Monday, December 17, 2001

Browns coach hurt in bottle-throwing melee




The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — Whether live or on instant replay, the evidence was conclusive and indisputable: Cleveland Browns fans were out of control. Angered over an overturned call in the final minute, Cleveland fans threw plastic bottles at players and officials and tossed other debris on the field Sunday at the conclusion of Jacksonville's 15-10 win over the Browns.

        The emotional outburst by fans was embarrassing — and scary.

        “We feared for our lives,” wide receiver Jimmy Smith said. “It was like dodging bullets.”

        Browns coach Butch Davis injured his knee avoiding a beer bottle and was limping after the game, according to The Plain Dealer. A Browns assistant said the 4-year old of another assistant was hit in the head with a cup.

        The game was stopped for about a half-hour with 48 seconds to play because of the violence, and it resumed only after NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue insisted.

        Most of the bottles were plastic, but many were filled with beer, making them dangerous weapons. A few fans tried to run on the field but were quickly caught by security personnel.

        “They were throwing stuff on our sideline, but they were throwing it on their side, too,” Jaguars wide receiver Kennan McCardell said.

        The Jaguars and Browns had to dodge flying objects as they sprinted to their locker rooms, and the officials were doused with beer and cups as they ran for safety.

        “I was definitely looking over my shoulder for bottles flying,” Browns quarterback Tim Couch said.

        Players on both teams were hit by debris but nobody was seriously hurt. One fan was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and others were treated at a clinic the Browns run at the stadium on game day.

        Police made arrests but exact numbers were not immediately released.

        The 2001 home season finale dissolved into another embarrassing chapter for Browns fans.

        In 1995, they tore out rows of seats and started small fires in the last game at the old Cleveland Stadium just weeks after it was announced the team was moving to Baltimore.

        “In '95 we had chairs coming out of the stands,” said McCardell, who played for the Browns then. “I never thought I would see it again.”

        Browns president Carmen Policy refused to criticize the fans at the game Sunday, and owner Al Lerner went as far as to excuse the rowdiness.

        “I don't think Cleveland will take a black eye from this,” Policy said. “I like the fact that our fans care.”

        Lerner said: “I think everyone controlled themselves considering they spent 60 minutes out in cold weather. It wasn't pleasant. I wouldn't suggest anything like that. But it wasn't World War III.”

        Nearly 30 minutes after ordering players off the field, officials resumed play. Jacksonville's offense returned intact while the Browns sent three offensive players out with their defense since some players had already undressed.

        Jacksonville's players re-entered and left the field through the Browns' tunnel to avoid being hit again.

        “I'm disappointed,” Davis said. “I know the fans were upset, but our guys were getting hit along with the Jaguars and the officials. It's an unfortunate situation.”

        The fans' ugly behavior came after the Browns had a first down at Jacksonville's 9-yard line taken away despite running a play before the officials reviewed the previous play. Under NFL rules, a challenge must be made before the next play takes place.

        Couch had apparently completed a fourth-and-2 pass to wide receiver Quincy Morgan with 1:08 remaining, and the Browns, who were out of timeouts, quickly rushed to the line of scrimmage.

        On first down, Couch spiked the ball with 48 seconds to go, and was headed to the sideline when the officials began to discuss Morgan's catch.

        After several confusing minutes, referee Terry McAulay announced that the officials were reviewing the play. When McAulay finally emerged from the TV review monitor, he announced that Morgan did not catch the ball.

        Replays appeared to show that Morgan never had possession and was bobbling the ball as he fell to the ground.

        Under the NFL's replay system, coaches can't challenge calls in the final two minutes of a half. Any questionable rulings are reviewed by replay officials, who must notify the game referee wearing a buzzer on his belt.

        McAulay said he was notified by replay official Bill Reynolds, who said he was “absolutely, 100 percent” sure he buzzed McAulay before the next play began.

        “At that point, we had a legal review,” McAulay said.

        Mike Pereira, the NFL's director of officiating, said the procedure used on the field was correct.

        As Cleveland's bench erupted in protest, Browns fans in the “Dawg Pound” bleacher section closest to the play began hurling bottles and other objects.

        The Jaguars moved away from their bench to avoid getting hit, and before the fans got rowdier, McAulay announced the game was over.

        But while both teams were in the locker room, Tagliabue called game supervisor Dick McKenzie and ordered him to have the final 48 seconds played.

        About 5,000 fans were still in the stadium to see the Jaguars run out the clock.

        This wasn't the first time Cleveland fans were out of control.

        In 1974, the Cleveland Indians forfeited a game to the Texas Rangers when fans stormed the field on ”10-Cent Beer Night.”

        The NFL has also seen its share of fan misbehavior.

        In 1995, fans at a New York Giants game threw snow and iceballs at the San Diego Chargers. Fifteen people were hurt, 15 fans were arrested and 175 fans were ejected from Giants Stadium.

        Mike Hollis kicked three field goals and Stacey Mack rushed for 115 yards for the Jaguars (5-8), who got a little revenge on the Browns (6-7) after losing to them earlier this season.

        Brunell went 20-for-35 for 202 yards, but couldn't focus on anything except the closing seconds.

        “There's nothing to compare it to,” he said. “I've never seen anything like it and I'll probably never see it again. You want to forget it, but it's a game you'll never forget.”

        Notes: Browns rookie Anthony Henry returned an interception 97 yards for a TD, matching the longest in Browns' history. Najeee Mustafaa had a 97-yard interception return against Miami on Oct. 10, 1993. ... Browns rookie RB James Jackson sprained his left ankle in the first half and did not return. ... Jacksonville scored a TD on its first possession for the first time since Nov. 21, 1999.

       



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