I've been in exactly three fistfights in my life, and all of them happened between the ages of 12 and 15. I've never been the type of guy that incites people to want to punch me in the face. First of all, I usually keep my thoughts to myself. Secondly, I tend to make people mad by saying their favorite movie or band sucks, not by calling their mother a whore. The kind of people you usually get into arguments with over movies or music are rarely the same people that brandish broken Miller Lite bottles. They wear far too many cardigan sweaters for that sort of thing, and would likely be afraid that a fistfight would result in a broken iPhone.
All this changed yesterday when I had my first physical disagreement (I wouldn't elevate it to the level of a "fight") in...well, some years. I had the misfortune of attending the NFC Championship Game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl. As an Eagles fan in the Cardinals' stadium, it was already a dicey situation. But then the Cardinals actually won. If you are a sports fan, you know how utterly ridiculous this sounds. If you are not a sports fan, it would probably help to point out that a Cardinals appearance in the Super Bowl is mentioned in the Book of Revelation right after the part about the sun turning black as sackcloth and the moon turning red as blood. They've been so bad and so ignored by their "fans" for so long that I'm pretty certain part of the ensuing celebration was fueled by a realization that in fact Arizona had a professional football team.
My friend Jason and I were exiting the stadium and walking somberly back to the parking lot in stunned silence. The promenade outside the stadium was jammed with happy Cardinals fans and despondent Eagles fans, with a few mounted policemen around to keep the peace. Suddenly I heard a drunken yell of "Eagles suck!" as I was jumped by one of the few guys present who was bigger than me. He bear hugged me and attempted to tackle me. I threw him off me and charged him, shoving him back, whereupon he invited me to engage in sexual congress with myself. I was suggesting that he do the same when another Cardinals fan nearby decided that this looked like a fun time and got up into my face with similar language. At this point, with apologies to Dustin Hoffman, I think I actually said "I'm just walkin' here!" I was still astonished that somebody would jump me when all I was doing was minding my own business, walking with my head down. Especially when his team won. The first guy charged me again but was held back by someone, and then three other guys were headed my way but were blocked by the police. They must have either assumed I was the troublemaker or just didn't care because I was wearing the wrong color jersey. And I'm sure they knew no one would take note. Rude fan behavior is only reported and decried when someone from Philadelphia does it.
What really scared me about this episode was my own reaction. I went from placidly depressed to pistol-whipping homicidal in about 0.2 seconds. I know what temporary insanity is now, because I became so enraged so fast that I absolutely would have stomped that guy's neck given the chance. In that moment I was filled with righteous rage and completely capable of an atrocious act. I just felt so wronged that in my mind nothing I could do that that guy would be considered indefensible. I had not been a boorish fan. I had conducted myself with class and congratulated the Cardinals fans seated in my section. I just wanted to walk back to the car and be left alone with my pain. I had done the right thing. And then this guy had to set me off. I'm not sure if this makes me unique or if we all have this inside us. If we retain some vestige of the past that probably served an excellent purpose when we were beset by saber-toothed tigers and velociraptors and that dickhead Grog in the cave next door, but is more of a liability in today's world.
In the end, I guess I learned two things. We really are just big dumb animals. And when you're in the other team's stadium, keep your head on a swivel.