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Scott Ostler

A Strange, New Breed Discovered: Anaheim Rowdy

November 25, 1986|Scott Ostler

For too long, Anaheim sports fans have been maligned for their general wimpiness. Now, apparently, they're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Sunday afternoon, as the Rams and Saints conducted a comparatively gentlemanly exercise on the Anaheim Stadium field, the fans in the stands went a long way toward showing the world they can be just as big a bunch of jerks, drunken slobs and belligerent knuckleheads as any New York or Boston can offer.

The Rams fans, bless their hearts, aren't going to let Philadelphia Eagle fans, English soccer fans or Raider fans have all the fun.

Take Sunday's game. Please.

According to the Anaheim Police Dept., there were 14 fights in the stands, 2 arrests, 8 citations issued and 19 fans ejected. Now, 14 fights among 60,000 people isn't alarming, until you consider that most of the fights involved many participants. Entire sections, in some cases. Still, in fairness, I estimate that not more than half of the 60,000 fans were directly involved in a fight.

And despite a common misconception, it wasn't just the fans in the cheap seats who were battling. All the fights I saw were in the stadium's lower deck. At least the fights finished in the lower deck.

Many of the tussles broke out in the last two minutes of the game. In that time, in one small corner of the grandstands, I witnessed two large-scale brawls, a group of five deranged fans mugging and foaming for a TV camera, and one lost soul.

The lost guy wandered out onto the playing field during a timeout. Judging from his maniacal prancing and agitated state, my guess is he had to make an urgent visit the restroom and somehow made a wrong turn.

Discovering his mistake, he scampered off the field, nimbly vaulted a five-foot wall back into the stands, and was instantly hurled right back onto the field by security personnel. The fan had an excellent hang time, but when he finally dropped to the turf, several security cops pounced on him like an end-zone fumble. He seemed quite happy.

Yeah, it was a pretty scene.

And, according to the police, it was business as usual. A quiet day, even.

"We actually had more fights last week at the New England game," said Sgt. Ray Welch, special events supervisor for the Anaheim PD. "Because of the nature of Sunday's game (many fights concentrated at the very end), everyone's attention was drawn. It's a pretty common problem. Fans want a beer or two, and that environment, along with the fact the Rams are in contention. . . . And now they have a quarterback, which is another exciting element."

So, Jim Everett is to blame for all this body checking, slashing and high-sticking amongst the laid-back Rams fans.

But let's give beer at least an assist. Many football teams, and some baseball teams, are joining the practice of cutting off beer sales before the end of the game. In Philadelphia, you can't buy a beer during the second half. The Dodgers will sell no beer after its time, which is the eighth inning. At Raider games at the Coliseum, you can't buy beer during the fourth quarter.

The Rams and Anaheim Stadium authorities have no beer cutoff, although to their credit they do not send beer vendors into the parking lot after games for a drive-away last call.

Considering pregame tailgate parties, and the current length of NFL games, you've got about 50,000 people working on a six-hour bender.

Sgt. Welch refused to finger booze as the major factor in inciting fans to fight, although he did mention that "Our problems pick up after halftime."

The obvious solution would be to cut off beer sales after the third quarter, as the Raiders do. Either that or encourage everyone to drink harder and sooner, so many potential troublemakers would be passing out as the game clock winds down.

The way it is now, you think twice about taking your son to a Ram game, unless your son is Mike Tyson or Hulk Hogan. Until the situation improves, there's no sure-fire way to avoid trouble, but it will help if you know what to look for in your neighboring fans, the warning signs of potential trouble.

Exercise caution if a fan near you:

--Takes off his shirt after the sun goes down.

--Demands that everyone in the section do the same.

--More than once, in confusion, tries to take a drink from his binoculars.

--Spills a full beer.

--Gets down on his hands and knees and laps it up.

--Makes loud and angry references to a past global conflict or well known prison disturbance.

--Has sideburns that extend below his (or her) knees, and isn't a country-western singer.

--Is wearing his sport coat and/or eyeglasses backward.

--Is smoking anything rolled in a newspaper.

--Is with a group of a dozen or more rowdy characters, and they're all sharing the same seat.

--Is cracking peanut shells with his eyelids.

--Isn't bothering to shell the peanuts.

If you're careful and alert, your chances of leaving the stadium with nothing damaged are at least 50-50. And who can ask for more than an even break?

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