Bernie: It Isn't Always Roses

In light of incidents following the Cincinnati Bengals game, Bernie takes a look at the relationhip between fans and players and how players react to vehement criticism...

Let's start with what I know and believe.

Fans are passionate about the team they follow and players are passionate about the game they play. The mix can be a combination of emotions that can make for both good and bad memories.

As a player, you have to walk away from emotional confrontations with fans.

It's hard to take the high road. You must do it though.

Why is it hard? Football is a physically violent game. In order to survive on the field, many players work themselves into such an emotionally wired frenzy, they almost appear out of control.

Think about this; don't you just love it when the middle linebacker on your team flat-out levels an opposing player? Sure you do. The linebacker is able to do that because of his physical strength and his emotional state.

Football players get keyed up. Coaches promote it and teammates inspire it.

You know what? Fans help out, too. I played at the old Stadium and the walk from the locker room to the field is a series of steps I'll never forget.

Underneath the seats, along the first base side at the Stadium, was a long, damp, weathered hallway. Old pieces of plywood served as our red carpet and the pipes overhead leaked water on our helmets. It was great.

The hallway led from our locker room to the first base dugout. We were literally walking down to the field underneath the fans that filled the seats on the first base side of the old Stadium. You could hear their hum and feel their anticipation as you walked. By the time that first orange helmet popped out of the dugout, the electricity and noise level inside the Stadium reached a fever pitch. The fans were fired up for Browns football and believe me, so were the players. As we stood just outside the dugout and waited for the starting lineups to be announced, we could feel the fans. Their intensity made ours all the greater.

The emotions of the fans, the violent nature of the game and the pressures to perform combine to create feelings that are hard to turn off.

Tim Couch knows exactly what I'm talking about and the fans know, too. Tim had trouble with a fan following the Browns loss at home to the Cincinnati Bengals. Tim was heading into the tunnel that leads to the Browns' locker room and he stopped to shout back at a fan who was heckling him. I have no doubts Couch had proper cause to stop; albeit, it was still wrong. You have to walk away.

Tim admitted that saying "I should've just kept walking. He was saying stuff and I wasn't in too good a mood. I just threw a pick to lose the game."

That fact is what we all need to recognize in situations when players respond to fans. Tim was coming off the field, feeling all the emotions that we've talked about and then he's confronted with an angry fan. I think it's quite a challenge to all-of-the-sudden "flick a switch" and become a composed, mature person.

I know how he feels. I really do. Early in my career, strangely enough, we were playing the Cincinnati Bengals in the third game of the 1986 season. We also lost at home.

As many of you know, my family came to all of my games. My parents, my grandparents, my cousins, aunts and uncles were always in attendance and waited for me outside the players' entrance at the stadium after every game. This night was no different.

As I walked with my family outside the stadium heading to the parking lot, a fan started to scream at me. He was yelling about how bad I played and how I was the reason we lost the game. My grandmother, who is still living today, and at the time was 70 years old, spoke up as the man continued to approach us. The fan started yelling at her. The fan was coming after my grandmother. I couldn't believe it and I very nearly lost my cool. Imagine the scene, a grown man shouting at a grandmother, my grand-mother. That one fan's actions that night were pathetic.

As it turned out, the man had a tape recorder in his pocket. He was no doubt trying to bait me into saying something I would later regret.

Thankfully, I kept my cool. It was extremely hard to do.

Frankly, I applaud Couch's teammate, Ryan Tucker. Yes, he participated in the shouting match with the fan following the loss to the Bengals, but what I'm impressed by was how Tucker stuck up for his quarterback. He got Tim out of there and, in a way, deflected the focus or blame off Tim and onto him.

The Browns had just lost. Only minutes had passed and Tucker saw his quarterback being heckled. I thought he showed great leadership and teammate qualities by coming to Tim's aide. Tucker then stood tall the next day and admitted he was wrong to engage in a shouting match with the fan.

Understand this; I'm not taking sides. As a matter of fact, I'd like to remind all of you that I love our fans. The great majority of our fans are fantastic.

Nobody likes to be yelled at and have bad things said about them, but players need to remember, situations like this come with the territory.

Players need to shrug it off and realize that it most likely will happen to every guy who plays. Even the all-time greats have a negative fan experience story to tell.

I've found selective hearing is often the best policy.


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