Biggest Bengals Fan?

There’s a Columbus man in the National Football League Hall of Fame.
He never suited up for the Buckeyes.

In fact, he never really suited up for anyone.

Still, Shawn “Whodeybaby” Moore, despite being a child care professional by day, has parlayed an expensive—and what some would argue extreme—hobby into his own plaque in Canton.

Yes, Moore is part of Bengals lore now, as the iconic super fan “Whodeybaby,” quite possibly the most famous fan of an Ohio sports team who wasn’t even born here.

One day you’re up at 5:30 a.m. spray-painting a foam hat with Bengal stripes, and nearly two decades later you’re part of a nationwide fraternity of like-minded weirdos—many who use their “pseudo-celebrity” status to raise money for charity and give fans access to the cult/culture of their favorite teams.
Moore sat down with (614) before his 19th season to strip down the Whodeybaby war paint and give us a glimpse of the normal guy behind the crazy fanatic.

Okay, well let’s start with the obvious: how the hell did this happen?
It all started when I was six years old watching a game between the Bengals and Dolphins while living in Florida. I saw this team that had really cool helmets. The next year we moved to Ohio to be closer to my grandmother, and my dad was a firm believer in you had to root for the hometown team. That left me with two options: the Browns or the Bengals. The Bengals had the really cool helmets so it was an easy choice. From there the passion continued to grow, buying anything and everything Bengals-related. I attended my first live game when I was a junior in high school and fell in love even more. Fast forward to 1999: my girlfriend, now wife, bought us tickets to go see the last game at Riverfront Stadium. That game was incredible; first off, they crushed the Browns and secondly, I was selected as the “Oscar Meyer Hot Dog of The Game” and that pretty much sealed my fate!

That’s insane to think of how far a lark like that has come.
In 2003, Visa was running a contest for NFL fans to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton,Ohio. I thought, “what the hell, I’ll give it a shot.” I composed an essay and sent in pictures and surprisingly I was selected. I got presented with a plaque on the 50-yard-line at Paul Brown Stadium and had a plaque installed in the Hall of Fame. Here was this regular guy who was now amongst football royalty—it was a surreal experience. After getting inducted, I had a chance to meet some of the other iconic fans from throughout the league -men and women I had seen on TV my whole life. After meeting these people I became aware of all the good that was being done by these people raising money for charities, visiting hospitals etc. I then realized there was more to this than just getting my face on TV or getting a picture or an interview in a newspaper. So fast forward now to 2017 and I’m closing in on almost 20 years of wearing warpaint (—it’s not makeup) and a big cowboy hat. While I know someday this will come to end and I will just be a regular guy attending games—I don’t see that happening anytime soon!

Do you feel like you’re a part of the team lore now?
I guess in a way I do. I have been doing this so long now I have people who I met years ago, took pictures with their kids, and now their kids are graduating high school, college, getting married and having kids … I’ve been a part of their game day experience for each step of those journeys.

What do people commonly get wrong about their perceptions of “super fans.” For one, I have to imagine this is one of the most expensive hobbies on the planet…
We do not get paid by the team! I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked if the Bengals bought my tickets or if I can I get tickets for someone because “obviously I get them free.” Along those same lines, we don’t get merchandise or memorabilia from the team. Occasionally I may get something for a charity auction. But no, I can’t get you free stuff! It is a very expensive hobby: you have your tickets, which at $70 a piece 10 times a year adds up. Then you factor in the travel, which for me is four hours of driving for every home game—again 10 times a year. Another misconception is that we only do it for the TV time. Don’t get me wrong, that part is fun at times, but that is not the only reason we do it. You can usually tell the guys that are just there to make SportsCenter [versus] the ones that have been doing it for quite a while and just do it for the love of their team.

What keeps you doing it? Obviously, it’s more than just partying and sticking your tongue out.
One of the big reasons I keep doing it is for the kids. They get a huge kick out of seeing this big guy wearing face paint and a big hat and they get a chance to meet him, shake his hand, give him a high five—it makes their day. I have trading cards of myself that I pass out to the kids and the looks on their faces when they get those is priceless. For them, this could be as close as they get to meeting a member of the Bengals; they feel like meeting me is connecting them to the team. For some of them this may be the only game they ever get to go to, so if I can make that experience a little bit better by taking two minutes out of my day to say hello and take a picture … why wouldn’t I?

Speaking of community, it seems like you belong to a nationwide network of superfans. Tell me more about belonging to such a unique fraternity.
I do belong to one of the most unique and exclusive fraternities out there. It’s called Pro Football’s Ultimate Fan Association (pfufa.org). We are over 300 members strong, with fans from all over the league we have at least one fan from 31 of the 32 represented in the group. The group is strongly focused on charity, raising thousands of dollars for various charities in their cities every year. When planning road trips or away games, all I have to do is send a text or make a call and a fan in that city will help find tickets, give you a place to crash for the night, or let you know the best place to stay. You don’t have to worry about what to do or where to go while in their town and you kind of have built-in protection from the heavily intoxicated jerks at away games.

There’s a little wrestler in your persona, yes? I pick up some Ultimate Warrior/Macho Man vibes. What else is part of your inspiration?
There is a bit in there. [Hulk] Hogan was an influence in the beginning. I would wear orange and black feather boas, which were great unless it was windy or 90 degrees during the preseason, and then they would become sweaty globs of feathers. I would be “molting” all over the stadium. There’s a little Warrior in there with the arm bands, but those are dual purpose—they hold my sleeves up to show off the Bengals tattoo and they make my biceps look bigger! [laughs] There’s also a little KISS in there, hence the face-paint and the tongue. The tongue out also keeps me from having to figure out what to do with my face—smile? Look mean? Solves all those problems [laughs].

As a diehard fan do you stay on the positive side? I imagine it could get tricky if someone sees you getting down on the team. (Poor Andy Dalton…)
I do stay on the positive side. I never understand why or how people can be so negative towards the team. I look at football games as my escape for the week—for four hours while the team is on the field, I’m not thinking about work, bills, or anything else other than what’s happening on the field. Plus being a face of the fan base, I can’t be seen yelling expletives at the team. There’s a reason I’m in the stands and not on the field; the men out there have more talent and knowledge of the situation so if I’m going to judge them I’m going to do it silently. And you leave the Jungle Ginger out of this, he will lead us to the promised land! [laughs]

 

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Travis Hoewischer

I've been working in journalism in central Ohio for more than a decade, and have been lucky enough to be a part of (614) Magazine since the very first issue. Proud to live in a city that still cares – and still reads.

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