There were some obvious things for David Gallop to mention during a cosy chat on an obscure Queensland radio station. The record attendance for the first week of the finals; that the NRL play-offs had attracted a greater total average national television audience than the AFL (2,450,000 to 2,239, 000).
However, as anyone with more media training than a newborn chimpanzee featuring in a promotional photograph at Taronga Zoo should have known, putting the words ''Melbourne Storm fans'' and ''terrorists'' in the same postcode - let alone the same sentence - was not exactly staying ''on message''.
At the risk of letting the facts get in the way of a good story, Gallop did not call Storm fans terrorists. He merely used a disastrously provocative comparison between the passion that motivates cold-blooded murderers to throw bombs, and that which motivated the Storm fans to throw some harsh names - but not a single stick or stone - his way on Sunday afternoon.
But, of course, to use that allusion - especially with September 11 commemorations still fresh in the mind - was on the suicidal side of careless. As Gallop should have known, the precious little subtlety in his comparison was instantly lost on literal-minded elements of the media, and Storm supporters.
Indeed, given the chief executive's already poisonous reputation in Melbourne, he might as well have referred to the Storm's big three as Osama Bin Slater, Yasser Smith and Carlos ''The Jackal'' Cronk. Some laboured attempts by Gallop to explain his comparison on Melbourne radio, and a qualified apology, only poured petrol on an inferno fuelled by a hostile local media.
As Gallop knew long before he was jeered while presenting the JJGiltinan Shield, he is in a no-win situation in Melbourne. Storm fans blame him for what some insist were harsh measures taken against the club. They blame him for not coming to Melbourne to explain the penalties immediately, even if, as Gallop has claimed several times, he was told to stay away. They blame him for Channel Nine's refusal to show Storm games at a reasonable hour. Gallop has not yet gone on the record about global warming, John Farnham's ''comeback'' tour or the taste of light beer. But they probably blame him for that, too. In the face of such unequivocal, and somewhat irrational, antipathy Gallop's best weapon was silence. And, when he walked back down the tunnel after being ritually humiliated on Sunday, the chief executive retained his dignity. It was the abusive fans who seemed out of step with reality. Time, and their brilliant team, had moved on.
Then, in one utterance, Gallop tumbled from the moral high ground so quickly he made Jack and Jill look like Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing. As misguided as his use of the T-word, Gallop's dismissal of the passion displayed by Storm supporters also made him seem aloof and out of touch with the sentiments of fans.
As Gallop suggested, passion is sometimes used as a justification for atrocities committed in the grandstands - particularly by obnoxious, drunk and violent fans who make life a misery for others. No doubt, recent visits to Brookvale Oval and AAMI Park were unpleasant experiences for a chief executive who maintains that, in his treatment of Melbourne and Manly, he has merely guarded the game's integrity.
Yet, the abuse to which Gallop was subjected seemed no more harsh or vitriolic than that which referees, and visiting teams, receive on a weekly basis. In that sense, passion is part of the essence of spectator sports. It allows supporters to believe, for 80 precious minutes, that a bunch of large chaps chasing a leather sack is, as the saying goes, more important than life and death. The noise of a passionate throng is what elevates the atmosphere at a football game above that of a chess tournament or a flower show.
The passion unleashed by Storm fans has played into the NRL's favour. A team once marginalised in Melbourne has been embraced by local fans far more warmly since the salary cap scandal. The pretext of persecution upon which the passion is based might be flimsy, but it has sold tickets. All Gallop had to do was bite his lip. Instead, it was he who deserved to be compared with terrorists. With one poorly chosen word, the boss bombed.