December 6, 2014

Stop Yelling "O!"

This is about the strangest opening to a blog post you will ever read from me but there have been so many damn home Wizards games recently that I haven't had any time to do any blogging. Over the past four weeks there have been an astounding nine home games with only two road contests in there. Not a complaint exactly; I'm just saying…

We are about 20 to 25 percent of the way through the 2014-2015 NBA season and I couldn't be any happier. The Wizards are 13-5, a mark they haven't had at this point in the season in about forty years (not a typo), and they have just finished a 4-0 four game home stand including three victories against Western Conference opponents. They are in first place in the Southeast Division (one game ahead of Atlanta) and they sit just one game out of first behind the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference. 

The Wizards have beaten every team they should have beaten, with the possible exception of Atlanta. They have shown improved poise in getting out of difficult spots in games; the offseason signings of Paul Pierce and Rasual Butler have paid off really well; and Randy Wittman's in game coaching adjustments have seemed to be spot on all year. All this while missing Bradley Beal and Nenê for a handful of games and being without the services of Martell Webster entirely. Wow! What a season already.

Going to Wizards games over the last 14 years has been like waiting for the other shoe to drop. No matter how well the team was doing game to game or in the season in general, there was always the feeling that something, somehow would go wrong. And it usually did. Maybe I'm letting my guard down but these days the only thing I get overly anxious about is the anthem between the end of pregame warmups and the opening tip. That's right, the anthem. I got something to say here and so that's what this post is about.

The Star Spangled Banner has been a little bit of a crap shoot over the last decade and a half at Wizards games. Unlike the Capitals, who generally stick with Bob McDonald and Caleb Green for the anthem, the Wizards like to share the wealth and have different performers sing (or play) the anthem on most of the 41 home nights. Now I get that people can get nervous and flub a line every so often but it happens way too much for my liking.  If you are allowed on the court to sing the anthem, you ought to be able to get it right. Guaranteed that we are going to get a few "For the land of the free"s over the season and maybe one or two other more egregious mistakes like the dude who asked us "Who brought stripes and bright stars?" to the Mavericks game earlier this year. I certainly didn't pack my stripes and bright stars that night.

But all that in the previous paragraph is a bit of a tangent, because that's not the complaint I have to offer here in this post. No, not at all. What annoys me about the anthem at Verizon Center on game nights is what happens right after "our flag was still there." That's right, I mean the "O!" that about 25 percent of the crowd lets fly for a reason that they may or may not understand, although let's face it, they probably don't.

From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, the Baltimore Orioles were one of the most successful teams in baseball. From 1966 to 1983 (a span of 18 seasons), the Orioles made the playoffs seven times, went to the World Series five times and won it all twice. This was an era where only four teams made the postseason in baseball, not the 10 teams who make it these days. They also fielded teams with a slew of future hall of famers: Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the fixtures at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore was Wild Bill Hagy spelling out O-R-I-O-L-E-S with his body on top of the Orioles' dugout while the fans in the stadium spelled it out loudly with their voices. Hagy performed his routine on the dugout near Memorial Stadium's Section 34, where a number of die hard Orioles fans sat every night. According to the story told by WBAL TV's Jason Newton, one night a single fan, Mary Powers, in this section yelled "O!" at the beginning of the "O say can you see" line in the national anthem. The next night, Hagy joined her and it snowballed from there.

Now I know I'm not the first person to ever write about this and I don't have some fundamental objection to people yelling one part of The Star Spangled Banner like some writers have noted. I'm honestly torn between this being an important part of sports tradition and it being totally stupid. Because it's the first butchering of the anthem, I think it's kind of cool. Much better at least than Capitals fans yelling "RED" during the "rockets' red glare" line. Orioles fans are the original; Caps fans are just copying. I'm sure if I went to a pro ball game in Houston that the whole arena wouldn't yell "ROCKETS" during the same line. Maybe they would. I don't honestly know.

The problem I have with this whole "tradition" is the exporting of it to events other than Orioles games. The "O!" chant has meaning in Baltimore and Baltimore only. In fact, it really only has meaning at Orioles games. Nowhere else. Not Ravens games, not Capitals games, not Wizards games, not the Washington D.C. NFL team's games and certainly not Nationals games. It's not about Baltimore or Washington or any other team. It's only about the Orioles.

I wonder how many inside Verizon Center on a Wizards game night know this. I'm guessing not too many because if they really knew what they were saying when they yelled "O!", I have to believe they would cut it out. I've been to Wizards games in a number of places in this country and I've never heard the "O!" anywhere else and that's because it's stupid and not relevant outside of Oriole Park. There weren't even any at the Philadelphia 76ers game I attended last year and I struggle with the notion that Philly fans are smarter than Wizards fans here.

So here's my plea for folks heading to Wizards games. When the anthem singer finishes "our flag was still there" stay quiet. Don't say a word. Let him or her or them finish out the anthem with you being silent and attentive. And when the anthem's over, applaud, except maybe if they screwed up the lines really badly. Let's not perpetuate this nonsense any more. Go Wizards!! I'm hoping for a quieter crowd during the anthem at Monday's game.

The Stars and Stripes in Toronto's Air Canada Centre. No "O!" here.

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