Browns Apologize for Rude Fans

Tuesday, December 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CLEVELAND (AP) _ After further personal review, Cleveland Browns president Carmen Policy apologized.

Policy and Browns owner Al Lerner were widely criticized for comments made Sunday that appeared to condone rowdy behavior by some fans during the bottle-throwing riot in the final minute of Cleveland's loss to Jacksonville.

On Monday, Policy said he made a mistake.

``I set the tone for everything that was said,'' Policy said. ``I established the way we were handling the questions on how our fans were to be judged. I set the tone for whatever the organization stood for and would find acceptable.

``I did not set the proper tone. I'm not an amateur. There's no excuse for it. I don't care what kind of despair or shock I may have been operating under. I just didn't get the job done.''

Policy apologized to Cleveland fans, the Jaguars and everyone but the ``hooligans'' who littered the field with beer bottles and took direct aim at NFL officials and Jacksonville's players.

``Under no circumstances would we approve of that,'' Policy said Monday at the Browns' headquarters in Berea. ``I can imagine the national story suggested in some way we were justifying some of the conduct yesterday as though it was excusable. That's not how we feel. That's not what we meant to say and that's not at all what our record would indicate that we stand for.''

He said the team will push for the prosecution of fans who threw objects onto the field and that the Browns would study videotape to identify offenders.

Policy said if season-ticket holders are guilty, they could be stripped of their tickets.

Lew Merletti, Cleveland's security director, said the Browns would also look into ways of selling beverages in something other than plastic bottles.

The 20-ounce bottles _ many still filled with beer _ were the majority of the projectiles used Sunday.

Following the game, Policy and Lerner refused to condemn the rowdiness, which forced a 30-minute delay in the game with about 48 seconds left. Policy also didn't think anyone was in serious danger on the field.

``I don't think this is an example of life and limb being at risk,'' he said. ``I like the fact that our fans care.''

Lerner said: ``It wasn't World War III.''

Policy now admits he mishandled the situation.

``I just didn't get the job done,'' he said. ``For that, I do apologize to people who didn't deserve to be lumped together with hooligans that none of us would approve of.''

Luckily, the barrage of bottles, cups, bobblehead dolls and other items didn't cause any serious injuries.

Merletti said 10 arrests were made and that the team would vigilantly pursue those responsible for throwing things.

``We will bring a number of people forward and they will pay the price,'' Merletti said.

Debris also was thrown on the field Monday night in New Orleans early in the fourth quarter of the game between the St. Louis Rams and the Saints.

Defensive pass interference was called on New Orleans' Kevin Mathis in the end zone with 9:44 remaining. Fans reacted to the call by tossing debris on the field, and the NFL said 13 arrests were made.

In 1995, the New York Giants took season tickets from some fans who threw snowballs on the field during a game.

Policy said he spoke with league officials in New York on Monday, but was not criticized for his postgame comments. He also regretted ``dragging'' Lerner into the postgame news conference with him.

The Browns' home season finale turned frightening in the closing seconds when officials used instant replay to decide that Browns wide receiver Quincy Morgan did not catch a pass for a first down.

But they didn't make the ruling until after the Browns ran another play.

Browns coach Butch Davis still doesn't understand why the call was overturned.

``It's my understanding when the ball is signaled into play and snapped that anything that happens after that is non-reviewable,'' said Davis, in his first season as Browns coach.

Davis was also asked if the bottle-throwing made him feel any less comfortable about working in Cleveland.

``Nope,'' Davis said. ``Proud to be here.''

So is Browns quarterback Tim Couch, who said he was standing at midfield talking with several Jacksonville players as the debris rained down.

``They were like, 'I wish our fans were as into it as your fans are,' `` Couch said. ``I guess you can look at it either way. Either your fans are into it, or some people say they're nuts, throwing bottles and stuff.

``I'm sticking behind our fans. I'm happy they're supporting us like that. I'm not happy they're throwing bottles.''