In Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," a crowd evolves into a mob before readers' eyes, and the transition is so smooth you don't even realize it's happening until it's too late to stop.
We use the phrase "mob mentality" all the time, but actually watching it unfold is a frightening experience. In yet another example of life imitating art, it happened near the end of the Jacksonville Jaguars' victory over the Cleveland Browns Sunday.
When officials decided to review and subsequently overturn a play in which the Browns had apparently picked up a first down en route to what would have been a game-winning touchdown, local Cleveland fans pelted the field with thousands of plastic beer bottles.
The source of their wrath: the officials waited a play to call for the review because the Browns rushed to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball and stop the clock, leaving them no time to do otherwise.
Replays showed the officials made the right call in overturning the play. Browns' receiver Quincy Morgan never had possession of the ball, so the apparent first down pass was correctly ruled incomplete.
The next night on national television, New Orleans Saints fans showed what happened in Cleveland was hardly an isolated incident. When a pass interference call went against the home team, they, too, pelted the field with beer bottles and other objects.
In fact, it's an all too familiar scene. And it doesn't just happen when fans get caught up in the heat of battle.
Cities that win championships have to brace themselves for possible rioting by unruly fans who succumb to a "mob mentality" while celebrating their team's success.
It's an ugly side of human nature that should serve to remind us each time it happens that we need to be on guard against the tendencies within all of us that can allow a "mob mentality" to prevail.
That's why the ugliest part of all is not what the fans did, but what the Browns' owner and coach said after the game in justifying and encouraging their behavior.
Owner Carmen Policy said he liked "the fact that fans care," and Coach Butch Davis said he was "proud to be here."
Like Mark Twain said: "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."