Courtside at the Eagles' Game
Game time was a half hour away, and a nervous tension filled the makeshift courtroom in the bowels of Veterans Stadium. Seamus P. McCaffery, a Philadelphia municipal court judge, fingered the buttons of his black robe. On the field the Philadelphia Eagles were making final preparations for their Sunday-afternoon game against the Pittsburgh Steelers by pounding one another on the shoulders, screaming loudly, replenishing themselves with liquids. In the stands many fans were doing the same.
At 12:33 p.m. a Philadelphia police officer entered the courtroom. "We have our first arrest," the officer said. McCaffery's wife, Lise Rapaport, who was just there to join in the fun, said, "Oh, cool."
For what was probably the first time in NFL history, a court had been set up at a stadium to mete out instant justice to the drunk, the disorderly and the vulgar. The court was established in the wake of a Monday-night debacle at the Vet (Nov. 10, versus the San Francisco 49ers) where there were dozens of fistfights, and someone fired a flare across the field that landed in an empty seat. The city is committed to keeping the court—which uses volunteer judges and their staff, operates without a jury and can dispose only of summary cases that day—in session for the Eagles' two remaining home games. It is also significantly increasing the number of police officers patrolling the stadium. Members of the Veterans Stadium security staff will don the regalia of the opposing team in an attempt to draw out offenders, a ploy that apparently worked on Sunday.
At 2:12 p.m. the first person cited, David Sharp of Dover, Del., was brought in and charged with disorderly conduct. He stood before the judge with the help of two officers but without counsel. There was a little gash, fresh and red, on his forehead.
"Do you understand that you are in a courtroom?" the judge asked.
"Yes, your honor," the football fan said in a thick voice.
"How do you plead?"
"Guilty, I guess, your honor."
McCaffery fined the man $100, plus court costs that brought it to $198.50, and gave him 60 days to pay it.