Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Top 5 Stadium Fan Accessories

One of the greatest agonies of being a sports fan is the feeling of helplessness that often goes along with watching a game, and the urge to do something, anything, to give your team an extra boost. Fans need to feel like they're Part of It, which is where all the extra accessories come in: team gear, orchestrated chants and songs, all kinds of noise-making devices, foam fingers, beer-dispensing plastic helmets, you name. Does any of this stuff actually make a difference? Who knows, but we'd all sure like to think so, which leads me to the criteria for my list of the best of the best in this field. I decided that the four main factors in determining the quality of these stadium accessories are as follows: audio effect, visual effect, the impact it can make on the actual gameplay, and the originality of the idea. I've rated all the accessories that I can think of on a 10 point scale, and was able to narrow it down to a final Top 5 list.

Let's start off with the best ones that couldn't quite make the cut:

Honorable Mention

Hat Trick Hats
Is it cool to celebrate an NHL player's rare individual accomplishment? Yes. Is it awesome to see hundreds of hats rain out onto the ice from behind the plexiglass? Yes. Is witnessing someone who happens to be doing their job better than they normally do it worth losing your favorite ballcap over? Not in my book.

K Cards 
Sure, K-cards can be awesome, when a pitcher gets 15 or more strikeouts in a game. However, seeing as this hardly ever happens, and most well-intentioned K displays end up looking more like racist bathroom stall graffiti than a monument to virtuoso pitching, it can't crack the Top 5. Also, even though Sports Illustrated for Kids explained it to me a long time ago, I still don't really understand why strikeouts are known as Ks.

Now this is just ridiculous. I won't be convinced that Felix Hernandez had upwards of 700 strikeouts in this game.

Apparently, the Michigan student section used to smuggle thousands of marshmallows into the Big House and go all Oregon Ducks on each other during football games. That tradition unfortunately went extinct before I ever arrived on campus, but i would have loved pelting Rich Rod with some Kraft Jet-Puffeds during one of his famous late-season collapses. I would have given this an easy 10 for originality, but my further research shows a bunch of other schools, including Notre Dame and Northwestern, used to do this too, so I guess that was just the thing to do in the late 80s.

Dishonorable Mention

Before diving into the Top 5, I think it also bears mentioning that for every awesome sports stadium fan accessory, there's about three pretty crappy ones as well.

Atlanta Braves Tomahawks
Without entering a discussion on just how offensive these may or may not be, I'll just say that the Braves foam tomahawks are completely unnecessary. Atlanta's version of "the chop" is inferior to Florida State's in every way, and the fans at Doak Campbell accomplish the exact same visual effect just by using their arms to make the chopping motion. As you can see below, these cheap-ass things are so flimsy that they wouldn't even make the proper motion when you try to chop with them anyway. They probably have the TBS logo on the opposite side too.

Artificial Hand Clappers

"Hey guys, I'm too much of a wimp to clap my real hands today. Don't worry though, I'll still be able to cheer on the team with these nifty Artificial Hand Clappers!"

The only justifiable reason for somebody to use these things is if they're a double-hand amputee. You know what, scratch that, a double-hand amputee wouldn't be able to grip the handle anyway. There is no justifiable reason for somebody to use these things.

Central Michigan Foam French Fry Things

There's nothing like a struggling mid-major football team trying to inject some manufactured stadium atmosphere into their program. At a CMU game once, as my family walked past the ticket gates, some ushers handed us what looked like big foam french fries with logos of local businesses printed on them. They didn't make any noise, you couldn't really wave them around and have it look cool, and the stadium was about a third of the way full anyway. I can't find any pictures of the foam sticks, but that's probably for the best.

Now, the time has come to unveil the Top 5 Stadium Fan Accessories in all of sports.

5. The Cadets Section
Audio Effect: 4
Visual Effect: 8
Impact on Gameplay: 2
Originality: 8
Total Score: 22

This exclusive club consists of only the three service academies, and also Texas A&M for some reason. While Penn State seems to think that they invented the idea of everyone wearing the same color t-shirt sometime around 2006, the cadets have pulled off the look for nearly a century now. Penn State's little "White Out" looks positively quaint in comparison to the Cadets all wearing the same jackets, hats, boots, haircuts, and even waking up at the same time as each other every morning. However, service academy football has sucked in the post WWII era, so the Cadets must not be doing that great of a job in the Impact on Game category. Either way, unless you're part of the militarys, you'd have a tough time duplicating this at your stadium.

4. Little, Yellow, Flayygs
Audio: 5
Visual: 10
Game Impact: 6
Originality: 2
Total: 23

Started by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1975, LYFs remain the yellow standard when it comes to visual effect, creating a wonderful organized chaos look in the stadium. This transfers well to TV also, just as long as the color is bright enough to stand out. The towels themselves don't make any noise, but when they're out twirling in full force, it always seems to be accompanied by a heavy increase in volume from the participants. There's a reason why most stadiums will only bring these out for the really big games: those games are the only ones where some dopey corporation is willing to blow thousands of dollars to advertise on a bunch of linens. However, I'd like to think that somewhere deep down, one of the suits in Marketing understands that a home team's chances of winning marginally improve when said team's supporters have a bunch of dishrags to wave around while they cheer. As far as originality goes, Pittsburgh's "Terrible Towels" were the trailblazer in the Little Yellow Flayyg industry, but the sports world has since then seen countless copycats, including the DTLs from time to time. I still love the effect though, and hope they pull them out at Ford Field this weekend in their must-win game.

"It would have been a good day to invest in Little, Yellow, Flayygs."--Thom Blanck

3. The Free Throw Missing Apparatus
Audio: 4
Visual: 9
Gameplay: 8
Originality: 4
Total: 25

Clutch free throws are hard enough to make to begin with, and the Free Throw Missing Apparatus certainly can't help things. I'm sure most players will tell you that they just "block it out" or that they're so used to it that it doesn't matter, but how many other situations in sports are there when you can literally disrupt an athlete's field of vision right as they are trying to perform? I would love to see the concept of this adjusted for Olympic archery competitions. For the desired visual effect, the amount of variation here is pretty much endless. You can go for the hypnotic effect, the optical illusion, put Dwight Schrute's face up there, just bluntly tell the shooter your desired result for the shot, appeal to Larry Bird's taste in women, I won't go so far to say that the possibilities are endless, but there are quite a few. No matter what, it usually looks pretty cool. From the pro levels all the way down to high schools with large enough gyms, these things are everywhere. However, most places do a decent enough job of putting their own unique spin on the theme to keep it from going completely stale. For my money, Indiana's Assembly Hall wins best in class as far as the FTMA goes.

2. Vuvuzelas
Audio: 9
Visual: 5
Gameplay: 4
Originality: 10
Total: 28

Nobody in the western hemisphere had ever heard of them before June 2010, but now at least 95% of the 2 billion or so viewers of the last World Cup not only has a strong opinion of these polarizing fan accessories, but also mispronounces their name in a wide range of equally hilarious ways. Like fake Cubs manager Sal Martinella trying to say Henry Rowengartner's name, or Spongebob Squarepants talking about "the Hash-slinging Slasher".

When blown in unison, the vamooshimas sound like a relentless swarm of billions of angry hornets. It's beyond me why every sports team in the world with a bee-related team name doesn't hand them out at all home games. As far as the visual effect goes, I suppose i could go either way on this one. I guess it depends on how much you're feeling the whole "Whoville Christmas Celebration" vibe. While aurally shocking at first, most World Cup players seemed to get familiar with the vuvuzela as the tournament went on, not really even noticing them anymore by the end. They're not for everyone, but I think they would make for a great niche accessory for a team to build up a unique home field advantage. Georgia Tech would be perfect for this. "Oh crap, we have to go to Georgia Tech this year, that place is gonna be rocking, everyone with those stupid Kazoozulas going!"

This was an accessory a little bit ahead of its time back in 2010, and Americans weren't quite prepared to handle the vesuvius back then. I think they might be ready now.

1. Oklahoma State's Orange Paddles

Audio: 8
When the wooden paddles are all banding on the foam padding of the wall, it gives off that ominous feeling of 40,000 bloodthirsty Orcs marching in to get their asses kicked by a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, and a few hobbits. It seems to work better for the Pokes than it does the Orcs.

Visual: 7
With the proper camera angle, this looks awesome. The problem is that it's only in the front row and only in the student section. This goes up to a 9 if they get the entire front row in on it, and it goes up to about a 16 if they got the entire student section doing it, with everyone just absolutely wailing on the person directly in front of them. This would be one of the few conceivable scenarios where being in the top row would be the best seat in the house.

Gameplay: 6
It goes back to my previous point--how much of a difference does any of this stuff actually make? With the large orange clubs beating against the wall, it definitely at least seems like it's doing something. As a defensive lineman, how could you not rush the QB just a little bit harder on a big third down while being urged on by that delightfully barbaric atmosphere?

Originality: 10
The first time I saw them in the background on TV, I almost didn't believe my eyes. It just seemed way too awesome that the stadium ushers would let people bring large orange clubs past the front gates and smash them against the walls for 3 hours. I mean, at my old high school, the athletic director kicked out just because he let off an air horn during a timeout--and it was the athletic director's own son! This is just a perfect match for Oklahoma State, so much so that I thought to myself, "Oh yeah, because their team name is the Cowboys", without even realizing that Cowboys with wooden paddles makes about as much logical sense as the boys at your local AEPi chapter. For these reasons, the Oklahoma State orange paddles conclude this list as the #1 Stadium Fan Accessories in sports.

Total: 31

"It's where the SENIORS find Freshmen, and NAIL them with paddles!"-- Joe Swanson

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