The problem was, these snowballs actually had golf balls in the middle and really became weapons. To this day, I have no idea how or why fans brought golf balls to the game, but I guess they came prepared for anything. As we walked off the field, Marty Schottenheimer told us to keep our helmets on, turn our faces away from the fans and walk with our bodies away from the stands.
Sure, we had our moments at the old Cleveland Stadium. Fans threw dog bones of various shapes and sizes from the Dawg Pound. There also were reports that fans threw batteries onto the field, although personally I never saw anything other than the bones.
I've said all along that Cleveland has the best fans in the world. I know they were frustrated because of what happened in 1995 and I watched as they threw seats and other items onto the field. But that was a totally different situation. There's actually no comparison between what happened Dec. 16 against the Jaguars and what took place following the final home game of the 1995 season.
At that time, the fans were frustrated because they were no longer going to have football in Cleveland. They had a lot more taken away from them than just one game. They had their passion and team taken away. In the most recent situation, the officials made a big-time booboo. However, no matter what the situation, I cannot agree with how the fans reacted.
The fans put the safety of players, coaches and everybody else on the field and lower deck in jeopardy. This is not right regardless of the circumstances. In addition, there were kids looking on at adults who displayed their emotions in a way not acceptable no matter what the situation.
Fans have to be accountable for their actions and remember we all have a responsibility to our youth to set the standard of behavior for generations to come. The kind of reaction we saw on Dec. 16 makes me worry about what we might expect from our children down the road when life throws them a curve ball.
Do I think it's a black eye for the fans of Cleveland? Definitely not. The same thing happened the next night in New Orleans. Different place, same reaction. The fans were frustrated, although they definitely could have handled it differently. But to say this is a negative in regards to the fans of Cleveland, I don't think so.
I will say this. I was disappointed in the initial reaction by the front office when they downplayed the bottle throwing incident. In the minutes following the game, I think Carmen Policy and AI Lerner spoke from their hearts. It was what they really, truly felt. But then, after thinking about it from a business standpoint and from a leadership perspective, they had to recant. What they initially said was inappropriate in my opinion.
When you talk as a leader of a team, you have to be very particular about what you say and how you say it. They realized what they said could have a more adverse affect down the road, not only here in Cleveland, but everywhere else as well. They should have nipped it in the bud when they had the chance because by approving of what happened in Cleveland, fans from throughout the league, like in New Orleans, might draw the wrong conclusion.
The one thing I wish is the team had another home game to play this season. Like a offensive lineman who gets called for a holding penalty, you never really see who they are until something negative happens. The same is true about our fans now. I would like everybody to see Cleveland fans for who they really are, the best anywhere. I believe the reaction of the fans at the next home game will make people around the country forget about Dec. 16. Unfortunately, until the first game of the 2002 season, the fans will not have an opportunity to prove themselves, to retract the same way Policy was able to retract what he said 24 hours later. September 2002 seems that much further away now.