- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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You have everything you need to take your kid to an NFL game this Sunday? Program? Binoculars? Nunchucks?
Actually, if I were you, I wouldn't take my kid. I'd take Manny Pacquiao. NFL stadiums are rougher than sandpaper thongs lately.
These days, NFL fans make NHL fans look like Miss Manners. They're often buy-a-vowel drunk, spewing cuss words and looking to fight. And the men are sometimes worse.
This year alone:
A plastered Browns fan tackled an 8-year-old kid in a New York Jets jersey, cutting the boy's ankle.
A man was stabbed and another bruised before a game at Candlestick in San Francisco. Police were looking for a fan in a 49ers jersey.
A man at Soldier Field in Chicago fell to his death from 20 feet up on Sunday.
Having fun, kids?
I wouldn't take anybody not built like a side-by-side freezer to an NFL game now. With insane popularity comes inane people, and we're not just talking about Pittsburgh's James Harrison. All the NFL is missing is crowds chanting, "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!"
Don't go. Just sit your kid in front of your HD screen with a bowl of Cheetos and the remote. Guaranteed, your HD screen won't do the following (warning, these links get gross and the language is NOT for kids):
(A) Follow her around blowing a vuvuzela in her ear.
(B) Throw punches at her so she misses a touchdown.
(C) Make just walking away a terrifying experience.
Still, if you INSIST on taking any child who isn't at least a brown belt, here are some survival tips:
• Don't wear a jersey.
Sit at YouTube for two hours and watch all the NFL stadium fights. Every single one will involve morons wearing jerseys.
In covering this league for over 32 years, I've learned one hard and fast formula: more jerseys = more mayhem. Sit at YouTube for two hours and watch all the NFL stadium fights. Every single one will involve morons wearing jerseys.
For some reason, fans think that once they put on that stupid $175 jersey, they are now part of some army that must defend its colors at all cost.
And yet, if one of these jersey boys were on fire, the player whose name adorns the back of that jersey wouldn't take the time to put him out with his water bottle.
For that matter:
• Don't wear a jersey, ever. In January of this year, two men wearing Philadelphia Eagles jerseys attacked a woman wearing a Tony Romo jersey outside a convenience store in Bethlehem. So much for peace on Earth.
• Don't bring a sign. Last year, at a Patriots-Jets game in New Jersey, Michelle Munoz's 14-year-old daughter held up an "I Love Tom Brady" sign. Munoz was then allegedly kicked, punched and thrown over a row of bleacher seats. And the Jets were ahead.
• Don't sit up high. If you sit up high at an NFL game, more than your nose might bleed. Instead, pay through the nose and sit low, where the generally sober people are. (Exception to this rule: If you or your child is offended by the kind of language that would make a longshoreman blush, don't sit anywhere near Jets head coach Rex Ryan.)
• Don't get within an area code of the Oakland/San Diego game. This rivalry is to the NFL what Jennifer and Angelina are to the E! network. For a time, there were so many brawls at this game that the San Diego police installed a makeshift jail in the bowels of the stadium. Saved time.
The game is this Sunday in San Diego and it's the jersey-jerk capital of the world. It's their own little World War III. For some reason, Raiders fans, especially, will risk broken hands, rearranged eyes and night court to defend the honor of their team. But you wonder if they realize that 21 of the current Raiders weren't even on their roster last season and probably another 21 will be somewhere else next season, wearing jerseys Raiders fans must despise. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, these people are knifing each other over laundry.
And this is just what's in the stands. The product the NFL has on the field now has gotten uglier, nastier and more violent. This brings out fans who not only want to watch violence but participate in it. In San Francisco in Week 2, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush lay prone on the field with a broken leg. The announcer said, "Reggie Bush is injured on the play." And the fans cheered. How will you explain that to your little Amber?
The NFL, to its credit, is trying to make things safer and saner with its "Fan Code of Conduct" and tattle-text numbers at every stadium to bring security. "We're getting very positive feedback," says NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. "It's appreciated by fans and it's working. "
We must be going to different games. The games I'm going to seem more menacing every year.
There's an easy answer, of course, but it's the third rail nobody wants to touch: beer.
Without beer, the NFL would dry up and blow away. But how about stopping sales after halftime instead of the third quarter? How about opening up parking lots two hours before the game instead of four? How about telling the networks to stop showcasing single-brain-celled fans like Fireman Ed and Can't Feel My Face Shirtless Buffalo Guy, dolts who give the impression that this game is slightly more important than their next breath?
Until then, leave the kids home. Let them do something safe and happy and nonviolent.
Like Halo 3.
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