James Burns: Do you have what it takes to be the ultimate fan?

James Burns sports editor
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG James Burns sports editor Merced Sun-Star

Apparently, it doesn't take much to keep the belly-scratching, channel-flipping people of this country glued to their TVs.

Give a maniacal wife, her pin-cushion husband and their eight kids a boom and a couple of cameras, and suddenly...

TLC is killing the NBA playoffs in TV ratings.

Which got me thinking: If TV can turn Average Joes and Plain Janes into reality stars, brides and grooms, football players and pop groups, why not a rabid sports fan?

Ever tried grabbing a beer at halftime of an NBA game or a seat in the Black Hole? Most times, you pay for each in blood.

I've already got the pilot script written, too -- Making the Fan: Merced County edition.

Contestants will be put through a series of challenges meant to test their level of fandom. With each step, the field will be whittled down until there is only one...

Bleacher Bum.


IN THIS EVENT our Joes and Janes will have to carry two lawn chairs, a cooler and their personal effects from the Merced High parking lot to the softball diamond.

Sounds like a simple enough task, until...

You cross the first obstacle, a grassy patch near the courtyard, and realize you've just stepped into a swamp.

Inevitably, your sneakers will be caked in so much mud and yuck that you'll feel like you're wearing concrete boots.

Fortunately, the water rolling off the pool deck nearby offers a reprieve. Contestants can stop here to clean their feet and catch their breath.

Beware, though.

Your agility will be tested as scores of half-naked teenagers dance around you, playing slap-towel after swim practice.

From there, it's a straight shot to the softball diamond. But can your final kick carry you another 150 yards? Can you keep a white-knuckle grip on those chairs and that cooler?

Only the strong will make it before first pitch. Keep in mind: Contestants will be downgraded if they lose items along the way.


THIS NEXT challenge is a test of patience and your pain threshold.

Contestants will watch a regional rivalry match hosted by the Atwater volleyball team.

Arrive early enough to get a front-row seat behind the scorer's table and team benches.

Contestants who do not sit in the designated area will be disqualified.

For the next hour and a half, your body will be needled, poked and abused like Steve-O from those Jackass movies.

Volleyballs will be smashed at you from all directions. And, yes, players will take aim at your face.

Little kids will climb all over you, stomping on your groin as if it were an empty can.

Those seated behind you will tug on your hair, knee you in the back and "accidentally" punch you in the kidney to clear space.

Other fans will obstruct your view, side-stepping in front of you, so close, in fact, that you'll be able to count the number of stitches on the rear of their jeans.

Along the way, you'll have to deal with sticky fingers, nose-cringing aromas, nacho cheese drips and soda spills.

Contestants who remain in their seat for the duration of the match -- and keep their cool -- survive and advance.


BY NOW, the remaining contestants should be ready for the final challenge.

Contestants will be asked to complete a series of tasks during a Friday night football game at Don Odishoo Field.

Fastest time wins.

Contestants will arrive during the height of game-day traffic. The clock starts at the corner of Yosemite and G.

Your first task is to find a parking spot. Those who park along a red curb, in front of a fire hydrant or create their own space will receive a 4-minute penalty.

Task No. 2 begins once you've paid your admission fee. Wolf down two hot dogs and soda, shake at least three administrators' hands and then proceed to your seat.

Ah, yes, your seat.

There's always a twist in a game like this.

Because the players are already on the field and the band is blasting the fight song, chances are there are no good seats available.

So Task No. 3 is a hike.

Climb the stadium steps and find a seat beneath the press box. Contestants who use the side ramps and hand rails will receive a 2-minute penalty.

Task No. 4 is pretty obvious: Get out.

How fast can you make it from your seat, to the bathroom (because, by now, those two hot dogs are barking in your stomach) and to your car?

First contestant through the intersection at Yosemite and G wins.

So what do you think?

Anyone wanna become a Bleacher Bum -- the country's newest dud-to-stud reality star?

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at