Tim McKernan wore nothing but a hat, boots and a painted orange barrel suspended around his waist to win a $10 bet with his brother.
McKernan wagered he could appear on national TV while at a Denver Broncos game in 1977.
So began a string of 33 seasons of a working-class man, a painter for United Airlines, becoming a football franchise’s icon known as “Barrel Man.”
James “Jimmy” Goldstein realized what sports meant to him at age 15 during the early 1950s, when he kept statistics while sitting courtside at Milwaukee Hawks games. This prompted a lifetime urge to surround himself by all things NBA. A real estate and fashion mogul who became a self-made millionaire, Goldstein also became a season ticket holder to Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers games. He embarked upon a 20-year streak of attending all but one game of the NBA Finals. He missed Game Five of the Cleveland Cavaliers-Golden State Warriors series this year because of a delayed flight.
Whether you are rich or poor or anywhere in between, when did it happen to you? When did you feel the epiphany that transformed you into a diehard fan of your favorite team or athlete?
The time has arrived to kickoff, tipoff, faceoff and throw the first pitch of the Best Fan Ever contest.
The USA Today Network and the Poughkeepsie Journal want to find the best sports fan in the nation and reward him or her with $4,000 to spend on a dream sports vacation.
Over the next three months, the nominating and voting process will unfold locally and across the country. A random voter will receive a $1,000 cash prize for his or her own fantasy sports trip.
You don’t have to be a multi-millionaire like Goldstein to nominate yourself. You don’t have to dance, paint your face, have a consecutive games streak, camp out at arenas or have retired Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter on your smart phone contacts list, either. Although any or all of those might help, you really just have to be your most passionate self.
Here are the tales of two of New York’s most iconic fan symbols.
Milton Ousland, 46, realized his mission in life as a New York Yankees fan as a high school freshman in Brooklyn, New York.
He and his classmates were struggling, so their teacher devised a way to motivate them. Any student receiving a 100 on the next test would win a prize.
“Me and this girl, we were the only two who got 100,” Ousland said.
The teacher said: “You guys have a choice here. I’ve got a Sony Walkman or a Yankee ticket.”
Receiving a Walkman, a personal cassette player, in 1984 would be the equivalent of receiving an iPad today. But the sight of the Yankees ticket enthralled Ousland. He felt like Charlie in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” who found the golden ticket.
“I was a poor kid from Brooklyn,” said Ousland, who works for the Bloomingdale’s department store, designing window displays. “Then I opened up the envelope. You talk about the light bulb going up over the head. My life literally changed when I opened up that ticket. I could not believe I could go to Yankee Stadium for three dollars. She gets a $35, $40 Walkman, and I got a Yankee ticket. She was happy. But I was going to the stadium. I’m going to go to every Yankees game that I can. I’m going to go to Every. Single. Game.
“Then one day, I sat in the right-field bleachers. I’m hearing people doing all of these songs and chants. They were a little bit intimidating. But then I kept going, and I was going earlier and earlier. I was going to batting practice at 5:30. The game was at 7.”
There were so many characters there, Ousland said. Ali Ramirez, “the Cowbell Man,” became as big a fixture in the Bronx as the “Barrel Man” did in Denver. So did Tina Lewis, the “Queen of the Bleachers.” She assigned seats in what was supposed to be an open seating section based on seniority. And there’s Ousland himself, who inherited the cowbell from Ramirez, who died in May 1996.
“It’s all about a gut feeling, when you think the Yankees need a rally,” Ousland said of when he would start clanging the cowbell. There’s no missing the metal-on-metal sound, reverberating throughout old and now new Yankee Stadium.
Like Ousland, Edwin Anzalone was 15 and in New York when that magical moment of becoming a fan happened.
“It was 1975,” Anzalone said. “My brother took me to my first Jets game. Before, I was more of a baseball fan. But I went, and it was nuts. From that point on, I went to every game I could get to.”
In 1986, Anzalone started doing the Jets chant: “J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!”
“I started running up and down the aisle to get the fans going,” Anzalone said. “I consider it the greatest chant in all of sports.”
“It was a progression,” Anzalone said of his celebrity as a fan. “It didn’t happen overnight. As the years went on, it got nuttier and nuttier.”
In 1991, a friend painted a fireman helmet green and encouraged Anzalone, then a firefighter, to wear it. That’s when Chris Berman on ESPN nicknamed him “Fireman Ed” and the legend began to grow.
By 2007, Anzalone grew tired of the attention he was getting.
“Social media is taking over,” Anzalone said. “Everything is intensified, tenfold. We had a lot of fun, but with what’s going on in society with the phones and stuff, it was time for me to leave.”
Well, sort of. Anzalone leaves the fireman hat at home, but he still goes to Jets games, sitting in section 149 behind the end zone.
Best Fan Ever contest
Whether your favorite team plays at Arlington High School, Yankee Stadium or McCann Arena, every sport has its passionate fans. Those who wear wigs and costumes, paint their faces, wave signs and scream ’til they are hoarse. Who laugh and cry with every victory and defeat.
If you fit that description, you may be the mid-Hudson Valley’s biggest sports fan. Let’s find out.
Enter the Best Fan Ever contest, run by the Poughkeepsie Journal and the USA Today Network. Submit a photo of yourself and a written description of why you are the area’s biggest, most passionate sports fan between Tuesday and Sept. 26. Then the Journal will vote to select our Best Fan Ever.
Our local winner will automatically qualify for a nationwide contest, going up against fellow fans from across the country. The Best Fan Ever national contest winner will receive $4,000 gift card to use on a sports excursion of their dreams. And one lucky voter nationally will be selected to receive a $1,000 gift card.
To win, you first need to enter. Log on to http://poughkeepsiejournal.secondstreetapp.com/bestfanever/gallery to submit you photo and Best Fan Ever profile today.