Team bans beer bottles, implements other policy changes

Cleveland Browns fans cut off

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2002

BEREA, Ohio -- Instant replay hasn't been fixed, but the Cleveland Browns are making sure that last year's ugly bottle-throwing incident is never repeated.

On Saturday, the Browns will play their first home game since Dec. 16, when an overturned call in the final minutes against Jacksonville led to fans pelting officials, police, players and coaches with thousands of plastic beer bottles.

This year, those 20-ounce bottles have been banned. The club also is taking a zero-tolerance approach with fans who throw objects.

''The only person throwing anything at the stadium will be the quarterback,'' said Browns security director Lew Merletti, a former director of the U.S. Secret Service.

In the aftermath of the near-riot at last season's home finale, the Browns announced several policy changes designed to prevent a similar situation at their stadium.

Among them:

-- No more plastic beer bottles. Beer will be poured into cups by vendors and at concession stands. However, fans will still be able to purchase bottled soft drinks and water.

-- Beer sales will be cut off following the third quarter at day games, and stopped at the conclusion of halftime during night games.

-- Fans will be limited to two beers per transaction. In the past, they could buy four at one time.

-- A ''Ready Room'' next to the field has been set up where Browns officials can more easily communicate with the league office in New York as well as security personnel in the stadium.

Merletti said that was the biggest problem eight months ago.

The Browns feel the new policies were essential to ensure there would never be another bottle-throwing incident, which along with the ''Beer Night'' riot in 1974 at an Indians game, ranks among the most embarrassing events in Cleveland sports history.

''We're doing what we think is the wise, and rational and reasonable thing to do,'' Browns president Carmen Policy said Tuesday.

Following last year's melee, the Browns reviewed videotape and still photographs in hopes of identifying some of the fans who threw bottles or other debris on the field.

Merletti said 17 arrests were made and that the club has revoked five season-ticket accounts. The Browns also have photographs of 24 other individuals they are hoping to find.

''We have not been able to identify those people but we will be looking for them at these games,'' Merletti said. ''The matter is not closed yet.''

Merletti said the Browns always worried about the large plastic bottles, which have become a staple at sports arenas and stadiums nationwide, being an ''issue''.

However, despite the bottle-throwing incident in Cleveland, and a similar but smaller-scale one in New Orleans the next night, many teams are continuing beer sales in plastic bottles.

''I don't believe that there have been many changes in the league as a result of this incident,'' Policy said. ''Most of the teams I have talked to are going to hold onto utilizing the plastic bottles.''

Policy added that there is even a possibility the Browns would return to selling beer in plastic bottles -- as long as fans abide by the rules and behave.

''Once the situation has been tested for a period of time and everybody understands that was an aberration that occurred last year,'' he said. ''That's not going to happen again if people use their heads and understand that what they're doing is a reflection of this community.''

During a visit to Browns Stadium last week, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said miscommunication between referee Terry McAulay and stadium security played a major part in the situation worsening.

As a safety concern, Policy was asked if McAulay should work upcoming Browns games.

''I think that's a decision for the league to make,'' he said. ''I think they will consider a variety of things. Whatever the league decides to do, we're willing to work with them.''

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