ANAHEIM — On football day, Anaheim Stadium becomes a small city. Population: about 65,000. Rowdiest neighborhood: the south side.
That's where the visiting fans mix with the Rams rooters in the south end zone. That's where the stadium's 50 or so police officers prepare for the worst.
Here they automatically cut off beer sales after the third quarter, "but that only means they have to walk farther for it," said one officer. Even in the fourth quarter, cops have waded into this section and sloshed out, beer dripping from their uniforms.
Fights have sometimes continued several minutes while the beat cops await reinforcements from the tonier neighborhoods along the sidelines.
Police patrol baseball games, too, but football is a whole different ballgame. Anyone arrested in the kinder, gentler Angels crowd is taken to the small security office near the main gate. But for football, they open up the jail in the stadium basement.
"Everything's larger," said Anaheim Police Sgt. Gerald Stec, who is, in effect, the stadium's police chief. "But if you have an equal number in the crowd, you still have more officers for football. The potential for offensive behavior is high. It's a violent game. The tailgate parties always increase it too. People come in the gates semi-intoxicated."
Quite a few did at last Sunday's Rams-49ers game, which has the reputation of being the rowdiest game of any Rams season. Like the two men who came though the turnstiles, and with their faces flushed and their neck veins bulging, began shouting at the top of their lungs, "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! We're here! We're here!" They continued the chant in a snack-stand line and in their seats.
"Basically, it's going to be a noisy game," Stec told his officers, who were assembled for the pregame briefing before the gates opened. "Keep your radio next to your ear.
"The keyword is, don't rush in if you don't have enough people to do the job right. We don't want anyone to get hurt.
"No one takes a break after the third quarter, and those who have pad duty (at the stadium exits after the game), get out there quick. They tell us when the Rams lose, sometimes people throw things at the ticket office.
"Visibility is very important. Stay visible . . . and smile at the fans."
"That is very important," remarked an usher nearby. "We're going to need them. People turn around and see a cop and calm right down--if they can see."
The formula is simple:
Beer + Boredom = Restless Crowd.
"You can tell real early how the day's going to go," Stec said. From a distance, a restless crowd appears to wave and ripple like tall grass in wind. A crowd enthralled with the game is as fixed as a concrete slab.
All Stec can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And lately he's been getting a good dose of the best.
The last three games have been extraordinarily civilized, Stec said. Maybe a dozen people cited for scalping tickets or illegally selling souvenirs; maybe a dozen more cited for smuggling alcohol through the gates; and a handful arrested or ejected for fighting or abusiveness.
In fact, during the last couple of years, trouble in the crowd seems to have de-escalated, Stec said. "Either that or things have just been in our favor: cool weather and no third-quarter blow-outs."
Stec's boss, Lt. Ted Labahn, thinks the credit should go to Paul Albrecht of Tucson. Albrecht was the Pittsburgh Steelers fan who was beaten unconscious by a Los Angeles Raiders fan at the Los Angeles Coliseum two years ago. According to police reports, both men were "very HBD," police jargon meaning "had been drinking."
"I think that incident really woke people up," Labahn said. "I think people learned that you can really get hurt. All I know is, the violent level of years ago isn't here anymore. People come to a game and don't put up with it anymore.
"You're not dealing with the criminal element. You're dealing with people trying to have a good time. They imbibe one or two, their inhibitions lower a bit, they do some things, but they're not bad people. It does not necessarily have to deteriorate into a great deal of violence."
So it was last Sunday.
Most of the action was in the parking lot, where undercover teams take a day off from drug enforcement and troll for scalpers. Only the Rams can legally sell Rams tickets at the stadium. All others must give them away. Sell one for any price, and you are liable for a stiff fine.
Some argue that scalping is the second-oldest profession with more tradition behind it than the no-scalping ordinance. But the officers say very few are caught who don't know the practice is illegal. While many brought into the security office are fans selling an extra ticket or two, most scalpers are professionals, the officers said. A bulletin board in the security office is covered with photos of the familiar pros.