- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

Right here in our nation’s capital, of all places, some people have a problem with the national anthem.

It’s not with the melody and certainly not the meaning, but when the anthem singer at a local sports event gets to the line, “O, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave.” For years now, some fans have been yelling “O!” adding the original exclamation point as Francis Scott Key wrote it and shouting with gusto and fervor.

O, how this practice irks other fans.

“It’s something that’s been bugging me for a long time,” said Mike Rucki, a longtime Washington Capitals fan and co-founder of OnFrozenBlog.com, a hockey Web site that provides a forum for those of a similar mind. “Just because it’s a tradition doesn’t mean it’s a good tradition.”

This has been going on at nearly all Washington-area pro and college events for years. There are Capitals fans and Wizards fans and Redskins fans and Nationals fans and local college fans who wish it would stop. Even some high school administrators roll their eyes when students do it.

“O” stands for Orioles. As far as anyone knows, the practice started in the late 1970s at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, the brainchild of William “Wild Bill” Hagy, the legendary super-fan who spelled “Orioles” with his body and led the fans in raucous cheers.

“It’s a baseball thing,” Mr. Rucki said. “It’s an Orioles thing. What goes on at Camden Yards should stay at Camden Yards.”

It’s a Ravens thing, too. In fact, the anthem itself is a Baltimore thing. As every schoolchild knows, Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” after the British bombarded Fort McHenry in 1814.

What would Key think now? Would he be appalled? Not because his work has regularly infused sporting events since the 1940s or that Baltimore fans have since embellished it, but because he was, gasp, a Washingtonian. Would he agree with Mr. Rucki and other rabid Caps fans, like Todd Goren?

“I think the people who do it here are idiots,” Mr. Goren said.

Veteran Redskins fan Samu Qureshi is just as adamant.

“I do not scream the ‘O.’ Absolutely not,” he said. “I actually love the national anthem. I love it as a song. It’s a beautiful song. But I don’t like the ‘O’ thing. I think it’s kind of obnoxious and disrespectful to the singer. … Let them do it at Orioles games. I vote no on the ‘O.’ ”

Mr. Goren said he is specifically against it because he passionately dislikes Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who tried for years to keep a baseball team from moving to the District. “I always thought it was kind of silly when they did it at any event that wasn’t an Oriole event,” Mr. Goren said. “Now they’re trying to prevent a team from coming here? Why are we cheering them?”

Anthem altering happens in a few other places. Atlanta fans have been known to make the last line “home of the BRAVES!” At the University of Virginia, where the alternative nickname is Wahoos, they yell “HOOS!” for “whose” (broad stripes and bright stars). Dallas Stars fans shout the name of their favorite NHL team.

When it comes to the “O,” the problem is strictly geographical. Like creeping fescue, or a rash, it even has spread beyond D.C. environs to places like Blacksburg, Va., the home of Virginia Tech.

“It just seems to me to be a no-class, meatheaded thing to do,” said Sam Riley, a professor of communication studies at the school. “It’s embarrassing.”

Mr. Riley, who is 68, acknowledges he is pretty much venting to his “inner fuddy-duddy” and insists he is not “trying to be Sam the superpatriot.” He just thinks that it’s disrespectful, like when people perform the anthem in a “country and western or hip-hop fashion,” he said.

Mr. Riley said he did not know why people yell “O,” which makes sense given that he lives someplace else. But a lot of local athletes also are clueless about its origins.

“I’ve wondered about that,” Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson said. “I thought it was some kind of tradition. Like, a celebrity was here and he started it.”

Former Redskins linebacker Ken Harvey said he was unaware of how it started, but when he heard the “O” before the game “it was like a cue,” he said. “It meant that we were ready to go. You get to that point in your mind, you’re thinking about what you’re going to do, and then you hear that, you know it’s time to play.”

Some of the Capitals assumed it was a shout-out to veteran goalie Olie Kolzig.

“When I first came here, that was my first impression of it,” forward and captain Chris Clark said.

Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik, meanwhile, knows all about the “O,” but he doesn’t want to hear it. He said in Dallas, where he grew up, Cowboys, Rangers and Mavericks fans don’t yell “STARS!” during the anthem — even though they represent the same city as the hockey team.

“If you go to a Nationals game, you probably shouldn’t say it,” he said. “It’s a Baltimore Orioles tradition. It’s a cool tradition, but if you’re there to watch the Nationals, save it for the Orioles.”

Corey Masisak contributed to this report.

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