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Players: 'We feared for our lives'

12/17/2001

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Standing near midfield, players and officials
watched as enraged Browns fans rained beer bottles, cups and debris
down on them.

Then the Jacksonville Jaguars ran -- scared.

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

Cleveland fans threw thousands of bottles on the field Sunday,
hitting the Jaguars and Browns and forcing them to run for cover
after officials overturned a last-minute call that helped
Jacksonville win 15-10.

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 of ice as they ran for safety.

Is there anything the league can do to make sure fan behavior like this never happens again?
Probably make the right call right away; don't wait until the play's over to make the call. If the officials make the call at the proper time, none of this would have happened. The call was made after the spike play, and it seemed that's when fans got irate.

But fans are never justified acting like this -- there's never justification for throwing objects with the intent of injuring officials or players.

That's totally wrong, and I believe you'll see the Browns do something to try to curb this in the future.

ESPN.com's Vinny Cerrato was director of player personnel for the Redskins and 49ers.


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"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," Browns coach Butch 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 the 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.

"I was on my way to the shower," Jacksonville quarterback Mark
Brunell said. "The commissioner called and I had to get dressed
and do what the boss says."

About 5,000 fans were still in the stadium to see Brunell take
two snaps and run out the clock. The Jaguars were then escorted off
the field, surrounded by Browns players, Cleveland police and
security personnel.

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.

But the Jaguars would never have imagined they would have to get
it while running for cover.

"That's why you always keep your helmet on on the road,"
Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said. "That was bad. That is not
football. Not like I know it."

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."

Game 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.