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Irwindale Fans Don't Wait for the Raiders

September 01, 1987|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

In most cities, the sports team moves to town and the bars jammed with beer-guzzling fans come later. Leave it to Irwindale, the dusty little San Gabriel Valley town that snookered giant Los Angeles out of the Raiders football team, to do it the other way around.

Months before the big boulder-strewn quarry along the 210 Freeway was a glimmer in Al Davis' eye, Irwindale's redevelopment agency was already planning what last weekend had already become the new, unofficial home of the Irwindale Raiders Fan Club.

It's name is Rapscallion, and Irwindale paid for it, too.

"This is what's going to be happening from now on," said Raiders fan Matt Rodriguez as he happily surveyed the Sunday evening crowd from his seat at the restaurant's oak and brass bar, directly across the street from Davis' proposed stadium. "When they're playing out of town, this is where everybody will be."

The Raiders were doing just that Sunday--playing out of town in Irving, Tex., in their first exhibition game of the season against the Dallas Cowboys. (Irwindale won, 34-10.) Raider fans were doing just that, too--hanging out in Rapscallion in front of the newly installed satellite-dish TV.

Less than half a year ago, a lot of people had trouble imagining that Irwindale could support an upscale seafood restaurant and bar, much less a major league football team.

'And Now the Raiders, Too'

"When we first came here, there wasn't even a TV," said Jim Woll, a court investigator for Los Angeles County who once vowed that he'd never "eat in a gravel pit next to a freeway."

Or as Eleanor Randall of Bradbury put it as she finished a dinner of Cajun-style blackened lobster, "It's odd enough to find a seafood restaurant in the middle of Irwindale, and now the Raiders, too."

But to general manager John Ekizian, who came to Irwindale in March from the original Rapscallion's in Reno to launch the restaurant for owner John Leonudakis, it made perfect sense. "We did some demographics and decided on this place," said Ekizian. "There was a lot of resistance at first. People said 'What's in Irwindale?' But we've actually built up a pretty good business so far without a stadium."

Then there was the little manner of municipal financing. Long before Irwindale's city fathers guaranteed Davis $10 million even if they weren't able to build a stadium, they put up $2 million to build what is now the only eating and drinking complex within miles of what it to become a 65,000-seat stadium. Rapscallion's owners have a three-year lease with an option to buy the place and the property after that.

"As far as I know, none of us knew they were going to try for the Raiders," Ekizian said smugly. But neither he nor the local Raiders fans have wasted any time taking advantage of the situation.

Sunday night, the restaurant was selling T-shirts with the Rapscallion logo and large black letters that read: "RAIDERS--Appearing Soon." The bar was festooned with Raider pennants, emblems and a helmet. And outside, at the Irwindale Avenue freeway exit, a town billboard proclaimed: Irwindale Welcomes the Raiders.

"Everybody out here now wants a piece of the rock," chuckled Gary Dyson, lease manager for an Arcadia car dealer. "Personally, I think the Raiders will have an advantage playing on Astrorock."

Plans to expand the restaurant's parking area are already under way, and rumors of a Marriott Hotel coming in next door surfaced last week. Can a menu featuring an Al Davis shark steak special be far behind?

"It's a little early to say precisely what we'll do, but we're looking at all kinds of things, special menus, special promotions," said Dominic Pellegrino, Rapscallion manager. "We want to try to do something about every two months. We want to have charity events, where in the offseason we can get a couple of Raiders to come in and bar-tend and the money raised will go to charity."

Both Dyson and his friend, Rancho Cucamonga truck driver Rich Galvin, said they figured it was already too late to buy real estate in Irwindale, but at least they've already ordered their Raider tickets for the coming season, hoping to upgrade their seats when the new stadium is supposed to open in 1990 or 1991.

Gene Rapp and his wife, Melinda, came to Rapscallion to watch the Raiders and to celebrate the upcoming relocation of the silver and black to the town of 1,040.

They were confident of the team--and of Irwindale's ability to meet Davis' November deadline for cementing the deal.

"Hey, we got the Raiders. I'm a believer," said Rapp, who lives in nearby San Gabriel and runs a vending machine business. "They're gone from the Coliseum. They ain't got enough brains down there in town."

Although Rapp admitted he knew that the Raiders' move to Irwindale still depends on the city's ability to provide land for stadium parking, he said his attitude is "positive, positive, positive."

A Raider fan since the team began playing in Oakland, Rapp said he would now buy season tickets.

"L.A. don't want 'em. We love 'em," Rapp said. "This is just what we need out here. There's no end to what we can do. It will just boom this whole area. Make a boomtown from a rock quarry.

"You always hear about the San Fernando Valley. Wait till you hear about the San Gabriel Valley."

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