SAN DIEGO — They're big, aggressive, unpredictable and in love with their hard-hitting, hard-living, outlaw image. And today, they'll descend on Qualcomm Stadium.
No, not the Oakland Raiders. Well, yes, them too. But more to the point: the Oakland Raider fans, Raider Nation, that collection of die-hard loyalists that prides itself on being the loudest, rowdiest bunch of fans in the NFL.
It's become a San Diego tradition in the week before the Raider-Charger game: Police vowing that this year they are not going to tolerate public drunkenness and violence.
Today, there will be twice as many police and three times as many security guards as at a regular game. Fans will be patted down at the turnstiles and Raider fan costumes that might be used as weapons -- spiky helmets and shoulder pads, for example -- will be confiscated.
Beer and wine sales will be suspended after halftime. Thirty surveillance cameras will scan the crowd. And a portable booking facility will be set up in the parking lot.
"We've learned from the past," said Police Lt. Mike Cash. "We're going to be tough on tailgate parties and drinking. And we're not giving warnings. We're not tolerating things getting out of hand."
After a near riot three years ago between Raider and Charger fans, police beefed up security for the next showdown.
Two years ago, even with added police, a Raider fan stabbed a Charger fan. The Raider fan was later convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. Last year, more than 100 arrests were made for drunkenness and fighting.
Charger officials are promising more gates so that the pat-downs do not hinder the movement of fans into the stadium. Long lines caused some pregame agitation last year.
"There were a lot of disgruntled fans," said Ken Derrett, the Chargers' vice president for marketing. "This year, egress will be more orderly."
Civic concern about possible trouble is heightened by the fact the game is meaningful, with the Raiders and Chargers tied for the lead in the AFC West at 8-4.
In October, the Chargers beat the Raiders at Oakland, 27-21 in overtime, and Charger safety Rodney Harrison was later suspended for one game for having allegedly taken a cheap shot at Raider receiver Jerry Rice.
Harrison has always brought out a special animus in Raider fans. Two years ago he was fined $40,000 for an alleged dirty hit on Raider tight end Jeremy Brigham.
Harrison's history, and the high stakes of the game, have raised concern here that some Raider fans might experience difficulty with impulse control and that Charger fans might respond in kind, a combustible combination.
Some Raider fans from Southern California are known to travel to Oakland or even to some road games. But for many, the San Diego game is their only opportunity to act out their devotion to the team that departed Los Angeles in 1995.
"This year, we're really going to give the Chargers and their wimpy fans what-for," vowed Jerry Martinez, a Norwalk construction worker and Raider fan who says he would not miss the game "even if my own funeral were scheduled for that day."
One commentator, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, has suggested that Charger fans skip the game to avoid the crude language, fighting and general belligerence.
"What is it about some of these football fans anyway? Frustrated linebackers?" said Cliff Albert of KOGO radio.
There is a new political element to this year's game. Off-duty San Diego police officers will be picketing the stadium entrances, hoping to draw attention to their salary dispute with City Hall.
What is unknown is how Raider fans, who flaunt their anti-authoritarian spirit, will react to a picket line of police.
"One of our signs is going to say, 'Honk if you support the San Diego Police,' " said Bill Farrar, president of the San Diego Police Officers Assn. "We'll see if they flip us the bird."