Fans get unruly about overturned call in final minutePosted: Sunday December 16, 2001 4:51 PM
Updated: Monday December 17, 2001 8:30 AM
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, 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 to play 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 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 sprinted for safety.
"I was definitely looking over my shoulder for bottles flying," Browns quarterback Tim Couch said.
Cleveland's 2001 home season finale dissolved into another embarrassing chapter for Browns fans.
In 1995, fans tore out rows of seats and started small fires in the finale of 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."
Players on both teams were hit but nobody was seriously hurt. Police made arrests but exact 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 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 head 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.
"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.
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 head 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."
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.