Civil Liberties

Meal Ticket

Department of Hoagie Security?


Say what you will about the notion of homeland security, it is nothing if not flexible. One month it can be used to track down Texas state legislators embroiled in a redistricting dispute, the next it's vetting the threats posed by cold cuts.

All of Philadelphia is afire over a decree that no outside food will be permitted in the new stadium of the NFL's Eagles. A stadium built, incidentally, with $200 million in public money. Team officials couched their decision in the emerging language of security-ese, noting that the state Department of Homeland Security had recommended the change.

"You're putting the fans' lives at danger," one team official said of letting outside food in— ignoring that little in this world is more deadly than mass-produced stadium fare. Eagles fans were, and remain, outraged that the ban extends to their beloved hoagies and cheesesteaks.

Perhaps such a ban would be shrugged off in some spanking-new Niffle outpost like Jacksonville or Charlotte, but not Philly. Not the Iggles. This is the town that still remembers Frank Gifford not as the long-time smooth operator of Monday Night Football and not-so smooth tamer of Kathie Lee, but as the Giants halfback who was almost broken in half by Philly linebacker Chuck Bednarik in half in one of the most savage hits in league history. Gifford didn't play for a year after the hit.

The Eagles' old haunts, the downright creepy Veterans Stadium, featured stands that existed in a near Hobbesian state of nature, with certain sections literally beyond the rule of law. Things got so bad that a jail and courtroom were installed inside the stadium, but that just spurred die-hard Iggles fans into a perverse contest to see who could get arrested and processed by the court most often.

In the hyper macho world of the NFL, one of the few things that scared players—besides random drug tests—was a trip to the Vet as a part of the visiting team. The Vet had no field to speak of; just industrial-grade green carpet over cement with seams renowned for jumping up and ending careers. Best of all, if you did succumb to the pseudo-turf, Eagles fans would send you off with laughter, mockery, and maybe a few D-cells for good measure. If at half-time, a retiarius had strode out to do battle with a secutor, fans at the Vet would've gone wild.

So we have a very distinct culture that is being challenged by the current security-mania. Eagles fans filled The Philadelphia Daily News with accounts of years spent trudging to their favorite sandwich shop before the game. The sandwich shop owners, in turn, deride the claim by team officials that the decision had nothing to do with a desire to ramp up concession-stand sales. Sandwich-makers noted that for years they have wrapped their torpedoes of death in clear plastic for easy inspection, so important are the Sunday sales and the sense of community game-day engenders.

Blue-collar fans also feel that the food ban is specifically directed at them and their sammich-loving, penny-pinching ilk. Eagles officials may or may not be out to get them, but the security-mania does tilt toward a certain white-collar suburbanite view of the world, where all risks are manageable with just a little more time, dollars, and PowerPoint gels. A welder or dockworker accepts a certain amount of physical danger as a part of life; the risk is just the price of getting to the good life, which includes a cheesesteak in the stands.

But this world stands in direct opposition the idea of federal agency charged with keeping you safe at all times from everything. Homeland Security is absolutely right: Someone could craft a fake hoagie out of C-4 and take out an end zone on national TV. Wait until they start musing on what a NASCAR-size cooler could do to an infield filled with 50,000 drunks. This is risk on a massive scale, unnecessary and imprudent.

And absolutely, vitally American.