Sunday night's game against the New York Jets was the toughest one on the Buffalo Bills schedule -- not necessarily for the players, but the fans.
The Bills' crackdown on rowdyism got its first test under the worst possible conditions:
The foe was the New York Jets, a team that last year produced the rowdiest game in years as far as fan violence and arrests.
The Sunday night game followed a beautiful late-summer day. Some tailgaters arrived early and drank often, well fueled by the early evening kickoff.
The game was a sellout, which meant that late-filling sections of the stadium, traditionally the rowdiest, were packed by fans shoulder to shoulder, sometimes with those wearing Bills and Jets team colors sitting side by side.
On the field, the final score was the Bills 17, the Jets 3.
In the stands and the parking lots, the final stats stood at 24 arrests and 233 ejections from Ralph C. Wilson Stadium.
The arrests equaled those at last December's Jets game, with about the same number ejected.
"The first half wasn't too bad," Scott Berchtold, the Bills vice president for communications, said of the fans' behavior. "Then in the middle of the second half, all of a sudden it went nuts. There was a fight here, a fight there."
The long lime-green lines of security and off-duty police officers in their highly visible new coats snaked up and down the stadium tiers answering one fight call after another.
The Bills, as previously announced, cut off beer sales at half time, barred containers of any kind from the stadium, increased the percentage of off-duty police on their security force, and stepped up patrols of the parking lots before and after the game.
Orchard Park Police Chief Samuel M. McCune, who was watching the mayhem from the press box when he wasn't helping process those arrested, gave the new security procedures a passing grade.
"People have to get used to it," he said. "I think with the effort being made, we're going to change the attitude. It's going to take time. We're not going to do it overnight."
Arrests, he said, were made for disorderly conduct, harassment, criminal trespass, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration. Several traffic arrests were made on charges of driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene on an accident.
The Bills' schedule itself is expected to help the security team.
"I think things will get back to normal next week with the afternoon game," McCune said of next Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sunday's game, the first prime time game the Bills have played at home in five years, was the last night game in Wilson Stadium this season.
The Bills will play the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 4 on "Monday Night Football" and the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 19 in another Sunday night game. But both contests will be on the road.
Security officials say night games are the worst nightmare in terms of unruly behavior because of longer tailgating parties beforehand as well as a rowdier atmosphere at night. Sunday night games tend to be worse than those on Monday because the parking lot parties get started earlier.
The Bills have told officials of the National Football League that they prefer afternoon games because of the difficulty of drawing a regional crowd to a game ending after 11 p.m.
Berchtold, the Bills spokesman, said the team was pleased with the way the disturbances were handled.
"It's not always going to go the way you want it to go," he said. "But overall it worked pretty well. Anytime you have fights breaking out like that, it's pretty tough on your security system."
"We think we're on the right track," he added. "We think we did a pretty good job for the fights that did break out. I think we reacted very quickly."
Added Thomas R. Staebell, chief of the Erie County Sheriff's Department's Office of Professional Standards: "It was like a typical Monday Night game except it was worse."
"People started drinking beer a lot earlier; it was a beautiful day," said Staebell, who has supervised security at the stadium for years.
McCune, the Orchard Park chief, was up until 4 a.m. after the game dealing with those who were arrested. He said he can't imagine why some people even bother going to the game.