The National Football League as a business wants to matter a great deal to its fans.
Well, what happened in the early-morning hours Tuesday in a Buffalo suburb showed that it does — too much — and sent shivers around NFL locker rooms.
Not long after the Buffalo Bills blew an 11-point lead with less than three minutes to play, two 16-year-olds thought it would be a good idea to vandalize the lawn of Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
McKelvin fumbled a kickoff with the Bills leading by 24-19 after catching the ball three yards deep in the end zone. The Patriots recovered and scored the winning touchdown.
The vandals painted the final score, 25-24, a graphic picture and an obscenity on the lawn.
Once the suspects were caught, McKelvin refused to press charges.
“It’s just one little incident. I hope it doesn’t happen any more,” McKelvin said. “I was mad; I was kind of like angry in a way, but I was laughing a little bit for what they put on there. It was just something that isn’t appropriate.”
McKelvin had his spirits lifted when a neighbor cut the grass in order to erase what had been painted.
While McKelvin shrugged off the incident, several players had a more harsh reaction.
Bills linebacker Kawika Mitchell said such behavior crossed a line.
The reaction by Bills fans on the Internet wasn’t any better.
The thread on one popular message board was titled “I hate Leotis McKelvin.” And one message read: “He should die … end of story.”
In Baltimore, Ravens fullback Le’Ron McClain didn’t understand why fans would take a game so seriously.
“To have an idiot do something like that to a man and his house or anything and it’s about a silly game of football, it’s pretty much crazy to me,” McClain told the Baltimore Sun. “Every player in the NFL needs to be on alert about that.”
With the advent of Twitter, the popular social networking tool, players are also seeing some increased hostility in cyberspace.
McClain said he has banned as many as 10 people from his Twitter account because of racial slurs. Other players around the league have reported similar incidents. They likely only will escalate as the first regular season since the explosion of Twitter moves along.
The NFL itself deserves part of the blame for the rabid nature of some of its fans.
The league has gone out of its way in recent years to become a year-round phenomenon although the season only lasts five months, including the playoffs.
Aside from creating its own network, the NFL has encouraged the sport to be talked about for 365 days through its lucrative television contracts.
The NFL Draft is studied for months. Now the league has moved it into prime-time and stretched it out for three days.
The free-agency period is hyped to no end, even though players that switch teams rarely sway the balance of power.
There are more off-season practices now. Information about training-camp sessions are desired by more and more fans starving for information about their favorite teams.
The message: Everything matters. Every practice, every appearance and certainly every game.