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The San Francisco 49ers and the NFL have adopted extraordinary security measures for Sunday’s NFC championship against the New York Giants after New Orleans Saints fans complained of harassment by unruly 49ers faithful last week.
Undercover police will be dressed in Giants’ garb and on the lookout for nasty fans. Giants ticketholders will be handed a card as they enter Candlestick Park with details on how to contact police if they feel threatened. And more security cameras and undercover police officers will be in place to identify abusive fans.
Season ticketholders have also been warned to follow the NFL Fan Code of Conduct: no foul or abusive language or obscene gestures and no verbal or physical abuse of opposing team fans.
The nail-biting 36-32 win last Saturday for the 49ers was the team’s first playoff game in nine years, and a raucous crowd was on hand to enjoy the victory at the expense of the Saints.
“I apologize for any rudeness that may have happened,” San Francisco 49ers president and CEO Jed York said. “I think you saw 49ers fans who were very excited about hosting a playoff game for the first time in a long time.”
Those fans were so excited that they ruined the day for a shaken Don Moses and his two teenage daughters. Moses, a longtime Bay Area resident who is from New Orleans, said they were wearing the Saints colors and prepared for some good-natured ribbing.
Instead, he tells a horror story of fear and humiliation when his daughters asked him why he didn’t do anything to stop the hulking 49ers fans who yelled vulgarities and threw footballs at them, screamed in their faces and called their mother a whore.
“The hostility and threats of violence were a constant throughout our experience,” Moses said in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, one that launched some soul-searching by city officials and led to some 49ers fans to apologize on behalf of their city.
“Every other word from dozens of fans around us was an f-bomb shouted at the top of their lungs,” Moses said. “There were seven or eight large 30- to 35-year-old guys directly behind us who cursed and threatened us the entire game.” He turned to ask them to tone it down in front of his girls and they yelled: “Do not turn around again! Do not ever turn around again.”
He was afraid that if the fans saw him calling or texting security, the men would harm his daughters.
“Every 49ers fan, the team and its owners should be ashamed and embarrassed to wear the red and gold today,” Moses wrote in the letter published Tuesday. “They won the game but are losers in every other way.”
NFL security director Jeff Miller told the AP that if the security cameras or undercover police catch such abusive behavior by fans on Sunday, they will be yanked from the stadium.
“We’ll be looking early on to identify people trying to do those things in the parking areas and take action to remove them,” said Miller, who will be at the game. “We’re not going to be warning people inside the stadium. They will be removed.”
Authorities are already sensitive about the heartbreaking case of Brian Stow, a paramedic and San Francisco Giants fan who suffered a traumatic brain injury after a beating by two men dressed in Dodgers gear following the home opener against the Giants in Los Angeles on March 31. Medical care for Stow is expected to cost as much as $50 million and the father of two has sued the Dodgers.
Tailgating after kickoff already has been banned from the parking lot at Candlestick Park under security measures introduced after two shootings, a beating and fights broke out during an Aug. 20 pre-season game with across-the-bay rivals Oakland Raiders.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said he heard first-hand how Saints fans were treated last Saturday when he gave three of them a lift from the stadium back into the city after the game. They gave him an earful about how badly they’d been belittled.
“We’re all native San Franciscans and, you know, that’s not the way we want to represent the team and the city,” Suhr said.
He said Mayor Ed Lee instructed him to do whatever it takes to make Giants fans feel safe.
Police officers and team personnel at the ticket gates will be welcoming them with cards that tell them how to contact police.
The 49ers also purchased Giants attire for undercover police officers.
“They’ll be seated around the stadium as decoys, if you will, trying to draw out the obnoxious fans and they will be removed immediately,” he said.
Then there are the lights.
A good portion of the game will be played under the same stadium lights that blacked out and delayed the nationally televised Monday Night Football game between the 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 19.
The city and the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. insist there won’t be an embarrassing repeat of the two blackouts at the 51-year-old stadium, which had prompted the mayor to call the night a “national embarrassment.”
PG&E spokesman Joe Molica is confident the nearly $1 million in upgrades to the park by the electric utility and the city will prove the old bayside stadium proud.
He said the wire for the electrical circuit that serves the park has been replaced with more than a mile and a half of new wire that is resistant to contact and carries three times the electrical load. A new computer system allows workers to better monitor the circuit.
The command center at the stadium has conducted a string of tests simulating the Dec. 19 blackout and everything tested well.
Will Molica be holding his breath on Sunday about another blackout?
No, he said, “I’ll be holding my breath for the 49ers to win.”