We are looking for the “Best Fan Ever” — could it be you?
By David Dorsey, USA TODAY NETWORK Fort Myers News-Press
Tim McKernan wore nothing but a hat, boots and a painted orange barrel suspended around his waist to win a $10 bet with his brother.
McKernan wagered he could appear on national TV while at a Denver Broncos game in 1977.
So began a string of 33 seasons of a working-class man, a painter for United Airlines, becoming a football franchise's icon known as "Barrel Man."
James "Jimmy" Goldstein realized what sports meant to him at age 15 during the early 1950s, when he kept statistics while sitting courtside at Milwaukee Hawks games. This prompted a lifetime urge to surround himself by all things NBA. A real estate and fashion mogul who became a self-made millionaire, Goldstein also became a season-ticket holder to Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers games. He embarked upon a 20-year streak of attending all but one game of the NBA Finals. He missed Game 5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers-Golden State Warriors series this year because of a delayed flight.
Whether you are rich or poor or anywhere in between, when did it happen to you? When did you feel the epiphany that transformed you into a diehard fan of your favorite team or athlete?
The feelings generated by sports, they fill the emotional spectrum. At their worst, they bring frustration, anger, sometimes even heartbreak. Just ask any Cleveland Browns, Chicago Cubs or, prior to 2004, Boston Red Sox fan.
pre bonded hairAt their best, sports provide solace and satisfaction, high-fiving and chest-bumping, joy and elation.
With this in mind, the time has arrived to kickoff, tipoff, faceoff and throw the first pitch of the Best Fan Ever contest.
The USA Today Network and Treasure Coast Newspapers want to find the best sports fan in the nation and reward him or her with $4,000 to spend on a dream sports vacation.
Over the next three months, the nominating and voting process will unfold locally and across the country. A random voter will receive a $1,000 cash prize for his or her own fantasy sports trip.
You don't have to be a multimillionaire like Goldstein to nominate yourself. You don't have to dance, paint your face, have a consecutive games streak, camp out at arenas or have retired Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter on your smartphone contacts list, either. Although any or all of those might help, you really just have to be your most passionate self.
I would nominate myself, except company employees aren't eligible to win.
My sports epiphany happened in 1991, my freshman year in college. The Kansas Jayhawks were losing to the Arkansas Razorbacks by 11 at halftime in the regional finals of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The Jayhawks rallied and won by 11.
Hundreds of students flooded campus in Lawrence, Kansas, as I sprinted from my dormitory among dozens of lifelong friends. We joined the crowd of bodysurfing, beer-chugging, mass-hugging maniacs, reveling in the glory of a berth in the Final Four. It prompted a deep desire for me to be around these wonderful, fascinating sensations, later realizing a dream career as a sports writer, 23 years and counting.
But what about you? How big of a sports fan are you and why? When did the moment hit you?
Here are the tales of some of the nation's biggest fans and when the moment hit them.
Laurence Leavy pointed to the big-screen monitor in his Fort Lauderdale law office. It showed his upcoming sports calendar, which is busier than that of any professional sports team.
So far this year, Leavy has attended the Super Bowl, Final Four, Game Seven of the NBA Finals, the Kentucky Derby and every Sunday Night Baseball game broadcast by ESPN. He also has attended as many Miami Marlins home games as his schedule permits and a slew of other games. He also makes appearances for charities and other causes. He has made himself into a pseudo-celebrity, with more than 65,000 Twitter followers, who can monitor his exploits in which he almost always wears a bright orange Miami Marlins jersey with an orange Marlins visor.
"I've been to 27 Super Bowls, 94 World Series games," said Leavy, 59. "I've been to 70 NBA Finals games. I've been to two Olympics. I've been to more than 300 baseball playoff games and 200 NBA playoff games. In 2015, I focused on baseball. In 2014, I focused on basketball. I went to 18 NBA playoff games in 20 days. Every day, I got up and flew to a different city. It was so cool.
"And the baseball playoffs? From Oct. 3 to when the World Series ended, I went to a game every day."
Leavy, a Florida State University graduate and, of course, a football season ticket holder there, was coined "Marlins Man" three years ago in San Francisco by a Golden Gate park ranger who first tried calling him Mr. Marlin.
"I'm not Mr. Marlin. That's Jeff Conine," Leavy said of the former Marlins player.
"OK, you're the Marlins Man then, like the Marlboro Man," Leavy was told.
Milton Ousland, 46, realized his mission in life as a New York Yankees fan as a high school freshman in Brooklyn, New York.
remy hair extensionsHe and his classmates were struggling, so their teacher devised a way to motivate them. Any student receiving a 100 on the next test would win a prize.
"Me and this girl, we were the only two who got 100," Ousland said.
The teacher said: "You guys have a choice here. I've got a Sony Walkman or a Yankee ticket."
Receiving a Walkman, a personal cassette player, in 1984 would be the equivalent of receiving an iPad today. But the sight of the Yankees ticket enthralled Ousland. He felt like Charlie in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," who found the golden ticket.
"I was a poor kid from Brooklyn," said Ousland, who works for the Bloomingdale's department store, designing window displays. "Then I opened up the envelope. You talk about the light bulb going up over the head. My life literally changed when I opened up that ticket. I could not believe I could go to Yankee Stadium for three dollars. She gets a $35, $40 Walkman, and I got a Yankee ticket. She was happy. But I was going to the stadium. I'm going to go to every Yankees game that I can. I'm going to go to Every. Single. Game.
"Then one day, I sat in the right-field bleachers. I'm hearing people doing all of these songs and chants. They were a little bit intimidating. But then I kept going, and I was going earlier and earlier. I was going to batting practice at 5:30. The game was at 7."
There were so many characters there, Ousland said. Ali Ramirez, "the Cowbell Man," became as big a fixture in the Bronx as the "Barrel Man" did in Denver. So did Tina Lewis, the "Queen of the Bleachers." She assigned seats in what was supposed to be an open seating section based on seniority. And there's Ousland himself, who inherited the cowbell from Ramirez, who died in May 1996.
"It's all about a gut feeling, when you think the Yankees need a rally," Ousland said of when he would start clanging the cowbell. There's no missing the metal-on-metal sound, reverberating throughout old and now new Yankee Stadium.
That first season of Ousland manning the cowbell, the Yankees won their first World Series since 1978.
"The Yankees just started winning and winning and winning," Ousland said. "In 1996, it was such a ride. I'm getting carried out of the stadium after certain wins. I left the stadium like a Super Bowl champion-winning coach. It was a lot to take in. It really was overwhelming."
Like Ousland, Edwin Anzalone was 15 and in New York when that magical moment of becoming a fan happened.
"It was 1975," Anzalone said. "My brother took me to my first Jets game. Before, I was more of a baseball fan. But I went, and it was nuts. From that point on, I went to every game I could get to."
In 1986, Anzalone started doing the Jets chant: "J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!"
"I started running up and down the aisle to get the fans going," Anzalone said. "I consider it the greatest chant in all of sports."
perruques cheveux naturels"It was a progression," Anzalone said of his celebrity as a fan. "It didn't happen overnight. As the years went on, it got nuttier and nuttier."
In 1991, a friend painted a fireman helmet green and encouraged Anzalone, then a firefighter, to wear it. That's when Chris Berman on ESPN nicknamed him "Fireman Ed" and the legend began to grow.
By 2007, Anzalone grew tired of the attention he was getting.
"Social media is taking over," Anzalone said. "Everything is intensified, tenfold. We had a lot of fun, but with what's going on in society with the phones and stuff, it was time for me to leave."
Well, sort of. Anzalone leaves the fireman hat at home, but he still goes to Jets games, sitting in section 149 behind the end zone.
ROBIN THE HECKLER
Like Anzalone, Robin Ficker leads a much lower profile than he used to.
From 1986 through the end of the 1997-98 NBA season, Ficker, a lawyer, sat behind the visiting team's bench at Washington Bullets and Wizards games. From that vantage point, he heckled the premier players on opposing teams, most notably Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls and Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.
"Charles Barkley was talking about running for governor of Alabama," said Ficker, 73. "I'd shout, 'How do you feel about the economy and health care and NAAFTA.' He'd turn around and say, 'I am in favor of the death penalty, and they should use it on you.'"
For Jordan, Ficker used to read aloud from the Sam Smith book, "The Jordan Rules."
"And then I'd purposely ad-lib," Ficker said. "He would turn around and shake his head, 'No.'
"I always kept it clean. I never swore. I never drank alcohol at games."
perruques cheveuxBut Ficker's antics were so prominent and so distracting, the NBA devised a new rule.
"You cannot interfere with communication between the opposing coach and players during timeouts," Ficker said. "It's printed on the back of tickets now. Because I would always distract these players during timeouts."
When the Wizards moved to their new home, then called MCI Center and now called Verizon Center, the Wizards relocated Ficker's seats from behind the bench to behind a basket. Ficker declined those seats and did not renew the tickets.
Ficker left behind the Washington Wizards, but he did not leave behind being a sports fan. Go to any given University of Maryland wrestling match and you're bound to find him, not heckling anymore, but cheering for the Terrapins.
BEST FAN EVER
Building a sports resume as vast as that of "Marlins Man" requires a deep wallet. But being a sports fan as passionate as Leavy does not.
Christopher Stanley, who has a doctoral degree in psychology and is a visiting associate professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, has a keen understanding of why people embrace sports and become fans. He grew up in suburban Chicago and roots for the Bears in football and the White Sox in baseball.
lace front wigs"When considering how fans become so deeply invested in their teams, you may consider how they have invested in the sport over the years," Stanley said. "Some may have a background playing in that particular sport. Continuing to follow it is a way of maintaining an affiliation.
"Some may have been socialized into the fan experience, by parents or significant others who have modeled some level of fan behavior. Others may have simply followed friends and peers. In any case, it is part of their development. People invest not only money, but time and energy into their team. People begin feeling a sense of belonging within the organization and adopting it as part of their identity.
"Over time, there is an emotional attachment. Wins and losses can prompt positive and negative emotions. The team becomes part of their life."
Which team has become a part of your life?
Who else out there deserves acclaim like Fireman Ed and Marlins Man and Robin the Heckler?
Who wants to be known as Best Fan Ever?
Be a part of it — enter the contest.
BEST FAN EVER CONTEST
Whether your favorite team plays on Billy Livings Field at the Citrus Bowl, The Swamp in Gainesville or Marlins Park in Miami, every sport has its passionate fans. Those who wear wigs and costumes, paint their faces, wave signs and scream 'til they are hoarse. Who laugh and cry with every victory and defeat.
If you fit that description, you may be the Treasure Coast's biggest sports fan.
cosplay wigsStarting Tuesday, let's find out by entering the "Best Fan Ever" contest, run by Treasure Coast Newspapers and the USA Today Network.
Submit a photo of yourself and a written description of why you are the area's biggest, most passionate sports fan between Tuesday and Sept. 26. Then fans from across the Treasure Coast will vote to select our Best Fan Ever.
Our local winner automatically will qualify for a nationwide contest, going up against fellow fans from across the country. The Best Fan Ever national contest winner will receive $4,000 gift card to use on a sports excursion of their dreams. And one lucky voter nationally will be selected to receive a $1,000 gift card.
To win, you first need to enter.