Sporting events have one thing in common with concerts: A few douchebag fans can ruin everything. They're running onto the field, they're blowing some kind of plastic horn in your ear, they're throwing shit down onto the playing surface.
It kind of makes you stop and wonder, who the hell started this? And why did other people decide to copy it? Well, we know the answer to the first one ...
Michael O'Brien Was the First to Run Onto the Field Naked
If you're an American, you might be saying, "WHAT? I've never seen a naked man run onto the field of a sporting event I was watching!" That's because TV networks have a policy of not showing them -- they just cut to the sidelines or have the announcers in the booth banter while the guy is apprehended. So a naked man running onto the field looks like this if you're there (NSFW) ...
... but becomes this in the TV broadcast:
This "run naked onto the field" fad has been going on for almost 40 years now, and we can thank ...
In February 1974, England was battling France in a crucial rugby match at Twickenham Stadium in London. Over 53,000 fans were at the game, including many British royals, and all of them were treated to a healthy dose of flopping genitals. 25-year-old Australian Michael O'Brien had just taken a bet from a friend to run across the field naked and became the first known streaker at a sporting event.
The crowd all looks like they've seen better.
Up to that point, streaking was relegated to college courtyards, but no one had considered running naked in front of thousands of spectators, some of whom would no doubt have cameras. The police chasing him were baffled as to why anyone would willingly do it and were just as amused as the audience.
In fact, after assessing a fine, they actually let O'Brien go right back to his seat for the second half of the match. During his moment of arrest, however, one policeman had the decency to cover up the offensive bits with his hat, which immediately became an iconic photo worldwide.
The policeman would immediately file paperwork for a new hat.
And that was that; the photo triggered a wave of copycat offenders at sporting events all over England, and then the rest of Europe and finally America. For the next four decades.
It turns out people everywhere were just looking for an excuse to get naked in front of packed stadiums, and now they had one. Naturally, the once-spontaneous event lost its charm pretty quickly for sports fans and particularly for police. They clearly didn't anticipate how awful it would be to tackle naked people at every other game, and on one occasion, the Academy Awards.
"Krazy" George Henderson Invented "The Wave"
Of all the horrific ways that mob mentality can manifest, the wave is easily one of the gentlest. Fans attending sporting events from Little League baseball games to the World Series have all realized how gratifying it can be to just stand up and sit down at an opportune moment. The result of several people doing it in succession is a massive wave that ripples across a stadium, or in the case of Little League games, a small set of bleachers.
It's considered so annoying and disruptive to the game that some stadiums have banned it, and coaches have personally pleaded with fans to stop.
"What is the appeal here?"
Whose idea was this?
In 1979, George Henderson was a professional cheerleader for the San Jose Earthquakes and the Oakland Seals. Now, when we say cheerleader, you are probably picturing a peppy, strong young kid with sweatbands doing some flips, but what you ought to be picturing is this:
The jean shorts are crucial.
George Henderson didn't match the mold for the standard cheerleader, but he was still phenomenal at riling up crowds. So good, in fact, that he was hired by professional teams across all sports to hype up spectators.
In 1980, while leading cheers at an NHL game in Edmonton, Henderson discovered the wave by accident. He was encouraging fans to all jump up and shout at the same time, but with an arena full of drunk Canadians, many of the fans were slow to respond. So, the cheer rippled helplessly across the group before dying out. What probably seemed like a failure at the time gave Henderson the vision for a cheer no one had ever considered before.
His previous hit, the Farting Mountie, was beginning to wear thin.
He saved it until an American League championship game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees in 1981. He tried to incite the fans into doing the wave, but like puppies learning a new trick, they all collectively cocked their heads and stared. But after realizing the crazy guy with the drum might be on to something, the fans gradually learned to do it. Again. Again. And again. All during the game. Since then, it has become an institution at games everywhere. Whether you want to or not, if you're at a sporting event, you are obligated to participate in the wave. All thanks to Krazy George.
"Thanks" may be a strong word.
Within the last decade, however, George Henderson's claim to have started the wave has been challenged by the University of Washington. A graduate named Rob Weller argues that he started the wave during a football game against Stanford, also in 1981. Chronology, however, suggests that he's wrong, because that game happened on October 31 and the final game of the American League Championship was on October 15. For now, Krazy George is still credited as the creator of the wave, or as some people know it, "That damn cheer you have to do at every game that distracts everyone from what's going on down on the field."
Hey, it beats baseball.
Pete and Jerry Cusimano Started Throwing Objects Onto the Ice After a Goal
In most sports, throwing anything onto the field of play is a good way to get kicked out and possibly arrested, but in hockey it's a different story. Considering hockey fans are some of the hardest in sports, it seems strange that they treat games like a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Following hat tricks, they toss hats on to the ice. In San Jose, fans toss small sharks onto the ice after every goal. In Nashville it's catfish and in Boston it's lobsters. The epicenter for this bizarre phenomenon is Detroit, where fans have been tossing dead octopi onto the ice after every playoff goal since 1952.
Hockey, ladies and gentlemen.
Yes, it was more than half a century ago. It started when the Red Wings were on their way to a Stanley Cup victory. At the time, playoffs meant playing just two series, each one being the best of seven. So for the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup, they had to win eight games. Fans Pete and Jerry Cusimano reasoned that since an octopus has eight legs, it would be symbolic of the struggle in a completely convoluted and frankly terrifying way.
After hurling them onto the rink following goals, the Red Wings not only went on to win the championship, but also swept both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. So in the mind of sports fans, that clearly meant, "If we keep doing this, we will continue to win championships because mollusks have magical hockey powers!"
"MAY CTHULHU BURN OUR FOES!"
By 1995, dozens of octopi littered the ice after each goal, some weighing over 35 pounds. Today the octopus-throwing has become such a big deal that when the Red Wings go on the road, the cities instate an identification requirement from anyone buying octopi, and if the license is from Michigan, they are turned away.
Obviously other teams couldn't let the Red Wings keep all the "throw shit on the ice" magic to themselves. A half century later, the damage by the Cusimano brothers is seen everywhere. Every team has their own little trinket (often an animal carcass) that gets tossed out on the ice, and everyone, including the players, has to sit and wait for someone to clear away all the bodies before play can resume.
Nothing about this scene makes sense without tequila.
Rollen Stewart Started the "John 3:16" Signs at Football Games
Once upon a time, when you watched a football game on TV, you would see at least one person in the stands waving a sign that said simply, "John 3:16." It was the only Bible verse you would ever see at the game, and it never said anything else.
Usually you'd see it after a field goal -- the sign holder was always planted in a spot where the TV cameras had to capture it after a scoring play. It was so prevalent that it has turned up on Saturday Night Live, in football video games and on an episode of The Simpsons.
Most of the times when you saw that sign, it was held by the same guy. And he was a little, uh, unbalanced. OK, maybe more than a little.
That is not the beard of a reasonable man.
In 1977, Rollen Stewart was eager to achieve celebrity status but hadn't landed on a particular skill to get him there. He hadn't come up with the "John 3:16" sign concept yet, but in what we assume was a burst of inspiration, he realized, "Well, I'm pretty good at wearing this rainbow wig. Maybe there's something there."
So, he started wearing the wig to every televised sporting event he could attend, hoping to be plastered on the Jumbotron, and more importantly, across television sets around the country. And it worked. He bought up choice seats in stadiums where cameras wouldn't be able to avoid him, and he developed a series of convulsions that could be mistaken for a dance if you weren't paying attention.
Oh yeah. His story has to end well.
That is, until Super Bowl XIV in 1980. Like all non-famous people who think they are famous, Stewart started to wonder if he shouldn't be doing something more constructive with his nonexistent fame. Sitting in a motel room after the Super Bowl, he watched a televangelist warn everyone about the impending apocalypse and immediately knew his true calling: He had to spread the word of God at sporting events.
And thus he became known among sports fans everywhere as the John 3:16 guy or "Rainbow man." He, his wig and his sign became a fixture at All-Star games, championships, races, the Olympics and even Princess Diana's wedding. Networks hated him; they did everything they could to avoid catching him on camera and even altered their game coverage just to cut him out of frame, but, as we mentioned, he was persistent when it came to getting seats in places the cameras couldn't avoid.
He didn't limit himself to fun sports, either.
If showing up at all of those events sounds like a full-time job, you don't know the half of it. Throughout the '80s, Stewart was driving more than 50,000 miles to appear at more than 100 games a year.
If you're wondering why you haven't seen Rollen Stewart in stadiums lately, that's because he's busy serving three consecutive life sentences in prison.
Yeah, his absurd but benign pilgrimages across the country took a turn for the menacing in 1992 when he took a maid hostage in a hotel and outlined his plan to kill George Bush and Bill Clinton.
Bet you didn't call that.
It was a pretty big jump from dancing in crowds to taking hostages. It proved that perhaps he didn't have the direct line to God he had previously endorsed. Yet despite his incarceration and verified insanity, fans have still taken up the mission of carrying the signs to stadiums, which you probably know if you've ever been stuck behind one for an entire game.
"GOD WANTS ME TO BLOCK YOUR VIEW OF THIS PLAY."
Freddie "Saddam" Maake Invented the Vuvuzela
Unlike the other items on this list, there was no honeymoon period for the vuvuzela. It was immediately despised by millions of people after its inception.
Above: Mankind's greatest shame.
Popularized during the 2010 World Cup, the vuvuzela is a yard-long plastic horn that produces a sound like swarm of angry wasps built a hive inside your skull. The sound is deafening and monotonous, and the vuvuzelas themselves are notorious for spreading communicable diseases across stadiums jam-packed with people, thanks to the fine mist of spit flying from the other end.
Stadiums in the United States did what they could to ban them even before the first miserable squeal from the upper decks. But we really ought to consider ourselves fortunate because before 2010, these instruments had already existed in obscurity for over 40 years.
How anyone with a vuvuzela survived that long is a mystery.
In 1965, at age 9, South African soccer fan Freddie Maake created the first vuvuzela by ripping the rubber ball off the end of his bike horn and blowing into the metal tube. The sound was so loud and obtrusive he decided it would be perfect for sporting events. He played it for local soccer matches, and gradually it took off among other people eager to be as loud as possible and with as little self-awareness. Maake started selling them and finally developed the huge plastic version with the help of a manufacturing company, primarily so that they could pump more of these nightmare sticks into the world quicker and more cheaply.
We bet this guy is fun at parties for about 12 seconds.
Maake didn't just relegate his vuvuzela use to sports, either. He began taking the vuvuzela everywhere, even getting detained by airport security for trying to blow it on his first ever plane ride. He originally called it the Boogieblast but changed the name in 1992 in honor of Nelson Mandela's release (the name means "welcome", "unite" and "celebration").
While the intent is nice, Maake couldn't have intentionally picked a product more incongruous with any of those words. Honoring Mandela with a vuvuzela is a little like honoring your hero by stabbing him in his eardrums and then sneezing in his mouth. But for now the small percentage of people out there who love making noise like a 2-year-old hitting a pan are enough to keep stadiums filled with the noise pollution from these plastic hunks of "celebration."
For better or for worse.
For more folks to add to your hit list, check out 7 Inventors You Didn't Know You Wanted to Punch In the Face and The 5 Biggest Assholes Who Ever Turned Out to Be Right.