The Catfish Conundrum: Just How Far Should Fan Loyalty Go?
I really ought to be breathlessly writing about OTAs and how JuJu S-S is playing in the slot (big surprise) and how Senquez Golson is playing in the slot on the other side of the ball (also not much of a surprise, unless you consider it to be a surprise he’s on the field at all.) Or any of a number of things which probably don’t mean very much at this point, because it’s football in shorts.
And while football in shorts is better than no football, there’s still a lot of sorting out to happen before we even find out who takes the field at St. Vincent’s. So instead I’m going to write about something else.
Those of you whose interest in other Pittsburgh sports is marginal at best are presumably still aware that the Penguins are in the Stanley Cup finals, a year after actually winning the cup. It’s very rare to make it to the finals two years in a row, and even more rare to win the cup twice in a row.
Their opponent is the Nashville Predators*, a club who never made it to the finals until this season. In fact, they have never won the conference round, either, having been ousted in the first round six times and in the second round three times. Admittedly they are an expansion team, first taking the ice in 1998. (The Penguins are also an expansion team, but from an earlier expansion.)
They may be a relatively new team, but the fan base has been busy, and apparently their signature move (the fans, that is) is to throw a catfish on the ice. A dead one. I believe it is preferable that the catfish be in an advanced state of decomposition, but I’m not sure. This has been confined to home games, though, as far as I know, until Tuesday night, when an intrepid Predators fan (or a really stupid one, depending on your point of view) brought the Official Nashville Catfish Fling to PPG Paints Arena, the home of the Penguins, in the first game of the finals.
The way in which this was effected (as it is difficult to imagine that security would let someone with a large rotting catfish through the door, no matter whose jersey he was wearing) is so inventive and yet disgusting that I feel moved to share the story with you.
The first official media person to comment at any length, as far as I know, was Sean Gentille from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, writing in the wee hours of the morning after the game. His article was, naturally, rather short on details, but had some things worth sharing. Although he could only speculate as to how someone managed to smuggle a dead catfish into a sports arena, he gave it the old college try with a series of question:
1) Where did he get the catfish? Not Wholey’s. The Strip District institution, like it did during the Red Wings series* in 2008, is requiring ID for anyone trying to buy catfish this week. If you’re from Tennessee, you’re out of luck.
2) Where did he stash the catfish? That’s another tough one to answer; he was caught on camera getting the hook, and he was only wearing a T-shirt. No hoodie. No jacket.
The Red Wings’ fans, I should note, do not toss catfish onto the ice—they toss octopi. Which one would also have to buy at Wholeys, as not a lot of other stores stock them, except some small Asian markets which might be difficult to locate for an out-of-towner. Anyhow, back to the article:
4) Why did he do it while his team was down 3-0? We’re betting on some combo of panic that the Predators would get shut out, the idea of trying to shift momentum and the fact that — as we said — he had a hunk of rotting flesh hidden somewhere on or in his body.
5) Should he have waited? Depends. Ryan Ellis scored the Predators’ first goal almost immediately afterward.
6) Did Ellis score because of the catfish toss? Probably, yeah.
The plot thickens. The Pittsburgh Police slapped the guy** with a number of charges, including, I kid you not, “possessing an instrument of crime” and “disrupting a meeting.”
Gentille updated the situation yesterday by noting that the police had dropped the charges. I’m guessing the perpetrator better not ever try to buy another ticket to a game in Pittsburgh under his own name, however.) He also narrated the story of how the guy did it. That is also worth sharing, although I will edit it a great deal, as it was rather long:
1) Acquire supplies. Waddell bought a pair of $350 upper-bowl tickets and an “entirely too big” catfish from a market in Tennessee. He said he had no idea that Wholey’s had restricted catfish sales — he just “wanted to take a Nashville catfish, because it’s more original to throw one of our catfish.”
3) Secure transportation. Need to move a gigantic, rotting fish 1/7 of the way across the country? Spray it down with Old Spice cologne and throw it in a cooler.
It turns out the the perpetrator’s in-laws live in Western Ohio, only about an hour from Pittsburgh, which made the next few steps simpler:
4) Consolidate. This was where he really started to shine. On game night, he took the fish to his cousin’s house, filleted it, cut out half the spine and ran it over with his truck. That made it easier to vacuum-pack and conceal … but not that easy.
“The head was too damn big,” Waddell said. “No matter how much I ran it over with my truck, the head was too big.”
5) Choose your placement. Originally, Waddell planned to stash the fish in his boots. The head made that impossible. So, he created a catfish-underwear sandwich. Regular drawers went on first. Then, the catfish. Then, a pair of compression shorts. Then, a pair of baggy pants. Waddell said he was lucky that he’s “a bigger guy. Skinny jeans would’ve showed it off, that’s for sure,” he said.
As I noted earlier, you have to admire the guy’s ingenuity…
6) Test your system. Waddell strapped up, then spent a while talking to his in-laws. “I talked to them for 20 minutes, and they had no idea I had the fish on,” he said.
You also have to admire his thoroughness and preparation… Once at the game, he used the free t-shirt and towel he was issued at the door (adding insult to injury) to wrap the fish in. It’s hard to imagine those around him didn’t notice, but I suppose worse smels have met the nostrils of patrons in a sporting arena. I don’t know if he did this, but if you buy a bucket of hot wings that smell (which I personally find quite unappetizing) should cover up almost anything. Finally:
10) Lawyer up. By Tuesday morning, Waddell had been charged with disorderly conduct, disrupting a meeting and, best of all, “possessing an instrument of crime.” As in, the fish. That, he said, was not the original plan.
“If they want to go down that road, we can go down that road,” Waddell said. “I’m pretty sure we’ll win that battle. I’m just stubborn enough, as you can probably tell by strapping a catfish to my crotch, to go up there and fight it.”
Of course it turned out to be unnecessary. My question to you all is twofold—first, would a similar sort of thing work at an NFL game, where the stadium is so very much larger, and second, should it?
Throwing things onto the field of play isn’t unknown in the NFL, of course. When Ben Roethlisberger was injured in Cincinnati in the Wild Card game in January of 2016, various objects rained down on him as he exited on a cart, including, as he later reported, a full can of beer. That particular fan must have been really serious, or else he (or she) appropriated someone else’s beer, which is perhaps more likely.
Cleveland fans have been known to throw a sacrificial fan onto the field, although I’m guessing it will be pretty much impossible to find volunteers until James Harrison retires. I would link a video of this event, but I’m writing this from France and YouTube won’t even open here. Copyright issues, perhaps, although that seems odd. But you can find it easily by just googling “James Harrison body slams Cleveland fan.”
I would like to add in passing that the Penguins’ fans apparently don’t throw anything on the ice, at least in an official sort of way, except for the usual hat for hat tricks. Chris Kunitz, I believe it was, scored three goals at one of the few Pens games I have attended, and my eldest son joined many other fans in throwing his cap onto the ice. And then the referees disallowed the goal, so Adrian lost a perfectly good hat for nothing. Which should perhaps serve as a cautionary tale in regards to such endeavors.
And of course the whole point of the exercise is for the fan base to be united as to what should be thrown onto the field. Many possibilities of Pittsburgh specialties come to mind. Primanti sandwiches? Cans of Iron City Beer? Pierogis? None of these are large enough to make a visual impact on an NHL rink, I would think, much less an NFL field. Unless you were to use the giant pierogies that run races at the Pirates games. They would be available by the end of September most years, alas.
In the end, though, a franchise that doesn’t even have cheerleaders (much to the regret of some of the fan base, I’m guessing, although I’m happy about it) is probably not going to encourage fans to throw anything on the field. And actually I believe the refs can penalize the team for overly abundant fan detritus, so there’s that.
And furthermore, I think the playing of “Renegade” serves the purpose for Steelers games, although there isn’t a lot the fans can do to participate in it. I think we’ll probably have to be content with this. However, I welcome your comments and suggestions…
*What a great name for a franchise, BTW. I love the Penguins, but penguins aren’t very threatening.
**Perhaps they should have just slapped him with a dead fish. But possibly they thought he had suffered enough. Or didn’t want to get slapped with a counter-suit.