On the 49ers: When being loud is no longer sporting

Published: Friday, Sep. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Friday, Sep. 20, 2013 - 5:34 pm

SANTA CLARA – I'm a middle-aged man. So I figure my readers roughly can be divided into two groups – those younger than me and those older.

The younger generation prefers to communicate via Twitter. Here's something they might ask: Hey Matt u think 9rs might tarde Frank Gore 2 Loins 4 Clavin Johnson???

The older folks still practice the rapidly disappearing art of letter writing, are much better spellers and are more stingy with their question marks. They'll sometimes put pen to paper, find a stamp and drop a letter in the mail. More often, they'll send emails.

I received a flurry of electronic correspondence this week, all of it with the same subject: the noise at Seattle's CenturyLink Field on Sunday night.

In short, the older generation of 49ers fans felt it crossed a line.

"I think this is as bad as unsportsmanlike conduct," wrote Allan Hanson of Placerville. "It used to be that if the crowd noise was so bad the visiting team could not communicate, the officials warned that a penalty would be called against the home team if it did not stop. What happened to that?"

Wrote Dick Black of Roseville: "For my part, if this noise continues to spread, I will stop following the game, as it will no longer count which team is the better team, but which fans can make the loudest noise."

I wrote them back and asked how old they are.

Hanson is 87. Black is 89.

Younger fans don't understand that point of view. To them, being loud and aiding the home team is the very point of being a fan. There is no higher honor as a fan than to knock a hated opponent off rhythm or cause them to commit a penalty or burn a timeout.

As long as no extra noise is piped in through the stadium loudspeakers, all is fair in love and war and fan cacophony.

Seattle's stadium proudly displays on its video board the number of false starts opponents have committed there – 122 since 2005. Sunday against the 49ers, the crowd set a world record for noise, 136.6 decibels, which falls between the din of a jet engine and a 12-gauge shotgun blast.

The NFL once had a rule that said the home team could be penalized five yards for excessive crowd noise. But it rarely was enforced and was eliminated in 2007. Last year, the league further "liberalized" its restraints on crowd noise, allowing home teams to amp up crowds with video displays and public-address announcements.

When Judy Spelman, 69, and Richard Schiller, 74, of Point Reyes Station wrote a letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday saying they were "appalled" by the din in Seattle, the letter went viral on the Internet.

Some people thought it must be satire. Others dismissed it as the ranting of an out-of-touch generation. Everyone laughed. After all, asking a football fan to pipe down is like asking a baseball pitcher not to throw so hard. Spelman and Schiller received so many nasty calls – many from Seattle – they had to disconnect their phone.

But when you take a step back, you have to wonder if the older fans have a point. How much is Seattle's crowd noise worth – seven, 10, 14 points? Last year, the Seahawks were 3-5 on the road in the regular season and 8-0 at home.

Every visiting team is at some disadvantage in the NFL, but does excessive crowd noise tilt things so far that it no longer is sporting?

The last two 49ers-Seahawks games in Seattle devolved in the second half to the point that it wasn't about blocking and tackling and catching the ball but about how many penalties and mistakes the Seahawks players and their fans could goad the 49ers into committing. (Answer: a lot). When does it cease to be a fair contest?

"I definitely believe in supporting the team and cheering them on," said Black, a retired Air Force pilot. "But it's not, who can scream at the top of their lungs the loudest? The game should be between two teams, not between one team and thousands of fans in the stands."

Is it a generation gap?

"Age should not make a difference," Hanson wrote. "Sportsmanship is sportsmanship."

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.

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