Streaking across Bills' field can be a costly mistake

Jay Skurski

You cross the 50-yard line, nothing but glory ahead.

A packed stadium roars in approval. Then you see him — a defender dressed in a yellow jacket bearing the title “sheriff.” Then there’s another. Before you know it, they’re coming at you from all directions.

But determined to make it to the end zone, you break out your best Marshawn Lynch impression.

Quite possibly you’re drunk. You’ve just streaked across the Ralph Wilson Stadium field.

Now what?

“You’re arrested for the field intrusion and charged with criminal trespass,” said Christopher Clark, director of security for the Buffalo Bills.

And suddenly, that 15 seconds of fame doesn’t seem worth it.

The aftermath

“It costs them some money to hire an attorney,” Clark said of such streakers. “They miss the game. You know, they have to make bail. So there are a number of things that come into play.”

Security is provided at home games by the Apex Group. Clark said the company’s employees are sworn by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, which gives them the power to make arrests at the game. After being processed at the stadium, those arrested are transported by Erie County Sheriffs deputies to the Orchard Park Police Department, where they’re photographed and fingerprinted.

Though there are different degrees of criminal trespass, the most-likely scenario involves being charged with a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $500 fine — or both.

At the season opener last month against the Denver Broncos, the game was delayed on two occasions for streakers. The second time, a group of at least four youths made their way across the field.

“In that particular incident, a group of them came over the wall at one time,” Clark said. “The security guard was facing the stands at that time, but ... he was one person to four people.”

For the fans in the stands — and the media in the press box — the stunt draws a couple seconds’ worth of attention and the occasional “maybe the Bills should sign those kids” joke. Eyes are transfixed on the inevitable collision between the law and the lawless. But for the security on the field, preventing an incident is their primary responsibility.

“We try not to chase them,” Clark said. “We try either to stop them or contain them.”

Fans jumping on the playing field for a cheap thrill is nothing new. In the 1970s and ’80s, it could even bring celebrity. Older fans may remember Morganna the Kissing Bandit, the Ohio woman who would run onto the field at Major League Baseball games and kiss unsuspecting players. Morganna became so popular she even appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

Those days, though, are gone. Today, television cameras won’t film spectators who enter the playing field, in an effort to deter the practice.

Security simply can’t tell who’s another Morganna from who could be another Gunter Parche, the German loner who stabbed tennis star Monica Seles during a match in 1993.

“That’s the main reason they’re down there, to protect the people on the field,” Clark said. “We haven’t had a number of field intrusions, so I think the fans know the seriousness (of the crime). It’s just some things fuel that.”

Drinks can equal problems

One of those things, of course, is alcohol. And because of the 8:30 p.m. start for Monday Night Football, fans will have longer to drink before the game.

That’s one of the reasons the team will have additional security available Monday.

“We have a couple of events that naturally will make us have more people on hand, like the tailgate party in Lot C,” Clark said. “We’ll also have some additional personnel in the stadium, so hopefully we’ll address those issues — if there are issues.”

At last week’s game against the New York Jets, it was reported that 11 arrests were made, 65 people were ejected from the game, and 22 others were turned away at the gate. There were 70,600 people in attendance, meaning less than 1 percent of those at the game caused an incident.

“When you break it down, the number of unruly fans is very small, but that’s what you hear about,” said Russ Brandon, the team’s executive vice president of business operations. “We’ve got many things that we do proactively ... to make sure that when people are in the facility, they feel comfortable.”

To that end, in the past two years the team has developed a fan-behavior initiative. Letters are sent to the more-than 48,000 season-ticket holders explaining what type of behavior is expected in the stadium, either by the ticket holders themselves or those who use the tickets.

“The safety of our fans has always been our number one off-field priority,” Brandon said.

The national stage

The atmosphere should be electric at the Ralph on Monday. The Dallas Cowboys — led by former Bills coach Wade Phillips — come to town to meet a Buffalo team coming off its first win of the season. Fans were excited by the play of rookie quarterback Trent Edwards and are eager to see if he can pull it off again.

“Having the opportunity to have the Monday Night Football brand back in the market is great for the entire region,” Brandon said. “The organization is ecstatic to be able to host the game once again.”

With the national cameras rolling, Clark said his staff will be determined to make sure nothing takes away from the game.

-- Niagara Gazette

“We want to put on a good face for Western New York and this region,” he said.