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Monday, October 27, 2003
Thousands line up in Tempe for free tickets

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Brothers Tom and Brian Whitmore weren't about to let a raging wildfire get in the way of football.

So when the San Diego Chargers-Miami Dolphins game was moved from San Diego to Tempe at the last minute, the family of Dolphins fans got on the road.

After packing their SUV, wives and 5-year-old children, the caravan started toward Tempe late Sunday night, even though Brian Whitmore's San Bernandino, Calif., neighborhood was evacuated.

"The family has always been Dolphins fans," said 27-year-old Tom Whitmore, who is from San Jacinto, Calif. "We're getting the kids trained early."

Brian Whitmore was evacuated from his home Saturday because of a wildfire, one of a half dozen raging in southern California. His house was OK, but his neighbors weren't so lucky.

"It looks like a bomb went off in the neighborhood," Tom Whitmore said.

The Whitmores weren't the only ones with Monday night fever.

Thousands of football fans -- some who drove hours to support their team, others who simply called in sick -- lined up outside Sun Devil Stadium hours before the game.

Three slow-moving lines each stretched several blocks. Some people waiting to get in the stadium had food delivered to them.

Media trucks and fans fought for parking with Arizona State University students attending classes nearby. The Arizona Cardinals share the stadium with the university.

The NFL decided to move the game on Sunday after San Diego officials told the league it could not play in Qualcomm Stadium, which was turned into an evacuation center.

And by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's decree, the tickets were free -- magic words to a college student.

"I'm a free ticket fan," said 20-year-old Paul Natale, an ASU student who started camping out Sunday night.

Officials at the 73,000-seat stadium said the tickets were handed out randomly, grouped together only by section.

Chris Bacon of Las Vegas said fans with California tickets should have been allowed to get in first.

He and girlfriend Julie Dawson spent $1,000 buying good seats to the game on eBay. Then, they drove from Las Vegas to San Diego and then on to Tempe once the game was moved.

Fans at Monday night's game were asked to make a donation to the San Diego Wildfire Relief Fund.

Tabra Andrews, a lifelong Dolphins fan from Phoenix, said Monday's game was her chance to finally see her first Miami game in person.

"I feel horrible about everything that has happened in California, but it's great for us here," said Andrews, who planned to make a donation. "It's an opportunity for the fans to see the game and give something to help the folks in California. It's a chance of a lifetime for me."

Dan Morrison of Tempe said he isn't a San Diego or Miami fan, but came to the game because he wanted to see something he can't see in Arizona.

"I just wanted to see a good game for once here," Morrison said, referring to the 2-5 Cardinals.

Monday night's game was one of a handful in more than a decade that the NFL has been forced to relocate or reschedule.

The league moved a game between the Patriots and 49ers from Candlestick Park in San Francisco to Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif., after a 1989 earthquake damaged Candlestick.

In 1992, the league rescheduled the season opener between New England and Miami from Sept. 6 to Oct. 18 because of damage from Hurricane Andrew.