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nojobny
10-14-2008, 11:18 PM
NFL's Eagles Tackle Drunken, Rowdy Fans
By MARK YOST
Philadelphia

Carl Scalzo, a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, sat for years in the notorious 700 section of Veterans Stadium. And the 38-year-old police lieutenant from Easton, Pa., never knew quite what to expect. "One year, a guy sat in our section with an Oakland Raiders jacket on," he said. "By the second quarter, he was getting pelted with hot dogs, beer. People were calling him all sorts of four-letter names. It was pretty rough."

So what did Eagles security do? According to Lt. Scalzo, they removed the Raiders fan. "They couldn't move the whole section, so they got rid of him."

For decades, folks visiting this city to root for their home NFL teams didn't receive much in the way of brotherly love. Not only did the Eagles' enthusiasts torment visiting fans, but they once famously booed Santa Claus. Undercover cops patrolled the stands in visiting-team jerseys to goad Philly's thuggish fans into doing something stupid (it didn't take much). Things were so bad that the Vet had a courtroom on site to prosecute offenders.

That all changed in 2003 when the Eagles moved into the $500 million Lincoln Financial Field. Typical of the new upscale NFL stadiums being built around the country, the Linc has a luxury club level that charges $800 a ticket and features gourmet dining and mahogany bars serving top-shelf liquor. The Eagles also instituted a new security policy that is a model for the NFL.

"We set the bar very high from the first year we opened," said Mark Donovan, the Eagles' senior vice president of business operations. "As a result, we not only saw a sharp drop in incidents the first year, but have seen a steady decline every year since."

The Eagles declined to release arrest figures and other stats, but Lt. Scalzo and others say the atmosphere at the Linc is completely different from that at the Vet. "Because the stadium is so new and nice, it's lost some of its grittiness," said Lt. Scalzo, who has had season tickets since 1999.

It's also a function of economics. The NFL has found that these newer, more upscale stadiums price out some of the more boorish fans. Because tickets in the cheap seats can cost $100 or more, even diehard fans like Lt. Scalzo don't go to every game. He sells about half his season tickets to family and friends to offset the cost.

"I didn't miss a game at the Vet," he said. And neither did other season-ticket holders, he noted. "As a result, it became a mob mentality because you had the same people sitting in the same seats every game."

But the biggest factor in the turnaround has been the new security procedures. Before fans even enter the Linc, they go through three layers of scrutiny. If the ticket-taker suspects the fan is intoxicated or has other concerns, he raises his hand and a second usher makes an assessment. If there's still a question, a "black shirt," usually an off-duty police officer, pulls the fan aside and questions him. If the black shirt thinks the fan is unfit to enter, he walks him over to the ticket booth, gives him a full refund, and says, "Have a nice day."

"They're still a guest, and we treat them with respect," said Leonard Bonacci, director of event operations. "But we make it clear that they're not welcome here today."

One continuing problem, he said, is that about 45,000 of the Eagles' 70,000 fans come through the gates in the 45 minutes just before kickoff. Obviously a few troublemakers get through, so the Eagles have two systems to help corral them.

The Linc was the first NFL stadium to have a text-messaging system that allows fans to anonymously report trouble. They simply text their section and seat number and security comes down. "I have 3,000 people on my staff, but with anonymous texting I have 70,000 eyes that can help me, as well," Mr. Bonacci said.

Ushers have a four-button pager that alerts staffers to anything from vomit in the aisle to a fist fight. It also sends a signal to a control room atop the stadium that's equipped with a camera that can zoom in on the trouble spot and dispatch more help.

The Eagles aren't alone. Many NFL teams -- the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, and others -- have already instituted many of these policies. But the NFL still felt it necessary to create its first-ever league-wide fan-behavior policy to counter a widespread image of out-of-control fans and to nudge teams that haven't made security a top priority.

One self-admitted laggard is the Buffalo Bills, a team that has struggled to control some of the worst-behaving fans in all of sports. The Bills are aware of the Eagles text-messaging system and would like to have it, but they simply haven't budgeted for it. Buffalo has relied, instead, on old-fashioned shame: publishing the names of those arrested at Bills games in the local paper. But that often isn't enough to keep fans from getting plastered.

According to Chris Clark, the Bills' security chief, one Canadian fan who was arrested this year came back to Buffalo to appear in court. He stopped by the stadium to apologize and ask Mr. Clark for a tour. "He told me he got on a bus in Canada at 7 a.m., started drinking, and doesn't even remember being in the stadium." Though Mr. Clark admired the fan's candor, he declined to give him the tour.

While the Linc is a far cry from the Vet, the Eagles still have challenges. One will be faced Nov. 10, when the team plays the New York Giants in a Monday Night game. Intense rivalry, lots of liquor and a night game are often a wicked combination.

"No matter what you do, you're always going to have a few knuckleheads," Lt. Scalzo said. According to the NFL, that's the problem it faces.

"One unruly fan can ruin the experience for 25 others," said Milt Ahlerich, senior vice president of security for the league. "Multiply that by a couple hundred fans and you ruin it for a lot of people."

Mr. Yost is the author of "Tailgating, Sacks and Salary Caps: How the NFL Became the Most Successful Sports League in History."

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122393578191630373.html

klick81
10-14-2008, 11:40 PM
So....if I take my wife (a Cowboys fan) to the Cowboys game this year...will she be pelted with hot dogs???

Just asking so I know how many seats apart I should buy the tickets :sofunny:

fansince'76
10-14-2008, 11:43 PM
According to Chris Clark, the Bills' security chief, one Canadian fan who was arrested this year came back to Buffalo to appear in court. He stopped by the stadium to apologize and ask Mr. Clark for a tour. "He told me he got on a bus in Canada at 7 a.m., started drinking, and doesn't even remember being in the stadium."

For some reason, that made me think of this:

http://i211.photobucket.com/albums/bb136/garyb12001/nike-sb-strange-brew-preview-1.jpg

:toofunny: :toofunny: :toofunny:

Steelman16
10-15-2008, 01:40 AM
Still, nobody's better at tackling drunken, rowdy fans than James Harrison. :chuckle: