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Pat-downs precede first down at stadium Fans' reviews mixed on NFL requirement

A new term has been added to the National Football League glossary this year, one that's heard almost as much on game days as "zone blitz" or the "Cover 2" defense.

The new term is "pat-down," and it doesn't have anything to do with a polite sack of a quarterback.

All 32 NFL teams are using pat-downs -- taking on average somewhere between 5 and 15 seconds each -- to screen fans streaming into NFL games.

Following the first two home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the procedure has played to mixed reviews. There hasn't been any firestorm of complaints, but a small minority of fans experienced waits ranging up to 20 or 25 minutes last Sunday, leading some to miss the first few minutes of the first quarter.

The delays, according to those who work the games, clearly are avoidable.

"If people went to the stadium quicker and didn't stay in the parking lot until the last minute, there wouldn't be a problem," said Patrick M. Howard, who supervises police and peace officers for Apex Security at the stadium. "The lines aren't bad at quarter after 12 or 12:30. The lines are bad at 10 to 1. People are waiting in the parking lots too long."

Howard also noted that many gates didn't have any lengthy delays. The longest lines Sunday appeared to be at Gates 6, 7 and 8, on the northeastern side of the stadium, along Southwestern Boulevard.

Fans who have seen delays at those gates might get in more quickly if they went to Gate 1 or 9.

"I don't see a big holdup at most gates, and I don't see a problem early," said Howard, who also is Eden's police chief.

Some fans using special lines for suite and club-seat ticket holders apparently waited the longest Sunday.

"We waited in line for 25 minutes," said Neal Fatin, a health care and communications executive who lives in North Buffalo. "If the purpose of the line was to provide a convenience for the suite and club-level ticket holders, it did just the reverse, because the other lines seemed to be moving faster."

Although he missed the first few minutes of the game, Fatin seemed to take the delay in stride.

"I would say it was annoying, but if it truly did anything pertaining to security, I'd rather wait in line than have a problem in the stadium," he said.

Bills officials said Tuesday they are generally pleased with how the pat-downs have worked. They cited the experience of the Bills' security firm, Contemporary Services Corp., which has handled security for Super Bowls, the 2002 Winter Olympics and at least half the NFL's teams.

But they acknowledged that improvements still need to be made.

"The biggest problem that we have is exactly what we thought would be a problem, and that's the crunch at the gate right before the kickoff," said Scott Berchtold, the team's vice president for communications. "It's tough to handle that flow if fans show up at the gate at the last minute. We need to keep working on that.

"We can't drive home our message enough that fans have to get to the gate early," Berchtold added.

Still, some relatively late arrivals to the stadium got inside in time for Sunday's kickoff, if they used the less congested gates.

Mike Miskell, a sales manager from North Tonawanda, arrived at Gates 2 and 3, on the press-box side of the stadium, at about 12:45 p.m. Sunday.

"There was a good crowd of people at the gate, probably 300 or so, but it moved pretty well," he said. "It didn't take more than a few minutes. I expected it to be longer."

Orchard Park Police Chief Samuel M. McCune said he heard about some backups Sunday, but he didn't know how extensive they were.

"That's the Bills' and the National Football League's policy," McCune said. "They've got the right to set the policy for going into their venue. For better or worse, that's the way it is."

The new pat-down policy has spawned some light-hearted criticism, including a lengthy, whimsical article on ESPN.com by Don Barone, an ESPN producer from New England, who attended the Bills-Houston game on Sept. 11.

Barone described what he saw: "Women patted down by males. Males, smelling of sun and Budweiser, now hugging the female security personnel trying to pat them down. One big guy, wearing nothing but small shorts with a big belly and a hat made out of beer cans, bent down and picked up the lady patter and hugged her, rolling her in the beer and sweat that comes from four hours of professional tailgating."

Everyone got patted down, Barone wrote: Kids, fans who have been around as long as Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr., fans with no hair, white hair, blue hair, curly hair and straight hair.

"As pat-downs go, it was nice, polite, professional," he wrote. "And unnecessary."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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