by Keith Aksel
The scene is the 1998 World Cup Final between host nation France and defending world champions Brazil. The French hold a 2-0 advantage in second-half stoppage time, and are just seconds away from hoisting the World Cup Trophy for the first time ever. The Stade de France, engulfed in a sustained, deafening roar, seems like it is on the verge of spontaneous combustion.
While fans sang and counted down each moment, the French mounted a three-on-two counterattack against a lagging Brazilian back line. From the left wing French great Patrick Viera sent in a finesse through-ball to Emmanuel Petit in stride, who hit the ball home past Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel. With that, French spirits hit a new high. Euphoria in the Stade de France reached its zenith, Petit’s goal a perfect cap to an already dominating performance.
Move to 7:30 to see the third goal.
Despite the unprecedented (and still unmatched) joy that overcame the Stade de France when the final whistle blew, something was missing. The most watched sporting event in the world, being won by the host nation, with one of the greatest collections of talent of all time, had no field rush. Instead there was a sort of stunted form of celebration. Fans embraced one another, sang and screamed with delight while French players and coaches did the same on the field. But that was the extent of their contact- an invisible barrier kept fans from taking their celebration to the pitch for joint festivities with the team. Field rushing was prohibited. I think, however, that despite safety concerns, field rushing needs to return to its former place of prominence in professional sports, to bring them more in line with college athletics.
As an American college sports fan, I have always mentally connected big wins with rushing the field. To me, the natural manifestation of the exultation of victory is taking the postgame celebration to the field. Physically making contact with the hallowed ground your favorite team plays on is a powerful show of identity, unity, and connection with your team. But, as was the case in the 1998 World Cup Final, a win of unprecedented importance in front of a raucous home crowd usually results in a similar scene at professional levels; players rejoice on the field with coaches and staff, while fans remained cloistered in the stands, policed by yellow-jacketed security officers.
I know the reason fans cannot rush the field during pro events like the World Cup Final. Security-minded officials find it impossible to police a 70,000 or so-member mass running free on the field. As a result, officials have made guarding field access a top priority in nearly every pro sports arena both at home and abroad. It only takes a quick Google search to prove that soccer game field rushes can get ugly, sometimes in the form of rioting or disrobing of players.
In both college football and basketball, field and court rushing have been part and parcel with college sports for generations. In some sections of the country, tearing down goal posts and parading them through town are the stuff of local legend. During the middle of the 20th century, Ohio State football fans were known to take down what were then wooden goalposts, and march them to the statehouse in downtown Columbus. Even though universities have tried to clamp down on fans rushing the field in the last fifteen years, college arenas still allow it in a number of circumstances (or fans just overwhelm security, as we saw this past weekend in Houston). This year, the Southeastern Conference ratcheted up fines for universities whose fans rush the field into the $50,000-$250,000 range in an attempt to eliminate injuries that arise out of field rushing. At the very least, placing guards around goalposts has seemed to make it possible for fans to take the celebration to the field without hurting themselves climbing on the towering metal.
But, fully restricting field access limits the height of such celebratory moments. When the time is right (more on that later), fans can and should be able to add to an already memorable life moment by making contact with the playing surface itself. Although I have personally only rushed the field one time in my life, I can tell you that I will never forget it. The game itself may have been far and away the highlight of that day, but being on the field at Ohio Stadium branded our 2006 triumph over Michigan on my brain.
What else do pro leagues have to gain by allowing field rushing? Perfect historical moments of fan/athlete exaltation can once again be part of pro sports lore. For example, Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run to end Game 7 of the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was an event made even more memorable when fans met Mazeroski at home plate (likely the greatest image in Pittsburgh sports history). Fan contact with the field of play underlines the importance and raw emotion that surrounded such high stakes games. Allowing field-rushing to happen in pro sporting arenas under certain circumstances will make new memories like this possible.
I am not suggesting that pro arenas eliminate field restriction altogether. I would stipulate that fans could rush the field only in the case of a championship or rivalry game win (big upsets may also be permitted in certain cases). Teams may willingly take down the security glass around a soccer field, or limit the number of security guards lining the field’s edge, to facilitate a smoother field rush. To avoid soccer disrobing incidents, move the players to a spot in front of the locker room tunnel before allowing fans on the field. But, keeping those barriers in place for all other games have proven to be effective methods of curbing field rushing when it is not warranted.
Imagine World Series clinching-wins met by fans overwhelming their hometown ballpark. Joyous NFL fans could celebrate an AFC or NFC title game victory by carrying their heroes on their shoulders. Stanley Cup-clinching victories could be met by fans running...well that one wouldn’t work, but you get the picture. Until then, fans are left with sterile episodes like the ‘98 World Cup Final, where the overly-staged postgame celebration seemed more like a half-hour long canned stage play than a world championship winning-moment in front of a home crowd. It is time to find a happy medium between total field restriction and none at all.
 Also, I am well aware that stadiums like the Stade de France have been targets of terrorist activity in recent months and years. Yet, fears of field rushing becoming an opportunity for such threats miss what seems to be the overarching theme about sports arenas in (at least Western) society; we police who and what enters sports arenas so well that being inside an arena may be one of the safest locales in a given city in a terrorist attack.
 These barriers aren’t always effective, of course; drunken fans seem to find a way to make mischief in the stands in the event that field access isn’t allowed.