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RAIDERS' ROAD TO THE SUPER BOWL

San Diego Braces for Raider Nation

January 21, 2003|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

No one has forgotten the drunken brawls. Or the security guard thrown down the stairs. Or the guy who got his ear bitten off.

Oakland Raider fans -- infamous for their rowdy ways -- have a particular history of misbehaving when they visit San Diego to watch their team play.

So local hoteliers and restaurateurs, even police, are given to dark humor as they look toward Super Bowl XXXVII and multitudes of silver-and-black devotees visiting their city.

"We're all leaving town," said Dave Cohen, a spokesman for the San Diego Police Department.

It's a vaudeville routine that plays over and over.

"No, really," he continued. "We've got some experience with Raider fans. When they come down to play the Chargers, we always have additional officers on hand and seem to make additional arrests."

Preparing for Sunday's game between the Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Qualcomm Stadium, the department needs only to think back to last month when a special police contingent arrested more than 120 fans for fighting and drunkenness at a Raider-Charger game.

That was nothing compared to a December 1999 game between the teams when a near-riot broke out, resulting in 150 arrests. Television cameras captured the image of a red-jacketed security guard wading into the melee only to be sent tumbling back down the concrete stairs.

"We're locking up the women and children," said Jack Giacomini, who owns two major hotels in the area. "But otherwise, conditions are normal."

The manager at Seau's, a restaurant and sports bar owned by the famous Charger linebacker, doesn't expect problems. "I think even Raider fans have respect for Junior Seau," Daniel Kniffin said.

However, he might hire a few extra security guards. "It is the Raiders," he said.

Perhaps Kniffin recalls a 1995 incident in another San Diego sports bar where a Raider fan bit the ear off a Charger fan and spit it back in his face.

Two years ago, a Raider fan stabbed a Charger fan at a game and was sentenced to five years in prison.

"They certainly add to the excitement," Giacomini said.

This time, San Diegans figure they have several advantages over the Northern hordes.

Because this is the Super Bowl, security will be especially tight. There will be no Oakland-San Diego rivalry on the field to stir emotions. And the city has learned its lessons.

Police know to watch for fans inebriated before they enter the stadium. Qualcomm's parking lot will be reserved for limousine drop-offs and corporate tents, so many ticket holders will park in a satellite lot where no tailgating is permitted, a host committee spokesman said.

When the more-theatrical Raider fans reach the gate, they might be relieved of the accouterments made famous in the so-called "Black Hole" of their home stadium.

No spiked shoulder pads? No ominous-looking helmets?

"If they're not going to allow camera and binocular cases, I can't picture allowing a heavy mask that could be used as a weapon," police spokesman Cohen said.

There is an advantage to having the Raiders in the championship game -- the zeal of a following that has already bombarded ticket brokers with calls.

And the proximity of Oakland -- not to mention Los Angeles, where the team played for many years -- means the faithful might come south to party even if they don't have tickets.

With corporations cutting back on entertainment in this shaky economy, San Diego is eager for the business.

As Kniffin, the restaurant manager said, "it should be interesting."

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