Ugliest Fan Moments in Sports History
Fans play an important role in sports. They fill stadiums and arenas with energy and sometimes even impact the outcome of games.
But when fans become the story in a sporting event, it’s a good bet that something has gone wrong. The results can range from the bizarre to the farcical to the tragic.
Whether it's violence, rioting, streaking or just being a bit overzealous, bad things happen when fans steal the spotlight. These are the most infamous fan incidents in sports history.
25. Sharing Hank Aaron’s Moment of Glory
Date: April, 8, 1974
Venue: Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
What happened: Two fans joined Hank Aaron in rounding the bases after he broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record.
Bottom line: Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run was one of the great milestones in the history of baseball, but a couple of 17-year-olds grabbed some of the spotlight on this momentous night when they ran up to Aaron and patted him on the shoulder during his home run trot.
There were no hard feelings by the always gracious Aaron. In 2010, he reunited with Britt Gaston and Cliff Courtenay.
"It's nice to see them once again and know they're doing fine, doing well," Aaron said.
24. Eagles Fans Pelt Santa Claus
Date: Dec.15, 1968
Venue: Franklin Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
What happened: Eagles fans pelted Santa with snowballs during the team’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Bottom Line: Philadelphia fans have a well-deserved reputation for naughty behavior at sporting events. So if anyone was going to end up on the wrong Santa list at a sporting event, it only made sense that it would happen in the "City of Brotherly Love."
With the Eagles suffering through a miserable 2-12 season, Philly fans already were in bad spirits at kickoff and in no mood to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. Perhaps anticipating what may lie ahead, the man the Eagles hired to play Santa was a no-show that day, so the team plucked an unsuspecting fan named Frank Olivo out of the stands to play the part.
The rest is history.
23. Tear Gas, Fire Bombs and a Greek Soccer Riot
Date: March 17, 2019
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Athens, Greece
What happened: Fan violence forced the cancellation of a soccer match between Greek football powers Panathinaikos and Olympiakos.
Bottom line: European soccer violence goes back generations and, unfortunately, has carried over to the present day.
In March, Greek soccer fans attacked players, unleashed firebombs and prompted police to deploy tear gas to restore order. Tear gas fumes wafted into the stadium and burned the eyes of fans and players alike, finally forcing officials to call the match.
"It's tragic," said one player. "I cannot explain it."
22. The First Streaker
Date: April 20, 1974
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, England
What happened: Michael O’Brien becomes the first known streaker at a sporting event.
Bottom line: The rich history of drunk fans baring all and streaking across an athletic field began, by most accounts, with Michael O’Brien’s naked sprint during a 1974 rugby match between England and France.
It all started with a friendly wager and an opportunity to win a 10 pound sterling.
More memorable than the streak itself was Ian Bradshaw’s iconic photograph showing a bobby’s perfectly placed hat concealing O’Brien’s private parts.
21. Penalty Box Mayhem at Flyers Game
Date: March 29, 2001
Venue: First Union Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
What Happened: When a fan heckling Toronto Maple Leafs player Tie Domi shattered the glass to the penalty box, the fists started flying.
Bottom line: Hockey players exchanging punches during games is nothing new, but the incident between middle-aged Flyers fan Chris Falcone and Tie Domi in 2001 was out of the ordinary, to say the least.
The confrontation started when Domi started spraying the taunting fan with a water bottle over the penalty box glass. When the fan decided to reach over the glass in an effort to take a swing at Domi, the window gave way, and chaos ensued.
Years later, any hard feelings between the two had vanished, and they reunited on a morning radio show.
"You’re a great guy and a family guy, and I’m happy everything is behind us," Domi said.
"You too, man," said Falcone.
20. The Play
Date: Nov. 20, 1982
Venue: Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, California
What Happened: The Stanford band and other spectators poured onto the field thinking the "Big Game" between Cal and Stanford was over. It was not.
Bottom line: This play is the most memorable, most bizarre play in the history of college football.
With no time on the clock, Cal football players completed five laterals on the final play of the game and navigated through the Stanford defense, band members and other spectators who had streamed onto the field to score the winning touchdown.
The band and spectators thought a Cal player had been tackled at midfield and had come onto the field to celebrate. It was the Bears doing the celebrating moments later.
19. The Nika Riots
Sport: Chariot racing
Date: Jan. 13, 532
Venue: Hippodrome of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey)
What happened: A revolt against Emperor Justinian I broke out during the popular chariot races, eventually leading to weeklong riots that resulted in thousands dead and half of the city of Constantinople being burned.
Bottom line: Resentment toward the Byzantine emperor’s policies, including new taxes, spilled over at the chariot races held on Jan. 13, 532, near Justinian’s palace ("Nika" was the chant used by crowds to cheer on their favorite teams).
By the end of the races on this day, the angry crowd had put partisan rooting interests aside and united in chants against the emperor.
They then attacked the palace, sparking riots that lasted for days and threatened Justinian’s rule.
The emperor ultimately put down the rebellion, leaving an estimated 30,000 people dead.
18. Detroit Tigers Championship Riot
Date: Oct. 14, 1984
Venue: City of Detroit
What happened: Widespread riots broke out after the Detroit Tigers won the World Series over the San Diego Padres, leaving one person dead and dozens injured.
Bottom line: Detroit's history of rioting continued when an estimated 100,000 people showed up to celebrate the Tigers' World Series championship.
The rioting generated international attention as well as an iconic photo of a fan, Kenneth "Bubba" Helms, posing with a Tigers pennant in front of an overturned police vehicle that had been set on fire.
The notoriety Helms achieved for the incident haunted him the rest of his life.
17. Not a Garden Variety NBA Final
Date: June 4, 1976
Venue: Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
What happened: Boston Celtics fans poured onto the court, and one attacked a referee, during the team’s triple-overtime win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the NBA Finals at the Garden.
Bottom line: The bedlam began when fans thought the game was over after John Havlicek hit the go-ahead shot in the waning seconds of the second overtime.
But the referees ruled that there were still 2 seconds left on the clock, sparking fury on the part of fans, including one who assaulted referee Richie Powers.
Phoenix’s Gar Heard tied the game at the buzzer, forcing a third overtime, but the Celtics prevailed, and the angry fans went home happy.
16. Bloody Sunday and the Hail Mary
Date: Dec. 28, 1975
Venue: Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, Minnesota
What happened: After the Dallas Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings in a playoff game with the legendary "Hail Mary," Vikings fans turned violent, and a whiskey bottle thrown from the stands gashed an official in the head.
Bottom line: This game is best remembered for Roger Staubach’s game-winning "Hail Mary" pass to Drew Pearson in the closing seconds.
But another lasting image was official Armen Terzian lying sprawled on the field with a gash to his head from the thrown whiskey bottle from fans who were livid over what they felt was a blown call on the play.
He wasn’t seriously injured, and the Vikings posted a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the culprit.
"It's a rotten shame," Sen. Hubert Humphrey said after the game as he consoled Terzian. "It's a rotten shame that it had to happen out there."
15. The Scottish Cup Riot
Date: April 17, 1909
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland
What happened: Rangers and Celtic fans were upset that extra time was not added to a championship match that ended in a tie, so they stormed the field, causing a riot and leaving more than 100 people injured.
Bottom line: Fans were fit to be tied when the Scottish Cup final between the Rangers and Celtic ended in a 1-1 tie — a replay of a 2-2 tie with the teams a week earlier.
Fans assumed that extra time would be added to decide the championship, but the rules stipulated that there be yet another replay.
Fans tore down goalposts, ripped up part of the pitch and set fires. Mounted police and the fire brigade were also attacked.
Afterward, the teams requested that another replay not be held, and no champion was crowned.
14. Dawg Pound’s Bite Matches Its Bark
Date: Oct. 1, 1989
Venue: Cleveland Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio
What happened: Fans from Cleveland’s infamous Dawg Pound pelted Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway with Milk-Bones and batteries, prompting officials to assess a 15-yard penalty and force the teams to switch ends of the field.
Bottom line: NFL fans have a long history of harassing opposing teams, especially when they’re backed up against their own end zone. But the Browns' Dawg Pound took things to a whole new level during this 1989 game against the hated Broncos.
The situation got so out of control that officials took the drastic action of ordering the teams to switch end zones.
It wasn’t the last time the Dawg Pound let their animal instincts take over. In 1995, officials ordered another end-zone switch in a game against the Jaguars.
13. The Tom Gamboa Attack
Date: Sept. 19, 2002
Venue: U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago, Illinois
What happened: A 34-year-old fan and his 15-year-old son attacked Kansas City Royals first-base coach Tom Gamboa during a game against the White Sox, leaving him with permanent hearing damage.
Bottom line: In one of the most disturbing incidents of fan violence in baseball history, the shirtless father and son team jumped onto the field and pummeled the 54-year-old Royals coach in the ninth inning.
Royals players quickly intervened but not before Gamboa suffered hearing damage. After 2003, he never again coached in the major leagues.
The culprits, William Ligue Jr., and his son claimed that Gamboa was taunting them throughout the game, something the coach denied.
Not surprisingly, the Ligues have had more run-ins with the law in the years since.
12. Port Said Stadium Disaster
Date: Feb. 1, 2012
Venue: Port Said Stadium, Port Said, Egypt
What happened: A riot followed an Egyptian Premier League soccer match and left 74 people dead and more than 500 injured.
Bottom line: Fans celebrating Al-Masry’s win over Al-Ahly stormed the pitch and began assaulting opposing fans with clubs, stones, bottles and fireworks.
Many Al-Ahly fans were trapped inside the stadium’s closed gate and died in a stampede.
Multiple defendants were sentenced to death as a result of the riots, and Egypt canceled the league for two years.
11. Rick Monday Saves the American Flag
Date: April 25, 1976
Venue: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California
What happened: Two fans ran onto the field and tried to set fire to the American flag before Dodgers outfielder Rick Monday grabbed the stars and stripes and ran off with it.
Bottom line: Rick Monday, a former Marine Corps reserve, got a standing ovation when he saved the flag from being torched after a father and his 11-year-old son doused it with lighter fluid and tried to ignite it with a match in the bottom of the fourth inning of a game.
Forty years later, Monday was still upset.
"I did not want them to be able to desecrate an American flag that some of my buddies lost their lives for, representing the rights and freedoms that you and I enjoy," he told Vice Sports.
10. The Richard Riot
Date: March 17, 1955
Venue: Montreal Forum, Montreal, Canada
What happened: A fan riot that included a tear gas bomb broke out during a Montreal Canadiens game, causing the contest to be stopped and forfeited to the Red Wings.
Bottom line: Canadiens fans were in a sour mood after Maurice Richard, their star player, got suspended for the rest of the season for punching a linesman a few days earlier.
When NHL president Clarence Campbell, who meted out the punishment, showed up at the game, fans went over the edge. They threw food, shoes and other items at Campbell, and one even slapped him in the face.
Then, a tear gas bomb went off, the arena was evacuated, and the riot spilled out into the streets. It caused $100,000 in property damage, 37 injuries and 100 arrests.
9. Lima Soccer Disaster
Date: May 24, 1964
Venue: Estadio Nacional, Lima, Peru
What happened: Fans stormed onto the pitch following an unpopular call by a referee, and the resulting riots left 328 people dead and at least 500 injured.
Bottom line: One of the worst tragedies in the history of athletic events, the Lima disaster took place during an Olympic qualifying game between Peru and Argentina.
After a goal was disallowed, fans began to riot, and police fired tear gas into the stadium, causing a mass exodus among many of the 53,000 fans in the stadium.
In the ensuing panic, fans were trapped in stairwells exiting the stadium and died from internal hemorrhaging or asphyxia.
8. Detroit Pistons Championship Riot
Date: June 14, 1990
Venue: City of Detroit
What happened: The Pistons' second consecutive NBA championship sparked riots and looting that left eight people dead, at least 124 hospitalized and 170 placed under arrest.
Bottom line: Although the Pistons' championship-clinching win took place thousands of miles away in Portland, 21,000 Pistons fans had gathered at The Palace at Auburn Hills to watch the game on big-screen television sets.
The riots began shortly after the game ended at 11:30 Eastern Time and spread throughout Detroit and suburban areas. The injured included 26 who were shot and two who were stabbed.
It is considered one of the worst sports-related riots in U.S. history.
7. Disco Demolition Night
Date: July 12, 1979
Venue: Comiskey Park, Chicago
What Happened: A riot erupted on the field during a promotional event where fans were sold tickets for 99 cents if they brought a disco record to be blown up on the field.
Bottom line: A Chicago shock jock’s idea to blow up disco records between games of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers turned into a disaster.
The explosion from the blast ruined the field, and when fans stormed it and tried to invade the players’ clubhouse, riot police were called in. When all was said and done, 39 people got arrested, and the White Sox were forced to forfeit the game.
White Sox announcer Jimmy Piersol summed up the situation best: "One of the saddest sights that I have ever seen in a ballpark in my life. This garbage of demolishing a record has turned into a fiasco."
6. Malice at the Palace
Date: Nov. 19, 2004
Venue: Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan
What happened: A melee erupted between players and fans during an NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.
Bottom line: Some consider the "Malice at the Palace" the most infamous fight in American sports history.
It started with less than a minute left in the game. A foul call led to a shoving match between the Pacers' Ron Artest and Pistons' Ben Wallace and a fight involving multiple players.
With Artest lying on the scorer’s table after the fight was broken up, a fan threw a drink at him, prompting Artest to charge into the stands. At that point, all hell broke loose as a full-scale brawl erupted between fans and players that lasted for several minutes and spilled from the stands onto the court.
In the end, five players were charged with assault, and the NBA took steps to increase security and limit the sale of alcohol at games.
5. Suffering the Blues in Philly
Date: Jan. 6, 1972
Venue: Spectrum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
What happened: During a melee involving fans and players, St. Louis Blues coach Al Arbour was clubbed on the head and received 10 stitches, player John Arbour (no relation) was also hit in the head and needed 40 stitches, and both men were arrested along with Blues players Floyd Thomson and Phil Roberto.
Bottom line: Fights involving coaches, players and fans are not unheard of, but having the police haul off a team’s coach and several players to jail illustrates why this became known as the night all hell broke loose in Philly.
The mayhem started when Flyers fans dumped a beer on the head of the Blues' coach and pelted him with trash as he was arguing a call with a referee, prompting a brawl that included players, fans and police officers wielding nightsticks.
Ultimately, the coach and three players were charged with assault (the chargers were later dropped), and outraged Blues owners Sidney Salomon Jr. said it was the "worst case of police brutality I have ever seen."
4. The Steve Bartman Incident
Date: October 14, 2003
Venue: Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois
What happened: With the Cubs on the verge of clinching their first World Series trip since 1945, fan Steve Bartman reached over the railing and interfered with Cubs outfielder Moises Alou as he tried to catch a foul ball. The Marlins rallied from a 3-0 eighth-inning deficit to win the game and, eventually, the National League Championship Series.
Bottom line: Perhaps the most infamous moment in the Cubs' long history of infamy, Steve Bartman was blamed for costing the Cubs the series and a chance to end the team’s World Series curse.
Fans hurled insults and debris at Bartman, requiring security to escort him from the stadium, and six police cars were reportedly summoned to protect his home. The Illinois governor suggested that he enter a witness-protection program, and Bartman was offered "asylum" in Florida.
In the end, all was forgiven when the Cubs ended the curse in 2016, and the team presented Bartman a World Series ring.
3. Fan Man Crashes Heavyweight Championship
Date: Nov. 6, 1993
Venue: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
What happened: James Miller and his motorized paraglider swooped into the outdoor ring where Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe were clashing for the heavyweight championship of the world.
Bottom line: This might be the strangest event in boxing history, if not all of sports.
James Miller ignited chaos and bedlam when he crashed into the arena during the seventh round of Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe's rematch. Miller's parachute became tangled in the ring lights, causing several to pop, and he was pummeled by Bowe’s entourage before security intervened.
Bowe’s pregnant wife fainted from the popping lights, which sounded like gunshots, and had to be taken away in an ambulance.
The fight was delayed for 21 minutes until order could be restored, at which point Holyfield went on to win a majority decision and avenge his previous loss to Bowe, reclaiming the heavyweight belt.
It was Bowe’s only loss in 44 professional fights, and he knocked out Holyfield in their third meeting two years later.
2. Ten Cent Beer Night
Date: June 4, 1974
Venue: Municipal Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio
What happened: Drunk fans lost control when the Cleveland Indians held a promotion for a game against the Texas Rangers and sold beers for 10 cents each.
Bottom line: When you basically give away beers to fans of a bad team, it’s a good bet that something bad will happen.
After being served 10-cent beers all night, Indians fans streaked across the field, a woman flashed her breasts in the on-deck circle, and things spiraled out of control in the ninth inning as fans fought players and objects flew from every direction, forcing Cleveland to forfeit.
Umpire Nestor Chylak, who was struck in the head with part of a stadium seat, reportedly referred to the fans as "uncontrollable beasts."
Not to be deterred, the Indians incredibly held a second Ten Cent Beer Night a month later, this time limiting fans to two promotional drinks and beefing up security.
1. The Monica Seles Stabbing
Date: April 30, 1993
Venue: Am Rothenbaum, Hamburg, Germany
What happened: Tennis star Monica Seles was stabbed by a crazed fan during a match at the 1993 WTA Hamburg tournament.
Bottom line: Monica Seles' career was forever changed when a fan plunged a knife between her shoulder blades during a changeover in the match.
Although she quickly recovered from the injuries, Seles did not compete again for more than two years, and was never the same again.
The fan, who was obsessed with Seles’ rival, Steffi Graf, was found to be mentally ill and sentenced to two years of probation and psychological treatment. Afterward, security at WTA events was significantly increased.
In the history of fan incidents in sports, there perhaps has never been a clearer case of one fan single-handedly derailing a star’s career in the athlete’s prime.