Beer bans, more security are tools in fan control Trouble often starts at tailgate parties

October 07, 1990|By Bob Oates | Bob Oates,The Los Angeles Times

The New England Patriots were at the top of their game in the early '80s when, on a Monday night at Foxboro Stadium, some of the fans in a capacity crowd of 60,311 got out of hand.

Picking one fight after another, they fought in the stands, and then in the parking lots afterward, and even on the roads home.

Foxboro was outraged. It was the last straw in a series of incidents that had soured government officials on Monday night games. Early the next morning, the town's councilmen, known as selectmen in that part of the country, took action. They called the National Football League in New York and said, "Never again. No more Monday night games."

That was nine years ago. And the NFL has since complied, ending crowd violence on Mondays in New England.

But not on Sundays. Rowdy fan behavior is still a fact of life there and everywhere else that pro games are played.

The rowdies are always a small fraction of the thousands at any stadium, but they always seem to be there.

When it snowed in Pennsylvania last December, for example, Philadelphia Eagle fans threw snowballs at the visiting players and coaches, hitting many in the face as they stood on the sideline at Veterans Stadium.

Some fans also threw snowballs and iceballs at each other, blackening a few eyes, and forcing the Eagles to ban beer sales at their last two games last winter, including the playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams.

In New Jersey several years earlier, New York Jet fans built a magnificent bonfire in a crowded seating section of Giants Stadium, burning scores of game programs and dozens of hats and caps.

"That was a busy night for the cops," George Young, general manager of the Giants, recalled the other day. "First they put out the fire, and then the drunks."

The truth is that the incidents of recent Sundays at Los Angeles Raider games at the Coliseum have been no more than part of a national pattern: Some football fans love to fight.

More precisely, a minute percentage will pick a fight at the drop of a beer cup.

Always have and, no doubt, always will.

Is it getting worse, and are team and stadium officials doing anything about it?

Is there a link to alcohol, and if so, should beer sales be stopped?

Within the last few days, those and other related questions were put to a number of U.S. stadium managers and experts in other fields.

Their consensus observations:

* Crowd behavior can be effectively controlled without the prohibition of beer.

* In general, it is being controlled. Fan violence isn't on the rise.

* Most NFL teams, 21 of the 28, discontinue beer sales in the third or fourth quarter. Seventeen teams prohibit beer sales by vendors in the seating sections.

* Most Eastern teams now ban beer on Monday nights, when the games start at 9 p.m. -- five hours after the cocktail hour begins at, say, Foxboro, where beer was served all evening at the Patriots' last Monday night game in 1981.

* Some stadiums, such as Chicago's Soldier Field, offer free soft drinks to the designated drivers in each carload.

* Fan misconduct has dropped appreciably in the stadiums where all employees, starting with parking lot attendants, are trained to identify potential drunks and rowdies.

* Policies leading to widespread public awareness and education are also increasingly effective.

* Stadium problems usually begin at pregame tailgate parties, where alcohol consumption is difficult or impossible to police.

* Tailgate consumption increases considerably where stadium beer sales are forbidden.

* Alcohol prohibition at football games means that the rights of the overwhelming majority of good citizens are tampered with in the effort to control the belligerent minority.

* The question is whether there is an overriding necessity to fight a handful of troublemakers by discriminating against the thousands whose traditional game-day lunch has been the same for years of Sundays: a hot dog and a beer.

* When 50,000 people congregate in one area, no amount of security can prevent all incidents.

"You don't even need 50,000," Jim Dugan, manager of Chicago's Soldier Field, said. "You can have a bloody fight at a mall, or on the sidewalk in front of Nordstrom (department store)."

And, said Michael Rowe, manager of Giants Stadium at East Rutherford, N.J., "A fight can boil up in seconds. That's the tough thing about stadium security. Trouble happens so fast.

"If you have 10 security guards in front of section A when a fight starts in section B, none of them can get there in time to keep a guy from getting knocked unconscious -- if the [assailant] is determined enough."

Joining Young, Dugan and Rowe in discussing the problem recently were Brian O'Donovan, manager of Foxboro Stadium; Greg Asbury, manager of the Rose Bowl; Norman Braman, owner of the Eagles; Jerry Sachs, vice president of the Washington Bullets of the NBA, and other crowd-control experts in San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, New York and Washington.

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