Sorry to burst your balloon, Eagles fans, but your favorite pre-game chemical is gone with the wind.
Police and city licensing officials yesterday swarmed through Veterans Stadium parking lots and confiscated at least a dozen tanks of buzz-inducing nitrous oxide.
Then, just hours before the Eagles coincidentally sleep-walked past the Chicago Bears, the mild anesthesia was released into the atmosphere.
The show of force was prompted by Daily News reports of rowdy, gas-intoxicated fans outside the Vet, officials said.
“It’s a start,” said Gerald Richards, a Licenses and Inspections manager.
“You’re going to see a difference down here,” he vowed. “Today was a first step. ”
Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is dispensed into balloons and commonly sold during pre-game tailgate parties. A filled balloon about the size of a basketball cost $5.
In a mad, dizzy scene of mind-altering dimensions, thousands of fans prepare for Eagles games by sucking down mouthfuls of the numbing gas. Before the cops arrived yesterday, the Daily News watched scores of green-clad guys inhale from blue balloons, then clumsily stagger or fall to the ground.
Though inhaling nitrous oxide for fun is perfectly legal in Philadelphia, selling it isn’t – at least not without a vendor’s license.
That was the hammer city officials used yesterday to pound the ballooners.
Undercover police spotted tanks in the middle of one lot on 10th Street. They were joined by uniformed officers and L&I agents who seized the heavy canisters.
To the jeers of scores of disappointed stoners, the agents opened the tanks’ valves and sprayed the gas into the atmosphere.
“That’s bulls—, and you know it,” one angered fan shouted, a spent balloon at his feet.
“Aw, c’mon, it was only a matter of time till they showed up,” another disappointed ballooner replied.
Other fans voiced dismay that TV news cameras had once again spotlighted Eagles fans at their worst. They tried to drown out the hissing sound of escaping gas with their own earnest cheer of “E-A-G-L-E-S! “
There were no reported arrests or fines.
“One guy told us he just found a tank and decided he’d try to make a few bucks,” scoffed Dominic Verdi, deputy L&I commissioner.
Losing a nitrous tank is costly for dealers, nonetheless. The gas, tank rental fees and the lost deposit can total more than $200.
The licensing officials also threatened to confiscate vehicles used to store the heavy gas cannisters.
“I told the guy with the Dodge Dakota, next time we’ll confiscate his truck along with his tanks,” said Verdi. “. . .Of course, next time he’ll show up in a $200 truck. “
Indeed, less than 15 minutes after the police made their first parking lot sweep, the gas men were back in business. Fans boldly waved their balloons at nonplussed cops.
The officials returned for a second sweep that netted a few more tanks.
But by then, the crowd’s attention was focused on other attractions.
A top-heavy representative from an area “gentleman’s club,” circulated through the crowd and handed out advertising cards.
“Show us your balloons!” someone in the crowd yelled.
With a smile and not much else, she complied.
In other game day action
City health department officials revealed that they’ve given the Vet’s food vendor yet another chance to clean up its act.
Following Daily News reports last month of mouse-infested, nose-picking, grease-coated, dirt-filled conditions in the city-owned stadium’s food-serving areas, the department vowed it would re-inspect the facility immediately.
However, the concessionaire, Aramark Corp., has complained the stadium is so dirty it needs more time for a thorough cleaning, a health department spokeswoman said.
The stadium will not be inspected for cleanliness till the next home game, against Dallas on Nov. 5.
In the meantime, Eagles fans have been treated to unhealthy food conditions at four home games. A Daily News tour of the facility yesterday turned up the usual display of unmitigated filth.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue joined the growing chorus of disdain for conditions at Veterans Stadium.
In a press briefing before the game, he said it was the Vet’s uneven playing field that prompted a league-wide “turf review program. “
Referring to the stadium’s “deteriorating” condition, he said, “When you look at the structure and the quality of the building compared to the new stadiums, it is a troubling thing. “