|Is it war with Iraq ... or Al Davis?|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
SAN DIEGO -- I've been watching San Diego TV news reports and reading San Diego papers all day, so you'll have to pardon my confusion. But are we considering war with Iraq ... or Oakland?
This is a Super Bowl matchup between the Buccaneers and Raiders, but it is clearly the latter who are worrying San Diegans most. The story dominating the front page of Monday's San Diego Union-Tribune was all about the Raiders' notoriously dangerous fans, who, according to the headline, "strike fear" in the city and of whom the reporter begged, "Have mercy." Meanwhile, the newscasters on the afternoon news breathlessly teased such reports as "Coming up: Why many San Diegans are worried about the thousands of Raiders fans invading our city" and the news ticker carried these actual messages along the bottom of the screen:
"San Diegans brace for Raiders fans ... U.S. to send 37,000 more troops ... Teams to check out stadium tomorrow ... Britain to add 36,000 troops ... 'No Doubt' added to Super Bowl music lineup ... Bin Laden letter urges Muslims to unite ..."
Those were the actual ticker updates, though I'm not completely sure whether they ran in precisely that order. It sure seemed like it though when accompanied by footage from a news helicopter tracking the team buses on their way from the airport to their hotels while an insta-poll asked viewers: "Are you apprehensive about Raiders fans coming to San Diego?"
Good Lord. San Diego is a major U.S. Navy port, the Navy SEALs are stationed a couple miles away on Coronado Island and the Camp Pendleton Marine base is a short distance to the north, and these people are wetting themselves over a few football fans. Of course, they have to worry about something, because clearly the weather is never a concern. Monday was another gorgeous, sunny day, but San Diegans are so spoiled that many of them were wearing bulky coats during the evening, while everyone from out of town wore short-sleeved shirts.
Then again, perhaps they just were flak jackets in case they ran into any Raiders fans.
As long as there is a phone line open, I'll keep reporting from here along with Bernard Kalb and Peter Arnett. Frankly though, I think the city's only hope is to move the government to Vichy and pray.
Arab nations said to be offering asylum, Super Bowl tickets to Saddam Hussein, Al Davis ...
Oddly, life goes on more or less normally despite the threat of invasion. Stores are selling $25 "officially licensed'' Super Bowl T-shirts, $60 sweatshirts and $150 replica jerseys (the 70 percent off sales begin next Monday), but it's relatively quiet here so far, with people still arriving for the big game. Not only was no beer company sponsoring a wet T-shirt/mudwrestling contest downtown, the NFL Experience doesn't even re-open until Thursday.
This is the annual event where local fans, shut out of $400 tickets for the game or invitations to any of the private celebrity parties, pay $15 to convince themselves they're really part of the Super Bowl. You can test your speed in the 40, throw footballs at targets, slam into tackling dummies and basically pretend you're at a scouting combine without having to strip down to your skivvies and have some stranger prod you with a caliper.
In honor of the Raiders, there are some new additions to the "NFL Experience." Unfortunately, those have been the least popular exhibits by far:
"Pack Your Moving Van the Raiders Way"
"Get Served a Subpoena by Al Davis"
"Spike your date's drink with GHB"
"Get Speared in the Back by George Atkinson"
U.S. moves two carriers to Gulf -- Al Davis sues, demanding they be moved to Irwindale instead ...
The threat of the Raiders invasion has inspired a spirit of camaraderie among us here ...
I'm sharing a hotel with fellow ESPN employees and the Dunshaughlin County Meath Gaelic football team from Ireland that is training here this week. I ran across one of the players as he strolled to the soda machine in his underwear early Monday afternoon (not a pretty sight) and the rest of them a couple hours later when they took over the pool for a makeshift game of water polo using two garbage cans and a miniature football.
I asked one of the team members whether he knew much about American football and the Super Bowl, and he nodded his head enthusiastically. "I know a lot about it -- I love it. Didn't the Yankees play in it a couple years ago?"
Ummmmm, sorry. That would be baseball's World Series.
"Well, I was there for that."
Still, if the lads were a little uninformed about the Super Bowl, they certainly knew far more about American football than I knew about Gaelic football. I assumed it was what we called soccer, but I was wrong. It's more like a cross between rugby and Australian Rules football, and pretty much played (to any significant extent) only in Ireland. Games take place on a field roughly 50 percent larger than a soccer pitch and are divided into two 35-minute halves. Teams of 15 players score points by either driving the ball under the goal's crossbar or between its uprights.
I asked the team's coach what the game was like and he snapped back, "It's only the fastest and most exciting sport in the world!" in a tone implying that anyone who didn't know that was really beneath contempt.
The sport's big games are played at Dublin's Croker Stadium, which is often filled with 80,000 passionate fans. It's amazing. That's more fans than the Super Bowl will draw this Sunday, and it's for a sport I had never even heard of until Monday. And the most interesting thing is that the sport is all amateur. Athletes play for the teams located in their local parishes and the best of those go on to represent their county.
"It's hugely popular. Everyone knows about it," David Crimmins said. "There's a lot of advertisement and sponsorship money like in football, but it all gets poured back into the county and parish programs."
Another player, Declan O'Dwyyer, wanted to know where American football players who were too old for college but not good enough for the NFL played. When I explained that except for a handful of semi-pro teams, there was nowhere for these football fans to play, he found it hard to believe.
"That's strange," he said. "Jeezus, that's a shame."
He's right, it is. Wouldn't this be a better world if more of us played the sport we loved well into adulthood instead of lying on the couch in $150 replica jerseys, eating nachos and watching pampered millionaires on TV? Wouldn't it be better if we focused more of our attention on playing our own games than devoting it to an overhyped game on TV the final Sunday of each January? Wouldn't it be better if we rooted for teams whose players truly represented their local community instead of representing the ruling in Al Davis's latest lawsuit?
The answers, I suppose, depend on whether you were rooting for the Buccaneers and Raiders instead of the Eagle and Titans on Sunday.
The Dunshaughlin County Meath lads played a very spirited game of water polo until a lone hotel desk clerk, armed only with her voice, ordered them all out of the pool. I was stunned when they all quickly acquiesced, leaving the pool without complaint or backtalk. It was an impressive display. And an encouraging one.
If one young San Diego woman can order an entire Irish football team out of a pool without incident, then what could this city possibly fear from Raiders fans?
I just hope she's on duty Sunday.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.