It’s 90 minutes before game time in the parking lots outside Veterans Stadium, and the beer patrol has nabbed another beer-guzzling Eagles fan.
He’s a 21-year-old kid with a Ricky Watters jersey on his back and a can of cold Bud in his hand.
The kid looks like his world has collapsed. He won’t be arrested, but his beer is confiscated and tossed into the trunk of a patrol car.
A few feet away, Joe Sixpack, the voice of the beer-drinking public, winces. I feel your pain, man, but there’s nothing I can do.
I spent the pre-game hours with a special unit of the police Traffic Division that patrols the stadium lots in search of miscreant drinkers.
Before the last Eagles home game two weeks ago, these guys nailed 226 drinkers and destroyed gallons of suds, all in the name of curtailing drunken rowdiness inside the stadium.
Last night, hundreds of bottles and cans were confiscated. I lost count when Officer Mark Desiderio and his partner, Arthur Durrant 3rd, unloaded a case each of Bud Light, Red Dog, Bud and Coors Light they’d gotten from just one car.
“They just gave it up,” laughed Desiderio, heaving it into the trunk of another patrol car. “They didn’t think we’d seen them.”
All night, I witnessed fans losing their brew. The savvy ones – the draught dodgers – were smart enough to duck when the beer patrol rolls by. But others are caught with ease.
Basically, the cops cruise the lots in fully marked cars with their flashers blinking.
They ignore anyone sipping from a plastic cup.
Lt. Tom Hecker, the head of the unit, explained, “I don’t know what he’s got in his cup. It could be full of Coca-Cola.”
When they see someone drinking a clearly labeled can or bottle of beer, the cops stop, climb out of their cars and saunter over for a look-see. If the drinkers are dumb enough to keep their stash in plain view, the cops will confiscate it.
What this does is ensure that only people too stupid to hide their brews and out-of-towners who don’t know public consumption of alcohol is illegal in Philadelphia will lose their beer.
You could tap a keg and drink like a fish, as long as you’re marginally discreet.
Throughout the evening, I met dozens of people who blithely broke the law but avoided hassles from the cops.
“I’ve been coming down here with my friends for 10 years and we always drink before the games,” said Bob, a 35-year-old from West Chester.
His buddy, a rock-and-roll deejay, brought along a trailer loaded with audio gear and kegs of Bud for a very loud tailgate party off Packer Avenue.
“No one ever gets out of hand,” he continued. “I think it’s one-half of 1 percent that ruins it for everyone else. I don’t think the problem is alcohol, it’s the people who can’t handle their alcohol who cause all the problems.”
Some fans – including one young guy who lost four cases of Meister Brau – questioned the hypocrisy of cracking down on parking lot beer while, inside, the vendors sell $5 cups of beer.
Others said they see no harm in a few beers to pump up for Dallas.
Even Pat Croce, president of the 76ers who mingled with the crowd throughout the day, acted surprised when I told him beer- drinking is verboten in the parking lots.
“That’s a shame,” Croce said. “That’s part of the fun.”
Indeed, the whole affair leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I excused myself from Lt. Hecker’s car and headed for the new brewpub at the CoreStates Center. But before I left, I asked – quite innocently – “Just where’s all this beer headed?”
“To the city dump at 7th and Pattison,” Hecker answered. The lieutenant eyed me suspiciously, reading my mind. “Yeah, they take it there and CRUSH it.”
Sad – all that perfectly good beer, gone.