At the end of CSU’s football game against UNLV on Saturday, I noticed something at Hughes Stadium.
There were more police in riot gear than usual.
Even though the Rams came up short in their contest to go undefeated in the Mountain West Conference, I wonder what might have happened if we had won the game, especially with a dramatic last minute drive or in overtime. While this would have been great for the players and coaches on our team, would our fans have been able to contain themselves?
Anyone who has observed a game in the student section of Hughes knows it isn’t exactly a shining example of sobriety. And history has shown us the goal posts are not safe on any field.
Across the nation last week, celebrations of football games got out of control in California, the Carolinas and Washington State. Maybe the worst melee occurred after Ohio State University’s victory over the University of Michigan that seems to have secured the Buckeyes’ appearance in the Fiesta Bowl to battle for the national championship. Fans in Columbus set fire to cars and threw bottles at police officers. The drunken debauchery at Ohio State caused 45 arrests in a single night.
It is rivalry time in college football, which means nasty feuds between enemy schools become fodder for frenzied fans to take to the field and the streets with a vengeance. Teams like Florida and Florida State, Washington and Washington State, Texas and Texas A&M have faced off in the past two weeks, and the recent eruption of riots has shown it.
Colorado has been not been exempt from celebrations gone wrong. After CSU’s defeat of the University of Colorado in the fall of 1999, Denver police gassed and pepper-sprayed several CSU students who were throwing bottles onto the field. In the ensuing chaos, other fans, members of the CSU band and the media were all hit with the police’s spray and gas. In Fort Collins, Old Town suffered as well when rioters broke windows of nearby businesses and police had to pry off drunks hanging from street lamps. Across town, football fans even burned couches less than a block away from my apartment on Lake Street.
Other college towns such as Greeley and Boulder have had several riots within the last four years as well. Boulder passed a new city ordinance last fall banning all couches outside of homes. Last spring the Colorado General Assembly passed a riot bill that states students in all state-supported institutions convicted of inciting a riot, arming rioters or engaging in a riot would be suspended from the institution for at least one full year.
Rioting is not just centered in college life either. Riots became a common occurrence after Colorado pro sports championships including victories by the Denver Broncos and Colorado Avalanche. I witnessed a group of fanatics prancing around a pile of burning newspapers in downtown Denver after the Avalanche’s 2001 Stanley Cup victory and got a taste of the tear gas that blew across the street after a line of police decided to disperse the crazy crowd.
Tensions run hot in high school rivalries as well. My friends and I used to take bets on how many fights we’d witness on the night Thompson Valley High played Loveland High for football bragging rights in the city of Loveland. Usually we saw at least five fights.
After witnessing some of these out of control celebrations, I know that starting fires, overturning cars, throwing bottles and getting into brawls isn’t my idea of a great time, no matter how many beers I’ve had. And anyone who thinks these activities are a gas has something seriously wrong with them.
While the stakes of winning college football games have become much higher, wins can equal higher poll rankings, more prestigious bowl appearances and more money for athletic programs (this season, conferences in the Bowl Championship Series will receive between $11.78 – 14.67 million depending on the affiliation of the participating teams), this gives fans no excuse to put their lives and the lives of others in danger in a riot. Fans must remember it is good to support your team, but all the emotions unleashed celebrating sporting events should be more about fun and games not life and death.
On Saturday, we were better behaved then the fans from Las Vegas who were throwing snowballs and heckling everyone who was wearing green. It would be nice to believe that would have been the case if we had won the game, although, I don’t know if I can.