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As security increases, fervor fades

Searches and restrictions become common as the patriotic zeal that enveloped sports wanes.

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002


Searches and restrictions become common as the patriotic zeal that enveloped sports wanes.

The crescendo is peaking. With the arrival of the first Sunday of the NFL season and Sept.11 three days hence, memories of a year ago are flooding back with all of the pageantry of impassioned patriotism -- and perhaps fear.

For some, visions of the terrorist attacks remain stark, constant and deeply etched in our minds. For others, they have faded into the background and, shortly after the anniversary ceremonies, will again as days become weeks and weeks become months.

For all of us, the way we get into our fun and games has been indelibly altered. Were you at Florida Field for the Gators' game against Miami? Look around at today's Bucs opener or during the Rays game.

Were that many uniformed police there a year ago? And that much private security? Were all those PROHIBITED signs prominently posted? And the repetitive public address announcements reinforcing the list of restrictions? Does walking into a stadium feel like walking through an airport?

Didn't we bring in large backpacks, large purses, seat cushions? Didn't single-engine planes trail advertising banners around the stadium? Didn't limousines park next to it?

Didn't a few of us sneak air horns, food and drinks of varying potency into the game?

Didn't a few of us sneak into the game?

No more.

"Fans have called to say how they used to do it or where," said Barbara Casey, community relations director for the Tampa Sports Authority, which operates Raymond James Stadium and the St. Pete Times Forum. "I think that's a reflection of what our society is about."

It's about caution.

Gun-carrying security

"Before any event, we do a search of the entire stadium. Two, actually," said Mickey Farrell, TSA's director of operations. "First, we have 100 or so people on our staff, various contractors, maintenance people and so on, do a thorough search to see if anything seems out of place.

"Then we do it again with police dogs. We've found some stuff -- I won't say what it was -- and we've planted stuff just to test everyone and the dogs."

They've all passed.

There is security at air intake vents and on perimeter roads. Bollards (steel and cement posts) prevent limousines from parking next to stadiums to guard against car bombs.

Police search the inside and, with mirrors, the underside of vehicles parked near stadiums, including concession and TV trucks and team buses. Unattended vehicles parked within 100 feet of stadiums are towed.

All equipment must be accounted for on a manifest and tagged before it enters RJS. Everyone other than fans entering the stadium must be accounted for, and "We're trying to ask fans to bring as little as they can," Farrell said.

"Purses should be smaller (diaper bags, too) because the fewer we have to search at the gate, the quicker the fans will get in."

And no, if you can't bring in what you brought, no one will hold it for you until you leave.

"There's not a facility in the country that can be a valet for 66,000 people," Casey said.

There is a far greater police presence at stadiums, and the subject of security ("Why can't I bring this in?") is not open to debate. And if you're looking for trouble, it will find you a lot faster than it used to -- in police uniforms.

Cameras and binoculars are checked at most venues. Hard-headed Chucky dolls at Bucs games? Forget it. They could be missiles. But for autograph seekers and others at Rays games, bats are welcome.

"It hasn't been a problem at all," said Palm Harbor's Marty Satinoff, a Rays season-ticket holder. "There are more police, and they search what you're bringing in. But it hasn't caused any problems. There aren't very many people there anyway. It's not Yankee Stadium."

'Thank you'

"There have been no serious complaints. Things ran smoothly in the preseason," said Milt Ahlerich, NFL vice president of security. "People seem to be a lot more patient."

And Florida State police Chief Carey Drayton, who worked one of the gates at the game against Virginia on Aug.31 in Tallahassee, said, "Fans generally seemed to be more appreciative and understanding of what we're doing. We got 'Thank you' a lot, and 'We appreciate you being here.' "

In Gainesville, Florida Field was closed to everyone at 5 p.m. Thursday, opened at 8 a.m. Friday only to credentialed people (no vehicles) then shut down again from 5 p.m. Friday until 90 minutes before the start of the Gators' game Saturday against Miami, assistant athletic director Chip Howard said.

There used to be two police officers at every gate. Now there are six.

Tighter security is becoming the standard at big stadia andarenas.

At the Tampa Bay Classic, a PGA event at the Westin Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, the security budget has doubled, tournament director Gerald Goodman said.

"The better-known golfers will be guarded by gun-carrying security, off-duty police," he said. "We'll be more vigilant about what the public can bring in. No big bags, no coolers, no chairs except for small ones.

"And we'll be escorting away the fans in the parking lots who try to ambush golfers for autographs."

Last year's tournament, starting with a pro-am, was to begin Sept. 12.

It was canceled. A few fans asked for a refund. Charities kept the rest. This year's event is scheduled for Sept.19-22.

It used to be a case of (almost) everything goes for NASCAR's faithful at the Daytona 500 and Pepsi 400.

Now there are limits at Daytona International Speedway and other tracks. No more multiples of big, hard-sided coolers. Now it's one, small and soft-sided. No more seemingly unlimited big bags of, well, stuff. Now it's one, clear plastic no bigger than 18-by-18-by-4 inches. Parking under grandstands is reduced. Other vehicles are inspected.

Just about the only missing "airport experience" is being frisked. The TSA, concerned about lawsuits and civil liberties issues, vetoed the idea.

But at least six NFL teams (Broncos, Patriots, Eagles, Titans, Giants and Jets) will frisk fans. At Cowboys and Browns home games, fans will be screened with metal-detecting wands, and patting down people wearing large coats is the norm.

Time heals

The fervor that gripped sports in the aftermath of the attacks has waned.

American flags, once rampant at sports events (and everywhere else), have dwindled. Music, songs and patriotic symbols have receded into the background they occupied on Sept. 10, the day before the nation and world changed forever.

The flood of requests for police officers, firefighters and others to represent their fallen comrades in color guards and be saluted by grateful fans has become a trickle.

For St. Petersburg police, the spigot all but closed "probably within the first month or two following last Sept. 11," said Rick Stelljes, division manager for community awareness. Likewise for requests for police presentations to neighborhood crime-watch groups and service organizations.

"It kind of waned as the year went by," Stelljes said. "But starting about a month ago, as we've gotten closer to the anniversary, things have started picking up."

Last season in the NHL, a red, white and blue ribbon was painted behind both goals at every arena, Canada included. All players and officials wore a similar sticker on their helmet. Non-helmeted officials wore a patch. They'll be gone this season.

When the season began, Major League Baseball decreed the national anthem, God Bless America or both be played during the seventh-inning stretch for one month.

Only four teams (Yankees, Mets, Marlins and Giants) have done it all season. Ten teams play neither once the game begins. The rest play one or both on Sundays, national holidays or both.

"We stopped around May 1," said Joe Rios, special events and entertainment coordinator for Wrigley Field in Chicago. "We thought it was time to get on with our lives."

Players no longer wear NYPD or FDNY caps. A few on the Yankees and Mets wear T-shirts honoring them.

The television networks that showed the red, white and blue so often at post-9/11 sports events last year and early this year are preparing to unfurl it today and the days to come.

Soon after, though, the focus on patriotism at sports events probably will lose its intensity as September becomes October, Fox network spokesman Lou D'Ermilio said.

"Even though people are less fervent, it doesn't mean we or anybody feel any less bad about what happened," D'Ermilio said.

"It's just that time heals. I think it has distanced us from the actual events."

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