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Between Autographs, Strikers Picket Ram Game : Some Turn Back, But 20,000 Cross Players' Lines

October 12, 1987|BOB SCHWARTZ | Times Staff Writer

"Welcome to Disneyland," bellowed Bill Bermudez, a teacher, union organizer and, on this particular Sunday, a picket in front of Anaheim Stadium. "See Snow White and her team! See Dumbo Scab, Pinocchio Scab, Minnie Scab and Mickey Scab!"

Bermudez's characterization of the Los Angeles Rams replacement team during the 19-day National Football League players' strike drew plenty of laughs, but it didn't appear to change the minds of fans who came out to see the Rams-- any Rams--play the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Yeah, it's frustrating," said Bermudez, as some of the 20,218 fans who attended the game filed past him and through the turnstiles of Gate 3. "I'm a season ticket holder for both the Raiders and Rams. The fans have a craving for football; I understand that. But if they see something that disappoints them, it's their own fault."

Season ticket-holder John Hoenig of Mission Viejo said he didn't expect too much to begin with. "I want to see the game out of curiosity," he said. "I had hoped they would get things resolved (before Sunday's game). I know I shouldn't really go. This will probably be the last one I go to (during the strike)."

Hoenig showed more interest than most Ram fans: Sunday's attendance was about one-third of the team's average draw at home (55,685) during the 1986 season.

The scene Sunday at Anaheim Stadium bore little resemblance to stadiums in East Coast cities last week, where striking NFL players and union supporters clashed with fans who ignored their picket lines.

No Violence Reported

There were no reports of violence Sunday, like those found at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium last week. But Raider offensive lineman Brian Holloway suggested that the possibility of future incidents exists. "You can only keep the hot-blooded personalities that this job requires, cool for so long," he said. "If (the owners) want to see resolve, you're going to see it. This will be heating up."

About 25 members of the Rams and Los Angeles Raiders signed autographs, mugged for pictures and handed out flyers to fans on their way into the stadium. Members of several unions, including postal workers, meat cutters, food and commercial workers, steel and sheet metal workers, carpenters and plumbers, also walked the line with their high-salaried brethren.

The blue-collar union members wore union shirts and jackets emblazoned with the alphabet soup titles of their organizations and locals and internationals. The players wore shorts or sweat pants and players' association shirts, with a few exceptions. Ram lineman Reggie Doss, for instance, wore a Porsche T-shirt under his cardboard strike sign.

The machinists, butchers and truckers had little difficulty enthusiastically supporting the striking football players, even if their daily lives have little in common.

"Scab ball is not pro ball!" shouted Nathan "Red" Johnson, 24, a freckled, red-haired tugboat worker and member of the Seafarers' International Union. The Tuscaloosa native, who resides in Long Beach, provided much of the vocal firepower during the three-hour vigil. "I'm union all the way, dude."

Another picket yelled to a group of teen-agers pressed around Los Angeles Raider defensive end Sean Jones. "Don't take his autograph if you won't respect his picket line," he said. The teen-agers ignored the advice, obtaining Jones's and other autographs on the strike flyers the players were passing out to fans.

"We got free tickets," explained Reggie Velasco, 28, of Whittier, who was taking his 15-year-old brother, Ben, and several other boys to Sunday's game. "We know the players inside are no good, but we got these free--$21 seats, too."

Most of the picketing players took a friendly tack. "Hi guys, Jackie Slater, Los Angeles Rams," said the 6-foot, 4-inch, 275-pound lineman to a man and two teen-age boys walking past the strikers. He handed them each a yellow piece of paper outlining the players' union grievances. "I'd like you to read this, see what the issues are. See you later."

The boys were impressed with Slater's congeniality, but less so with that of the non-player strikers, who shouted at them to stay out of the "scab" game.

'Look Like Idiots'

"They look like idiots," said Lawson Mollica, 15. Both he and his friend, Miles Charlier, also 15, play football for Edison High School in Huntington Beach.

Charlier's father, John Charlier, said he bought the tickets for the games before the players went on strike. "We're from Pittsburgh (originally), and we want to see the Steelers play," said Charlier, a mechanic and part-time instructor who is a union member. "I wish I made $50,000. I think some of those guys are overpaid--they really don't know what life's about."

Occasionally, the players' pleas worked, though. A father and his son, after talking with the pickets, tore their tickets in half and were last seen returning to their car. Other fans, similarly impressed, also chose to leave.

For the most part, though, fans accepted brochures--and taunts--and entered the stadium, where they received complimentary National Football League baseball caps.

Mike McLean, 35, of Anaheim, got the pickets' attention when he marched by with a huge sign of his own bearing pictures of, among others, Lt. Colonel Oliver North and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The sign said, "Union Or Not, I Watch Who I Want."

The picketers shouted, "Scab." McLean, with the build and demeanor of a pro wrestler being interviewed, turned and screamed back that if the real Rams weren't back on the field for their game against the San Francisco 49ers (on Nov. 2)--for which McLean claimed to have bought 600 tickets for a giant tailgate party--he would stage "the biggest fan protest rally you've ever seen."

Times Staff Writer Gene Wojciechowski also contributed to this article.

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