The last time the Crosstown Shootout was staged at Cincinnati Gardens, a spectator showed up bearing a ticket and a horse costume.
What: UC (4-1) vs. Xavier (5-1)
When: 5 p.m. today
Where: Cincinnati Gardens
Line: Xavier by 9
Local TV: Channel 9
Radio: WLW-AM (700)
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His apparent aim was to torment University of Cincinnati center Art Long on behalf of Xavier basketball, to remind Long of his bizarre police record and distract him from his duty, to enhance the Muskies' home-court advantage with an incendiary sight gag.
It might have worked, too, had not Jeff Fogelson interceded. The Xavier athletic director has a fine sense of humor, but a stern sense of decorum. The fan was told he would lose the horse costume or lose his seat.
''He came back after me,'' Fogelson said. ''He said, 'I buy a ticket. I can do what I want.' I said, 'No, that's not true. We have standards. Behave appropriately.'
''We're not obligated to provide a venue for someone who has an ax to grind.''
There is a fine line between heckling and harassment, and that line tends to become a little blurry around this time each year. UC-Xavier has become one of college basketball's most compelling rivalries - intensely competitive, invariably memorable - but it does not always bring out the best in its spectators.
''I've always said that UC swaggers,'' said Andy MacWilliams, Xavier's amplified cheering section. ''They're the big-city school and they expect to rule the roost. They're looking for Xavier to go back into the weeds.''
Talk of ending it
While Xavier fans sometimes see UC as arrogant and - or unprincipled, UC fans sometimes find Xavier gratingly sanctimonious. The animosity between the two schools ran so deep that there was talk of stopping the series for the sake of everyone's blood pressure.
It would have been a shame to eliminate this event from the local calendar, but it might have been the only way Bob Huggins and Pete Gillen could have continued to coexist following the infamous 1994 no-handshake game.
Gillen later left for Providence, lamenting there was ''too much hate'' in this heated rivalry. His successor, Skip Prosser, has sought to lower the temperatures.
''It's great for Xavier to have a successful program like Cincinnati only 10 minutes away,'' Prosser told the crowd at Friday's Crosstown Shootout luncheon. ''It's not like we have to go cross-country to find out where we need to go.''
This was a nice sentiment, for it acknowledged UC's national stature and that these two dissimilar programs share common goals. If nothing else, both teams benefit from the other's presence because it serves as a safeguard against sloppiness. Both sides know that if they lose this game, they are sure to hear about it until the next one.
Competition is healthy. Perspective, however, can be hard.
War takes to e-mail
In the wake of Ruben Patterson's recent suspension for receiving improper benefits, one Tom Ryan addressed an e-mail to this office to complain about a related column. He suggested a story on Xavier's ''constant chest-pounding on graduation rates,'' and implied that corners must have been cut to achieve them.
Those Bearcat fans inclined to correspond with this newspaper typically defend their team by denouncing Xavier. What does one thing have to do with the other? Only that the UC crowd is sensitive to how their team is portrayed vis-a-vis the competition on Victory Parkway. Xavier fans, of course, are quick to prey on that sensitivity.
''I remember a kid coming to a (UC) game in a striped prison uniform,'' Fogelson said. ''I asked him to ditch it. Anything that's considered in bad taste, we're not going to allow it. We'll take our chances with the First Amendment.''
Because a ticket to a sporting event is regarded as a revokable license, fan behavior can be controlled. Because fan behavior at the Crosstown Shootout can be provocative, Fogelson is prepared to crack down quickly this evening.
''Something will happen,'' he said. ''It always does.''