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Monday, September 19, 2005
Updated: September 22, 12:00 PM ET
A father and son frisking

By Don Barone
Special to Page 2

In a sport where everyone pats each other's butts … can I ask, please don't pat mine?

Or the butts of the 71,781 people in line next to me.

It's 40 minutes before kickoff, Gate 9, and I'm waiting in line behind a 7-year-old.

And he's being patted down.

Kid

Don't know his name. Don't really think it's Losman, as the name on his back says -- least I hope not. Rookies, ya never know.

The 4-foot, 60-pound offender is wearing a replica No. 7 jersey that reaches to his knees, and a backpack with a teddy bear wearing a Bills helmet. A Fisher Price throwback.

Losman sticks his small arms straight out, as a guy in an ugly bright yellow shirt is feeling the kid's cargo pants.

Off to the side, on the other side of the rail, a cop in full uniform -- badge, gun and mustache -- is searching the bear backpack.

Welcome to the NFL.

Male Pattern Bonding
It's opening week, 80 degrees at Ralph Wilson Stadium, only a slight chance of snow. I'm wearing shorts to a Bills game. Wide right is almost forgiven.

Jimmy's 17th birthday present: An 800-mile round-trip to Buffalo, 36 hours in the land of the Bills, $3.76 per gallon gas on the New York Thruway -- "Ahh … it's your Christmas present too …" -- father, son and friend Andrew on a road trip.

It's Jimmy's first home opener of his beloved Buffalo Bills. (And he is still pleading with me not to use his real name, for fear the Bills' police will never let him go to another Bills game. "Dad, just say you brought Ashley, she doesn't care.")

For Andrew, the only other Bills-loving kid in our small, neighborly, love-our-team-or-leave New England town, it's "The first time I've ever been to a Bills game and not been threatened" trip. Andy's dad is a lifelong Patriots fan/season-ticket holder. Andrew, brave beyond his years, wears his Jim Kelly jersey to all the Bills' games in Foxboro.

From the back of the minivan I hear, "I've never actually seen them win either." Great. In the rearview mirror I'm looking at bad-luck Patriots DNA in a $70 McGahee replica jersey.

*****

Turn left at Springfield, cruise control set to 72, chicken wings in 6½ hours, seven with "not again, Dad" bathroom stops.

It's a father-son legacy to bitch about the Buffalo Bills, passed on from my dad, to me, to Jim. Maybe Andrew too, if I can sneak it by his father. Male pattern bonding, I-90 westbound style.

I was going to use the drive to pass on the family heirloom knowledge: "Jimmy, the Dolphins are evil." (I was actually going to modernize and use the Patriots, but I knew Andrew was faking being asleep, and his father is an attorney.)

Instead, just past Schenectady, my third-generation Bills fan asked me, "Are they going to touch my balls?"

At mile 300-something, talk of who else we hate in the AFC East ended, replaced by talk of the NFL stadium policy of father and son frisking. Wives and daughters, too.

Before leaving for the game, I told my wife Barb about the new NFL rule this season of patting down every fan going into every NFL game.

Barb, not being a fan of smelly guys, or sports in general, responded, "Great, just what I'd like to do -- go to a football game and get felt up by the NFL."

Jimmy, obviously, must have been listening.

Andrew was now wide awake.

Game Day minus 1
Andrew, still not realizing he's safe in Buffalo, keeps pointing out all the people in "Bills stuff." As far as I can tell, he's yet to be threatened.

Since I wanted him to have a present too, I told him that I would look around to see if I can find someone wearing a Patriots hat, "and you can tell him he's a jerk, if he's not too big."

*****

Sports radio, dateline Buffalo: "Can Kelly still throw?" "Losman this, Losman that." Lots of comments I can't say about Bledsoe because I actually like the guy (and after spending several hundred dollars on Bledsoe Bills stuff I'm still trying to cut my losses with Jimmy, hoping he won't toss it if he thinks the guy is a great sportsman, or if the stuff is worth something on eBay). And three radio guys broadcasting from a Canadian casino take calls from listeners who mainly comment, "The Dolphins suck."

I love opening day. And I'm passing it on to my son.

And Andrew, who's looking for chicken wings and "maybe a stupid Jets fan to yell at."

There is one other thing, though. Screaming from all the radio stations, and from all the printed news in Buffalo, is: GET THERE EARLY BILLS FANS, YOU'RE GOING TO GET PATTED DOWN. HAND-SEARCHED, EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU.

No one seems to say, however, exactly why the boys and I, and the 70 thousand other "Billievers" are going to have such a touching experience at the game.

So being the concerned father that I am, not to mention the temporary adult to a lawyer's kid, I try to find out.

I call an old friend who now is a fully-vested FBI guy in Buffalo: "So, am I going to get blown up at this damn game?" Without weather issues, small talk is short in the Queen City.

"Is there a threat … for God's sake, I've got a lawyer's kid with me. And Jimmy, too."

Fully intending to stay fully-vested, my friend denies knowing me, my family, taking the call or even being in New York state on game day.

Normal for most of my calls to the feds.

And then he/she says, "Any threat would be news to us."

Seeing that I know he/she has Bills tickets, and not saying if he/she has kids, but if he/she did, that they would also be at the game, I ask, "So why are we getting frisked?"

"Got me," was the answer from the fed guy/gal, who will of course deny even being able to use a phone now that he/she heard I might write about this.

After talking about the possibility of Kelly's suiting up, I ask him/her for advice.

Waiting

"Get there early."

"How early?"

"When's kickoff?"

"1 p.m."

"Is it sold out?"

"Yeah."

"Saturday. Get there Saturday."

Too late for that.

Game Day
In a miracle only an NFL game can bring about, two teens get out of bed at 7 a.m. And take showers. And brush their teeth.

Ralph Wilson, thank you.

We planned to leave a little early. Five hours before kickoff.

So did 71,781 of our neighbors.

I had tried to do a pat-down calculation in my head. 71,781 bodies, at, say, a second a pat. That's 1,196 minutes … 19.93 hours.

The feds were right. I told the boys we were a day late.

We leave anyway. I promise to drive fast. And we do, for 12.3 Mapquest miles.

Then we come to a dead stop. It seems everyone in western New York can divide by 60 seconds.

Beep. Crawl. Beep. Some yelling by a guy in a limo with his face painted blue and red. Eventually, signs saying "Park Here" for $5 … $10 … $15 … boys, we're getting closer.

Past beeps and chants of "Kelly rules!" we turn left, run over glass, dodge a keg and park. It's time for a "Bills Experience."

We toss around a football, eat some Oreos, and buy some stuff. A guy hawking something hands me a free pom-pom that's only cost me $315 in tickets, hotel, gas, chicken wings, parking and T-shirts.

Forty-five minutes later, I have my first father/son frisking.

As I watch from behind, my son walks up to the Ralph, carrying a bag with a Bills T-shirt and a Bills pennant, and stops.

One cop takes the bag, Jimmy raises his arms, and like a scene out of "Cops," he gets frisked. Patted down. From the top of his cargo shorts where the underwear sticks out to his knees. A stranger is feeling my child's legs.

His crime? He has a ticket to an NFL game.

For some reason, the NFL doesn't trust my son. Nor the lady next to him. Nor the two guys in wheelchairs who I also saw get searched.

And they certainly don't trust the 7-year old Losman in front of me now going through his search. Too short for a Disney ride, not short enough for an NFL pat-down.

I can see the e-mails now: "Barone, you punk-loser closet Dolphins fan. That's the price we pay now for security. People trying to blow us up, you loser. Go Bills."

And they would be right. Opening day was, in fact, September 11th. I get that.

What I don't get is why, when the feds say there is no threat, 32 owners can say there is.

If they know something, share it.

But don't touch me. Or my family. Or the 7-year-olds.

Check my Bills Experience shopping bag, the Bills teddy bear backpack. Wand me, make me go through a metal detector strong enough to pull out my fillings.

But keep your hands off my kid. And me.

For all of you who stood in line to be patted down, NFL style, it was based on nothing.

From the NFL:

Feel better?

Once I got the boys in their seats, and knowing this will probably be the last time the NFL allows me within a mile of a stadium, I went back to watch more pat-downs.

Fat guy

With a half an hour before kickoff, what was once civilized had now become rushed.

Women patted down by males. Males, smelling of sun and Budweiser, now hugging the female security personnel trying to pat them down. One big guy, wearing nothing but small shorts with a big belly and a hat made out of beer cans, bent down and picked up the lady patter and hugged her, rolling her in the beer and sweat that comes from four hours of professional tailgating.

The pats were quick now -- one, two, three, four, hands of the patter palms up, only the edge of their hand skimming the person's shorts and legs.

Everyone got patted -- youth-size fans, and fans who've been around as long as Mr. Wilson. Fans with no hair, white hair, blue hair, curly hair, straight hair.

As pat-downs go, it was nice, polite, professional.

And unneccessary.

And sad.

To a kid, it should just be about the game.

And it's not just Buffalo. That same kind of scene undoubtedly happened at many NFL stadiums.

You want the crowd to be safe? Quit selling $10 beers … a foot high, three each at last call. Tags, take a trip to the men's room, where the real ticket buyers pee. But wear boots.

Stop the people from peeing in the sinks, or on the floor between quarters. The bio-hazards alone are more dangerous than anything you'll find at the gate.

Hey, when the tailgaters show up at the gate with no shirt and 350 pounds of blue-and-red painted belly, dripping of hops, YOU MIGHT WANT TO KEEP THEM OUT. That's safe. That guy puking over there by the kegs on the back of the rental truck? Might want to keep him out, too.

Or the lady who flashed her breasts to the crowd? Might want to move her out of sight of the family section (but not too far).

Did an $8 rent-a-cop pat down the NFL owners and their wives and kids? If not, then don't touch mine.

*****

Kickoff. Bills winning. Losman turns out not to be the kid in front of me with the backpack, and plays well. People in my section describe him as "Kelly-esque." Anointment.

Still, with visions of the mass pat-down in my head, and worrying about the memory etched into 16-year-old minds, I lean over and shout: "So guys, you OK with the pat-down?"

Not taking their eyes off the game, they shake their heads, thinking something like, "Stupid dad, please, dear God, don't let him talk about Thomas Jefferson again … not here."

"Yeah, it was no big deal …"

Cheers. Bills up by three more.

"… no one touched my balls."

Don Barone is a feature producer for ESPN. You can reach him at Don.Barone@espn.com.