|Wednesday, November 20
Updated: November 26, 8:07 PM ET
The ultimate form of fan participation
By Darren Rovell
After hearing that Duke's football team had snapped its 23-game losing streak with a 23-16, season-opening victory over East Carolina, Neil Gilman sat by his phone and waited for the call.
"Congratulations on the big win," Gilman told Woody Fish, Duke's director of football operations, after receiving the call he had been expecting. "Can I get you fixed up for next week?"
"I keep a real sharp eye on where goalposts go down," said Gilman, who notes that the goalpost industry grosses more than $1 million annually. "I'm always rooting for the underdog."
Business has been good for Gilman this season. His company has replaced goalposts at five schools, including at University of Louisville' Cardinal Stadium, University of Tulsa's Skelly Stadium and, most recently, at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, where University of Iowa's fans destroyed a goalpost after the Hawkeyes clinched a share of the Big Ten title by beating the University of Minnesota.
"The goalpost is a symbol," Gilman said. "A football field is not a football field without the goalposts and it's almost sacred in that respect."
That's one of the reasons why rebel-minded students take such joy in destroying them after their school's team beats a nationally-ranked opponent, clinches a conference championship or ends an extended losing streak.
Gilman's goalposts -- fully loaded with wind-indicators and yellow glow paint -- cost $5,600 apiece. That's comparable to competitors such as Triman Tele-Goal, which has supplied aluminum posts to the University of Miami, University of Tennessee, Washington State and Indiana University, among others.
Keith Burns, head coach at Tulsa, told students at a bonfire the night before the Golden Hurricanes snapped a 17-game losing streak that he would pay for new goalposts if they became casualties of a victory celebration. After Tulsa beat UTEP, Golden Hurricanes fans dismantled a goalpost and deposited it in four pieces on the grassy area in front of the school's library. The school, though, never asked Burns to open his checkbook.
"Luckily, our facilities people stripped off the padding before the students could take it," Marc Tuttle, the school's assistant athletics director for operations, said with a laugh.
The University of Mississippi proved resourceful after a goalpost was successfully pulled from the ground following Ole Miss' 17-14 victory over No. 8 University of Florida on Oct. 5. Fans, undeterred when police used pepper spray to quell the crowd, extricated the goalpost and carried it from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to the school's campus, where it was later retrieved. Although it was torn in two and had signatures all over it, the university was without a backup and had to weld the goalpost back together so it could be used the following weekend when the Rebels played Arkansas State.
After a new goalpost arrived, the Ole Miss Loyalty Foundation sold 130 six-inch strips of the goal, accompanied by a plaque, to fans for $100 each. The foundation was able to cover the cost of the new goalpost, buy a backup and still have more than $4,000 left over, according to Brad Teague, the associate director of the foundation.
That Iowa's fans ripped down a goalpost in the Metrodome last week was a break from tradition. It is believed the last time an opposing team tore down a goalpost was when students at the University of California tore down a goalpost at Stanford after losing the 100th edition of the "Big Game" in 1997.
"This was not on anyone's radar," said Bill Lester, the executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and manages the Metrodome. "I guess you have to be from Iowa to attempt to take an 18-foot pole through revolving doors."
The goalpost eventually ended up on the Metrodome field after fans attempted to remove it through the concourse level.
Lester said he is billing the University of Iowa for a new goalpost, and Hawkeyes athletics director Bob Bowlsby said the school will accept the $5,000 charge. "It's a longstanding tradition and our fans haven't done that in a while," Bowlsby said.
No goalposts came down this past week when Texas Tech beat the University of Texas. Although the prohibition of fans on the stadium's turf didn't hold up in the celebration, the goal posts did since school officials dismantled them before students could get to them. Last year the plan was not in place when Texas Tech shut out Texas A&M and the south goalpost was destroyed. Their opponent has used lithium grease to keep the students from climbing up on the structure in an attempt to shake it down.
Schools like Arizona, Boston College, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Wisconsin have invested $30,000 for a pair for "indestructible" goal posts from Chicago-based Merchants Environmental Industries. The piping company has been manufacturing goalposts for the past 12 years and guarantees their steel goals won't fall from shear human force alone. Two years ago, Merchants Environmental gave Kansas State two new goalposts after one fell following a victory over Nebraska.
"All bets are off when students go out and use tools to get it down," said Robert Allen, president of Merchant Environmental. "The only time there's a problem is when kids use television cable, chains or ropes. That usually happens after 20 to 30 minutes, when a group becomes a mob, they come up with an idea and start to work in unison."
It's not always about the monetary loss. Much of the concern over a post-game celebration involving goalposts is about safety.
"Schools don't want them to fall," said Bill Szaroletta, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue who had his students design their version of an indestructible goalpost last year. "As more and more goal posts go down, more people are going to get hurt and the athletic departments won't be able to afford the insurance."
Szaroletta said his company will be sending two goal post designs -- which stand on two poles instead of one -- to Purdue officials, who will decide whether the school will pursue patents for future rights to sell the goalposts.
"We're very concerned about the safety of the fans around a goal post, especially when it snaps," said Marty Sargent, an associate athletics director at Oklahoma State, where fans tore down a goalpost after the Cowboys defeated Nebraska, 24-21, on Oct. 19. "There's a lot of sharp edges and it's easy for people to get cut or break a leg in the pileup. It's a Catch-22 in that you want the fans to enjoy the moment, but you also want to prevent injuries."
In 1983, a woman was critically injured in the Harvard-Yale post-game celebration at Yale when the goalpost hit her in the head. A similar incident happened in 1998, when a student was injured celebrating Oregon State's victory over Oregon in the rivalry dubbed the Civil War.
Anticipating when fans may feel compelled to tear down the goalposts helped the University of Louisville be prepared for the eventuality of an upset of Florida State, which brought a No. 4 ranking into the game earlier this season.
The school didn't have a backup goal and knew if the team beat the Seminoles and the goalposts came down that Thursday night, they wouldn't be ready for the state's biggest high school game that was to be played at Cardinal Stadium the next night. Louisville defeated Florida State and thanks to their foresight, a backup was on hand and the high school game was played as scheduled.
Burking up the wrong tree
Burk now hopes to run a consumer education program detailing who are the sponsors of the PGA Tour and the Masters, what they sell and how they market their products to women. If there's one organization she wants to put pressure on, it would be IBM.
"That was the one sponsor that kind of stuck it in our face," Burk said. "They were still willing to continue to sponsor the Masters until (Augusta National Golf Club chairman) Hootie (Johnson) made it look like he fired all of them."
Burk said the organization, which has an operating budget of about $1 million, has received a few donations since the debate turned public, but the total is not a significant amount. "I'm not in this for the money," Burk said. "That's not to say if a nice check came in that would really get us over the hump and allow us to do some things, we wouldn't take it."
Be your own caddy
Buy me some walnuts and Cracker Jack
And soup was supposed to be good for you ...
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb became the fourth Campbell's Soup pitchman to suffer an injury while under contract as an endorser for the soup. Athletes also might want to be wary of being asked to grace the cover of EA Sports' John Madden Football video game. Their last three athletes to appear on the cover, Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper and St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk, have become hurt in the seasons in which they were pitching the game.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org