A police cruiser -- lights flashing -- was drawing a crowd at halftime last night in the McMahon Stadium parking lot. A speed trap to nab fans racing away, perhaps?
The first 30 minutes of last night's Calgary Stampeders-Ottawa Renegades contest wasn't criminal but it was dull enough to scare away even the most ardent CFL enthusiast --those who bothered to show up, anyway.
Announced attendance was 28,114 paying customers. Some 10,000 of those ticket buyers found something better to do, despite a beautiful night for football.
Why? They apparently thought, although a football game was scheduled, one wasn't likely to break out.
Apathy appears to be setting in on the Stamps' dismal season and for good reason.
After an amazing stretch over several seasons when a 30,000-plus crowd at McMahon was virtually guaranteed, last night's disgraceful turnout could be the start of a frightening trend.
Despite some 24,000 season ticket holders, hundreds of red seats between the 20-yard-lines couldn't be given away.
By the second quarter, frugal fans from the cheap seats were migrating toward the midfield stripe to see how the high rollers live.
Indifference is the scourge seeping into the locals who've decided they have better things to do than spend a night out with the Stamps. In fact, those who turned up cheered louder for the silly on-field contests than anything the Stampeders' pitiful offence produced on the turf.
By the time the final gun sounded, mercifully ending a 26-24 Ottawa win, one creative gang in Section C even slipped paper bags over their heads.
"Obviously, some season-ticket holders didn't show up but the fans have been great, even now that the team is 2-11," argues team president Ron Rooke.
Survivors of the Save Our Stamps era of the late 1980s can remember when this city didn't give a damn about the football team -- and for good reason.
The fans had endured a lengthy dry spell when the team wasn't competitive, bottoming out in 1985 with just three wins in an 18-game season. Attendance dipped toward a scant 10,000 for some games, quiet enough for fans to hear calls in the huddle.
The high times of the 1990s -- with five Grey Cup appearances in a nine-year stretch -- duped many into thinking the Stamps had won such a faithful following that the good times would never end.
That couldn't be further from the truth.
"Things go in cycles and we enjoyed such success in the '90s," Rooke points out.
"The early part of the 2000s haven't been that great but we're rebuilding and hopefully the fans will remain patient. This year we had two sellouts. Last year, we had just one. We've had three crowds under 30,000 this season but most clubs in the CFL would love to have our attendance problems."
The Stamps' performance this year, coupled with an offence that not only isn't productive but also lacks creativity and excitement, is also turning fans away. Just five touchdowns in six games doesn't create much of a buzz for ticket buyers.
While football purists revel in a great defence -- and the Stampeders unit might be the best in the CFL -- offence sells tickets to the average fan.
And the football faithful in Calgary are no longer buying what the Stamps are selling.
It's time to start investing in players on offence and begin building a unit that can move the ball as efficiently as the Stamps defence shuts down opposing teams.
When Stamps QB Marcus Crandell finally cracked the goal-line for a third-quarter TD, someone quipped the rare endzone visit warranted lighting the flame atop the Calgary Tower.
He was joking, of course, but at least it would indicate people in this city still care.