With the Toledo Walleye’s second-round playoff series against Fort Wayne returning to town Saturday, it is time for a refresher on the dos and don’ts of fan behavior.
Do: Heckle the opposing goalie, calling him a mama’s boy who must have trouble eating since he has no hands.
Don’t: Heckle the opposing star’s mom, sitting next to her so she can see the sign on which you pasted a photo of her face onto the body of a monkey.
Do: Welcome Komets fans to our city by buying them a hot dog and wishing them a safe but long ride back.
Don’t: Welcome Komets fans to the city by showering them with condiments, prompting one such hockey tourist to rip off his ketchup-stained jersey and challenge you to a battle royal.
Got it? Great.
Now time for a quiz. Books closed, Walleye fans.
Here goes: It is Game 5, the Komets score on a gift of a power play, and you are sitting next to a loud Fort Wayne supporter.
A) HIT SOMEBODY right in his stupid face?
B) Introduce his 7-year-old kid to the seven dirty words?
C) Unbolt your seat from the concrete and hurl it on the ice?
D) All of the above?
E) Boisterously question the referee’s proficiency, then cheer the Walleye to center ice?
The correct answer is ... wait, can I phone a friend?
Sorry, I make light of the juvenile episodes from the first two games in Toledo — the monkey sign and the food-throwing primate — only because there was a time most at the Huntington Center would have found them amusing.
Then they turned 12.
Let’s be better, Toledo.
For those just tuning in, Komets forward Shawn Szydlowski cast a needed light on the dark side of a great hockey rivalry — and fandom everywhere.
In a series of tweets after Game 2, he reminded us — for all of the back of forth between the team and their supporters — this is just sports: “Amazing that a 40-50yr old couple tonight in Toledo would paste my mom’s face on a picture of a monkey and sit next to her purposely, while she’s holding my niece, and hold the sign up. Do what you will to me but let my family enjoy their time.”
“Most in Toledo are good hearted and passionate about their team winning which is what every fan should be,” he added. “This was uncharacteristic of the rivalry I enjoy.”
The vast majority of Walleye fans are great, creating the best, most raucous environment in the ECHL. Then there is that guy. You know the type, a little short-tempered, a lot drunk, more profane than Richard Pryor. He or she plays to the crowd, thinking they are the attraction, oblivious that everyone around them is horrified.
That guy embarrasses the team, the fans, and the city. That guy, team president and CEO Joe Napoli said, “gives everyone a black eye ... and we can’t get rid of them fast enough.”
Don’t be that guy.
This is not to be a scold. Heavens knows we’re no saint. Nor is this to single out Toledo. Perspective is lost everywhere, including Fort Wayne.
No, it is just an appeal for basic decency.
If not for the sake of respecting thy neighbor, then as a practical matter. Remember, for all the outrageous fun and memories at the old Sports Arena, the hockey there failed as a business. Times change. The Walleye have thrived downtown by skating the thought-to-be-impossible line of appealing to families and — many but hardly all of — the old-school diehards.
On The Blade’s Exercise Room sports podcast this week, Napoli told the story of the Walleye’s first Princess Night a few years ago. A fan who grew up with the brawling barn across the river wrote on one of the team’s social media pages: “Hockey in Toledo is now officially dead.”
“We’re [thinking], ‘Oh, that’s not so good,’” Napoli said. “A day later, he logs back in and he says, ‘I need 10 tickets to Princess Night. Can anyone out there help me?’ That shows you how far it’s come. When we first launched the [Walleye in 2009], the slogan was, ‘You don’t have to be a hockey fan to love it.’ And people would sample us. The first go-round was without the kids to make sure it was a safe environment. Today, our No. 1 demographic is households with children.”
Walleye fans have proved you can be loud and crazy and creative without being a jerk.
Well, most of them, anyway. To the rest, be better. Be human.
Or take your monkey sign to the zoo instead.