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GOALPOST RUSH CAN BE DETERRED, NOT STOPPED

How do you protect the Rich Stadium goalposts when even a small fraction of 80,000 exuberant fans get that look in their eyes and flash their best Bruce Smith moves on anyone who's in their way?

Judging by the events after Sunday's Bills-Dolphins game, when both sets of goalposts succumbed to the day's strongest rush, it may be almost impossible to protect them.

Or at least it's not worth the risk.

Billy clubs, guns, K-9 dogs and mounted patrols all can serve as deterrents, law-enforcement officials said Monday, but if the fans are determined enough, using force can lead to serious injuries, or worse.

"From a police standpoint, I think you have to weigh whether the objective you want to achieve is worth the risk to society," Orchard Park Police Chief Robert C. Henning said Monday.

"These are fans who have supported the team," another law-enforcement official said. "They've waited a long time for this. I don't blame them."

Chase Investigations Inc. had about 300 off-duty police officers and security guards on the field at the end of the game, while the Erie County Sheriff's Department had about 40 armed deputies.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's absolutely no way 300 or 400 people can hold back 3,000 or 4,000 people, especially when some of them are drinking," said Frank Quigley, vice president of Chase.

Bills' officials estimated that the goalposts would cost about $7,000 to replace. While the goalposts became souvenirs with their own black-market price, one fan donated a piece to WGR radio, which raised about $2,000 for Roswell Park Cancer Institute by selling small sections for $10 apiece.

Here's what happened Sunday at 4 p.m., eyewitnesses said. The goalpost at the scoreboard end of the stadium went first, without much challenge. Meanwhile, about 10 mounted Erie County Sheriff's Department horses were guarding the goalpost at the tunnel end of the stadium, until the crowd began surging toward them.

"They were afraid the horses were going to get hurt, and they left," one police officer said.

Once the horses fled to the safety of the tunnel, the battle was over. Many of the security guards, off-duty police officers and reporters at the scene also fled to safety, and the goalposts were history.

There were no official police reports on the number of injured, but four security guards and at least a handful of fans were hurt in the mini-stampede.

One of the guards suffered a knee injury, another a broken finger, a third an epileptic seizure and a fourth cuts and bruises. At least three fans were hurt, one after falling and being stepped on repeatedly and another after reportedly being hit with a billy club.

Apart from the on-field incident after the game, the crowd behaved well, Orchard Park police and other officials said, with only a few arrests made and no serious injuries.

The Miami Dolphins said their bus was pelted with rocks, bottles and eggs as they left Rich Stadium after the game. However, Orchard Park police had no report of such an incident.

No one was injured, said Harvey Green, the Dolphins' director of media relations. But a window on the team's media bus was broken and another was cracked.

"Usually, all the fans have gone home by the time we leave," Green said. "It took us 35 minutes to leave a parking lot that normally takes us five minutes to get out of."

"They had 80,000 fans and few incidents. I'd hate to brand all Buffalo fans because of what happened in the parking lot," Miami Coach Don Shula said.

The biggest problem was a shortage of parking spots. Many satellite parking lots were closed or restricted because of the softness of the ground.

Orchard Park police ticketed 140 cars for illegal parking and towed 39, mostly on Southwestern Boulevard, California and Ellis roads and Abbott Road south of Big Tree, Henning said.

That infuriated some fans, including Diane Belote of East Amherst, whose family had to walk about four miles on dark, busy roads to pay a $10 fine and a $60 towing fee before retrieving their car.

Mrs. Belote said Monday that while her car was parked illegally off Abbott Road, it wasn't blocking anyone and didn't need to be towed.

"The Town of Orchard Park makes a lot of money on these Bills games," she said. "I don't think the town needs money that badly and needs to jeopardize human life."

Bills fans on Sunday stayed longer to celebrate, both inside the stadium and in the parking lots. Several thousand fans still were in the lots two hours after the final gun, although police reported no major incidents.

News wire services contributed to this report.

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