As fans, our ticket to the game offers us the chance to voice our feelings about the team we follow. We can cheer them. We can boo them. We can sit in indifferent silence until the scoreboard wakes us up. We’re a Greek chorus for the athletes for whom we’re fanatical.
As athletes, they see us less as fans than as supporters. We’re there to pump them up when necessary; to offer positive reinforcement to the home team and do what we can to knock the visitors’ equilibrium off. Some will offer platitudes like “the fans have every right to boo" when the team gets blown out, for example - but that doesn’t mean they think we should.
Steve Ott of the Buffalo Sabres, for example, doesn’t believe it does his team any good to have jeers cascading from the seats in Buffalo when the Sabres are trying to make a late playoff push.
In fact, he finds it “completely ridiculous.”
Ott was on the Howard Simon Show on WGR 550 in Buffalo (s/t Buffalo News) and didn’t hold back when the subject of Sabres fans booing the home team during an eventual shootout win over the New Jersey Devils was broached.
Q. Do you just believe there’s never any place for a home team to get booed by their fans?
"I think it's completely ridiculous, to be honest with you.
“We go into other buildings, we've won a lot of games and teams should have the same amount of frustration, sold-out buildings … it's funny because they're continuing to cheer on their team. They stand behind their team. They respect the work ethic.
"It is [frustrating]. It's disheartening when we did get hemmed in our zone and they're basically mocking us when you get up past the blueline and you finally get it in their zone after, I guess you’d could say, that minute-and-a-half shift when they didn't have a scoring opportunity.
“I guess you can say it was more the mocking of my teammates and everything else that probably pissed a lot of guys off, including myself. I mean, you're a fan of the Buffalo Sabres and hopefully you come to cheer us on and motivate us to be good.
“We've got a lot of young players on this team and they definitely don't deserve to be booed – they deserve to have that excitement and energy. It's definitely not their fault for the last six years of frustration that's gone on. We want to try to right the ship here. We want to continue to improve as an organization in the community and help out a lot of things. It would be awesome to have all those fans behind us 100 percent. Have that building rocking.”
Q. There was never any booing at a Dallas game?
“It was sold out for a lot of years in Dallas, through a lot of ups and downs. I can maybe picture an instance where we were getting blown out, maybe 5-1 at the end of a period they booed us off the ice and rightfully so. But if you’re in a 0-0 game or even up sometimes … for an instance, the Boston game when it’s 1-1 and the power play doesn’t click the first time and they’re booing, yeah, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous.
"I don't care how frustrated anybody is. Negativity breeds negativity, and if you want to see a bad product on the ice, and [you] continue to boo, what do you expect? You're obviously going to get a negative result.
“It would be nice to have the positive atmosphere and maybe that will transition into a heck of a hockey game or maybe even a scoring chance or opportunity. It definitely is very uplifting when the crowd is on your side.
Ott revisited the question later in the interview, comparing the Sabres fans to Winnipeg Jets fans and saying, “We're dying for that extra energy from our crowd."
Now, Ott will catch flack from fans for telling them how to behave at the game, and in some ways deservedly so: It’s a ludicrous idea that Buffalo fans should get out the pom-poms for a team that’s underachieved, fired a coach and is still a Ryan Miller and/or a Thomas Vanek trade away from a total rebuild. Even if the Sabres still have a shot at the postseason at the moment, which is due to how terribly mediocre the Eastern Conference has been.
But Ott makes an interesting point about expectations and history: Even if Buffalo sports fans are psychologically scarred after years of disappointment from the gridiron to the ice, is it fair to lay that cynicism at the skates of young players that haven’t necessarily contributed to it?
“It’s tough to judge every single team the same way,” said Ott.
Interesting concept. But we’re still booing teams on the power play. First, because it’s better than screaming “SHOOT,” which should get you a beer shower. Second, because you have more guys than the other teams does, and hence should score every time. We all know this to be true.