By Alan Prendergast
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After a few photos with the roving Tecate girls, here to promote what the Rapids have christened the inaugural Tecate Cup, the diehards make their way to section 100. But there's not much to root for tonight. The game is a lackluster, boring effort, characterized by stingy, defensive soccer. Still, the supporters give it their best. Clumped together as close to the field as possible, they immediately start the chants.
"Over there, it's so quiet! Over here, it's a riot," they sing out in unison, their boisterous voices projected out across the stadium, contrasting starkly with the predominantly calm Hispanic fans, who stare at section 100. "Walking along, singing a song, walking in a Rapids wonderland!"
"Mama, mama can't you see? Mama, mama can't you see? What the Rapids done to me! What the Rapids done to me!"
"Mexico ain't got no Dick's!" taunts another chant, a play on the stadium's name.
The atmosphere is fun, if at times a little forced — only half of the small section is filled. But there's a whirlwind of confetti, healthy Tecate sales and then, in the eightieth minute of the game, several baby-faced Rapids fans light two smoke bombs. Pink and purple smoke spills into the air.
Ten minutes later, the fire-starters — who can't be much older than fifteen — are marched out of the stadium by a Commerce City police officer, who's wearing his most hardened scowl.
The game ends in a zero-zero tie and, chucking all rules and regulations out the window, the Tecate Cup proceeds immediately to penalty kicks, foregoing the traditional overtime periods. The Rapids eventually prevail, and the team gathers at midfield to accept the meaningless honor of Tecate Cup Champions.
"Hey everybody," a Rapids fan in the team's newly minted third jersey yells out, flashing a wicked grin. "We finally won a trophy!"
Victoria Baldwin — aka "Chili" on the highly catty fans message board, www.bigsoccer.com — started attending Rapids games at the old Mile High Stadium almost immediately after moving here from Washington, D.C. She had attended D.C. United games when the league began in 1996 and decided to see what Colorado had to offer. Her husband worked nights, so the now 37-year-old ESL teacher went alone. But she found her zeal out of place. "I would yell something to the ref about a bad call and people would look at me like I was crazy," Baldwin remembers.
Fortunately, there was an entire section that people viewed as crazy: section 127, an area that drew the Rapids' initial supporters groups, from the River Ratz to the Jolly Green Men to the Azules Negroes, cliques of fans that came and went but were united in their affinity for soccer and craziness.
Hooligans they were not, but fanatics they most certainly were, and Baldwin found herself drawn to the scene. She followed the team to Invesco and became good friends with many of the supporters, played soccer with them on the weekends and eventually helped form the Centennial Firm (a reference to Colorado's status as the Centennial State) in 2005, assuming the position of chairman of the board. "We decided that if we gave what we were doing a foundational structure and had a representative board, it would be easier to represent everyone," she says.
In the C-Firm's heyday at Invesco, Rapids goalkeeper Joe Cannon would leap up into the supporters' section after every shutout. Fan and player interaction was par for the course, with players calling out fans by name, offering up jerseys and balls.
But there were always problems with security guards at Invesco, Baldwin recalls, who would glare at the diehards. Raucous behavior stood out much more clearly in a cavernous yet empty football den, and the whole situation was extremely uncomfortable. As the team prepared to move to Dick's last season, members of the C-Firm met with Rapids officials to try to iron out the wrinkles and form a better relationship with the front office.
"We were invited out for the topping-out ceremony at the stadium," Baldwin says. "And we walked around with ticket reps and other front office people to try to figure out where to sit." C-Firm wanted to be behind the goals at the north end, so as to be closer to players coming on and off the field, but ended up getting section 114 (and later section 100), toward the southeast end of the stadium.
"We wanted to continue that player interaction, but it was not to be," Baldwin says. "Initially, they wanted us at the top of 114, which would have been totally ridiculous to have people banging on drums at the back of a section, over the heads of non-diehards. It took a lot of negotiating, but eventually we were given the front rows. We had hoped for a better relationship than with the security at Invesco, but from the very first game, Dick's security was right there, monitoring us."
In order to bring in flags or signage attached to any sort of stick, Baldwin says she had to present the front office with a variety of pole prototypes, so that the safest material and length of said material could be determined. Even when the signs were approved, however, some of their content was not. Last year, Baldwin made a sign for the highly anticipated match-up with the Los Angeles Galaxy and newly acquired star David Beckham, who then couldn't play due to injury. The sign's message, "If you came just for Beckham, sucks for you," was deemed too offensive to share.