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Bottles fly in Cleveland after a disputed reversal

©Associated Press

December 17, 2001


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

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

Then the Jaguars ran -- scared.

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

Cleveland fans threw thousands of bottles onto the field Sunday, striking 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 left because of the violence, and it resumed only after 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 onto the field but were caught by security personnel.

"They were throwing stuff on our sideline, but they were throwing it on their side, too," Jaguars 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 sprinted for safety.

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

Cleveland's home finale dissolved into another embarrassing chapter for Browns fans.

In 1995, fans tore out rows of seats and started small fires in the finale for Cleveland Stadium weeks after the team announced it 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."

Players on both teams were hit, but nobody was seriously hurt. Police made arrests, but numbers were not immediately released.

Browns president Carmen Policy refused to criticize the fans, 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, but the Browns sent three offensive players with their defense because some players had 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 ugly behavior came after the Browns had a first down at Jacksonville's 9 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 apparently completed a fourth-and-2 pass to receiver Quincy Morgan with 1:08 left, and the Browns, who were out of timeouts, rushed to the line of scrimmage.

On first down, Couch spiked the ball with 48 seconds left 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 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.

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.

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