sizable chips that rest firmly on the shoulders of each and every Red Raider.
To suggest that all fans should simply applaud their team when they doing something well and sit in silence the rest of the time is just ludicrous.
College team sports in particular are all about some level of disdain for the opposing team, school, area, region, fans, etc. Part of what sparked the confrontation in 2001 with Texas A&M fans is what we call a rivalry, or a particularly nasty relationship between one school and the other. These sorts of dynamics are abundant in every popular team sport, and it’s part of what makes those events so exciting.
Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Texas, Baylor; they’re the enemy, the bad guys, evil-incarnate. If we didn’t hate them we wouldn’t care when we beat them. I often wonder what it’s like at places like Nebraska where fans are known to applaud the opposing team after losses. What on earth?
If that’s what’s commonly know as “class,” then I want no part of it.
I want to be loud, I want to boo the enemy, I want to yell at the coaches, players, referees; anyone and everyone who opposes my Red Raiders, because sport is all about us versus them.
Texas Tech versus the world.