This story was originally published on Sept. 1, 1996 – and ran with photos of Green Bay fans baring their chests and wearing rubber cheese hats and Cleveland fans waving bones.
Wendy Washburn loves a good ruckus, so she went to her first Panthers exhibition game intending to make life miserable for the Buffalo Bills.
“I’m a fan who stands and hollers, so when the Panthers got the ball, I was yelling pretty good, “ says Washburn, 27, a wife and a mother of two from Shelby.
“Then this man tapped me on the shoulder and said matter-of-factly: Excuse me, could you please not stand up for every play? If you stand, I have to stand, and the one behind me has to stand.’ “
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You got to be kiddin’, she thought.
“I told him he should have bought a front-row seat. It’s automatic that you jump out of your seat when something happens at a football game. I assumed everybody was like that.”
How wrong she was.
Accusations have been flying since the first exhibition game Aug. 3 against Chicago that countless fans are showing up at Ericsson Stadium clueless about how to conduct themselves at a professional football game.
Today, as the Panthers play their historic first regular season game in Charlotte, many of the fans are pointing fingers at each other.
Some claim a collection of folks in the expensive seats down front have been preening and sipping their way through games, pretending to be football fans.
Others claim that some loudmouths in the less-expensive upper stands are acting like kids at a picnic, and that they need to get a grip.
As a result, some predict more action in the stands than on the field during today’s home opener against Atlanta.
“The upper seats were into the game constantly. Other sections were incredibly distracted by a Tupperware sale or something. Maybe it was a tea party, I don’t know, “ says WBT radio host Gerry Vaillancourt, whose talk show has fielded lots of calls about lukewarm fan enthusiasm at preseason home games.
“Some say they were just preseason games, and the fans will be ready to go on the first day. I beg to differ. These were dress rehearsals, and the curtain goes up (today).
“If you don’t rehearse, you don’t know your cue.”
Football historians say it’s the first they’ve heard of fans debating etiquette before the first game of the season. “Unprecedented and curious, “ says Joe Horrigan, curator of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“How to act should come natural, “ he adds. “Nobody ever passed out instruction cards for the wave.”
Here in Charlotte, though, some fans are even talking about dress codes. One camp says people should be forced to keep their shirts on, while the other says fancy clothes need to come off.
“You see a lady in high heels, fishnet stockings and a miniskirt, she should be asked to leave, “ says Vaillancourt. “This is football, not a fireside chat.”
The difference may be lost on some, since it’s likely a lot of those at exhibition games weren’t necessarily true football fans, says Bob Carroll, director of the Professional Football Researchers Association.
“It’s like Los Angeles Dodgers baseball. Look at the first couple of rows around home plate and the people are there to be seen, “ says Carroll.
Some critics blame it on Permanent Seat Licenses - sold for $600 to $5,400 each by the franchise. The PSL program priced average people out of the best seats, while leaving the door wide open for corporate buyers intent on entertaining clients or rewarding employees, says Panthers fan Joe Miller, who will be in the upper level today.
“Football in the ’90s has to be financed by people who make six-figure salaries, and they are not the kind of people who drink draft beer, scream their heads off and paint their bodies, “ says Miller, a Charlotte hair stylist.