Times NFL Fans Went Way Too Far
Going to see an NFL game live in the stands can be an intense and unforgettable experience. Being part of a crowd of tens of thousands of people cheering on the same team, delighting in each touchdown, and booing the opponent as one strong, loud unit — that’s part of the joy of sports. There’s a lot of aggression, violence, and combat on the field — but that’s all couched in the rules of the game and the spirit of competition, and it’s all carefully managed and diffused somewhat by the presence of constantly watching referees and the use of safety equipment.
But the NFL’s players and coaches partake in such a high level of competition that even a regular season game can get pretty heated, and the tension can transfer from the field to the stands, where the crowd can get awfully riled up and ready for intra-personal combat with dangerous and even bloody results. Here are some times when fans took the game just a little too seriously, and they rapidly evolved from fervent football fans to unruly hostiles.
A Philadelphia Eagles fan beat up Washington’s mascot
According to Washington City Paper, a resident named Zema Williams made himself the city’s NFL team’s unofficial mascot, "Chief Zee," in 1978. He attended home games at RFK Stadium wearing a headdress and other items to appear as a caricature of a Native American warrior, befitting that of the Washington offensive sports logo and name at the time. Although, as noted by the Bleacher Report, his antics represented and encouraged stereotypes and cultural appropriation, they got the attention of "Monday Night Football" and Williams showed up for home games for decades.
In 1983, Williams attended a road game in Philadelphia. Just after the start of the game, a couple of local Eagles fans tried to tear off Williams’ jumpsuit, successfully removing the headdress and throwing it aside. After he tried to get the headgear back, he was walking back to his car when four men jumped out of a van and delivered a savage beating. "They ripped off my costume, smashed my eye socket so my eyeball was just hanging out, snapped my leg like it was a twig," Williams recalled. Afraid to call an ambulance for a ride to a Philadelphia hospital, he instead hired a car service to take him back to Washington. Williams spent the rest of the season attending games on crutches. His attackers were never identified or arrested, but he sued Veterans Stadium security and won a judgment of $14,250.
Eagles fans cheered when a Cowboys star suffered a brutal injury
In 1999, the Dallas Cowboys visited Veterans Stadium for a game against its longtime rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys, not long removed from a trio of Super Bowl victories, had a stacked roster including quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin. As the first quarter wound down, per NBC Sports, Aikman lobbed a short pass to Irvin, who was quickly downed by consecutive hits from Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor and then safety Tim Hauck. The second shot visibly contorted Irvin’s neck in an unnatural way. The game passed as medics attended to Irvin, finally taking him off of the field on a stretcher as he was unable to walk having apparently suffered a severe spinal injury. Irvin recovered, but he never played another down in the NFL owing to that career-ending blow to the spine.
But the mood in the stadium wasn’t entirely dour. A sizable contingent of home-field Eagles fans erupted into cheers as the ailing Irvin was wheeled away. "It disgusted me to death," Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith later said of the fan behavior. "This is just a game. Life, paralyzation, and death are a reality. Sport is sport." Some Eagles players wouldn’t even condone the cheering. "I know our fans pride themselves on being tough, but that wasn’t tough," wide receiver Charles Johnson said. "That was just plain ignorant."
A Broncos fan yelled an anti-LGBTQ slur at a player’s brother
On January 8, 2022, the Kansas City Chiefs, led by Super Bowl-winning, league MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, played their final game of the 2021-2022 NFL regular season, a road contest against the Denver Broncos. Mahomes’ younger brother, Jackson Mahomes, has attained a certain level of fame himself as a social media personality known as "Jackson From TikTok."
According to US Weekly, many of his popular videos were captured while roaming around the sidelines at his brother’s NFL games. Prior to the kickoff of that Chiefs-Broncos game in January 2022, the younger Mahomes brother was hanging around the sidelines, creating content with his brother’s fiancee, Brittany Matthews, when, according to a video captured on the scene by TikTok user phendo13 (via @BBQDom on Twitter), a Broncos supporter screamed a word at the social media star, combining his last name with an anti-LGBTQ slur. (Mahomes does not identify as LGBTQ.) "That’s rude," Matthews told the spectator, who then yelled the slur again.
A historic pass was undercut when a fan threw a glass bottle and struck a referee
The first round of the 1975 NFL playoffs began right after Christmas, and it included a divisional contest against the NFC Central winning, 12 and 2 Minnesota Vikings, and the 10 and 4 wild cards, the Dallas Cowboys. By virtue of having the better record, the Vikings hosted the game at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Minnesota had a comfortable lead until the final seconds of the game when Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach launched a desperate, extremely high-arcing, 50-yard pass to Drew Peterson. Now remembered as the first-ever "Hail Mary" pass, according to History, the play entered NFL legend and lore (per CBS Sports) but also gave the Cowboys a come-from-behind upset win that eliminated the Vikings from the postseason.
The Minnesota home-field crowd wasn’t happy about that turn of events, according to The New York Times. The Vikings protested the touchdown, arguing that Peterson should have been called for interference, but the officials let it stand. Out of anger, frustration, and disappointment, an unidentified Vikings fan hurled a glass whiskey bottle onto the field in the direction of the refs, where it struck 54-year-old official Armen Terzian. He suffered a bloody gash on his forehead, and the Vikings offered a $5,000 reward to anyone who gave up the name of the bottle thrower. Nobody came forward.
A snowball melee at a Giants game led to arrests, injuries, and nearly a forfeit
On Christmas Eve 1995, the San Diego Chargers traveled to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, for a late regular season game against the New York Giants, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. While the Chargers needed a win to make the playoffs, the Giants had long been eliminated from contention, making this game utterly meaningless. Several hundred fans seemed to agree, according to the Hartford Courant, disrupting the game and wreaking havoc on the players by continually hurling snowballs onto the field.
Eyewitness reports cite the number of tossers in the thousands. It got so out of hand that referees paused the game in the fourth quarter and announced that if Giants fans didn’t stop, they’d end the game earlier and give the Chargers the win by forfeit. One person who especially suffered during the one-sided snowball fight was Chargers equipment manager Sid Brooks, who took a hard blow to the eye, knocking him unconscious for 30 seconds. Security and police did what they could, ultimately arresting 14 people and ejecting 175 fans. Fifteen fans suffered injuries along with 10 security guards.
The fans fought each other in the stands during a Raiders-49ers game
It was a battle for football bragging rights in the San Francisco Bay in December 2014 when the San Francisco 49ers headed to Oakland’s O.co Coliseum for a game against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders, with a 2 and 10 record, defeated the favored 49ers (7 and 5) by 24 to 13. Off the field, the competitive spirit descended into multiple acts of violence and utter chaos inside the stadium, according to NBC Bay Area.
Several unconnected fights between Raiders fans and 49ers fans broke out, according to CBS Sports. Stadium security, aware of the vicious rivalry among the fanbases, was prepared and expecting incidents, breaking up one fight in about 40 seconds. When it was all said and done, 93 fans found themselves ejected from O.co Coliseum while many more got in trouble with the law. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office arrested 31 people and issued eight criminal citations for various offenses, most of them related to causing violence.
Eagles fans attacked Santa
If there’s anybody who is universally liked, it’s got to be Santa Claus. Who doesn’t like the guy who delivers free presents? Turns out, fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, circa December 1968. According to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the Eagles were finishing a dismal season, bringing a 2-11 record into their matchup against the Minnesota Vikings in a snow-covered Franklin Field. The game’s scheduled annual halftime Christmas pageant was in jeopardy, as the guy who usually played Santa couldn’t make it through the snow. Eagles entertainment director Bill Mullen found a last-minute substitute in the stands, 20-year-old Frank Olivo.
Philadelphia news anchor John Pierron was at the game, where he recalled a pervasive vibe of crankiness owing to the weather and the Eagles’ lousy season. "The anger in the stands was palpable," he told Comcast SportsNet. When the Eagles took a 7-0 lead, fans started booing the home team — they wanted them to tank the season to secure the #1 pick in the upcoming draft, which they could use to get college star O.J. Simpson.
When halftime began, Olivo came out onto the field to the tune of "Here Comes Santa Claus." They didn’t give him a warm welcome, as requested by the P.A. announcer. "People started throwing snowballs," recalled Olivo’s cousin, Richard Monastra. "Then comes beer cans, then bottles. People were throwing their hoagie sandwiches at him." By his count, per ESPN, Olivo was pelted with more than 100 snowballs.
A brawl broke out at a Rams-Chargers preseason game
Preseason games have no bearing on the NFL season. Wins and losses don’t count toward teams’ records, and players’ stats don’t get tallied. But the crowd at an August 2021 preseason game at SoFi Stadium between the crosstown rival Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers clearly took the exhibition contest extremely seriously, an attitude that turned into anger, which turned into widespread fisticuffs.
According to USA Today (and a bystander video posted to Twitter), the trouble apparently began when a man wearing an Aaron Donald Rams jersey started arguing with some other fans seated in the rows in front of him. After some verbal combat, a woman in another row got involved and instantly escalated the already hostile situation by throwing a drink in the vicinity of the vocal sparring. Suddenly more drinks were getting tossed at the crowd from higher up in the stands, and then fists were flying as three people started beating up on the original Rams fan while other spectators tried to separate it, and other groups of fans started fighting, too. The man in the Aaron Donald jersey sustained a substantial eye injury, while USA Today reported that all fans involved in the brawl received a ban from SoFi Stadium.
When it rained bottles in Cleveland
Coming into their December 16, 2001 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cleveland Browns had a playoff-skirting .500 record, and they needed a win to keep the season going. According to the Plain Dealer, the Browns came back from a scoreless first half to pull within five with 1:08 to play and the ball on the opposition’s 12-yard line. On fourth down with two yards, Quincy Morgan received the ball and advanced three yards before fumbling. Refs ruled it a fair catch, and first down for the Browns. Quarterback Tim Couch ran another quick play, but then refs called for a review of the Morgan catch, which was a violation of NFL rules as a replay can’t happen once another play begins. The officials decided to overturn everything, and so the Jaguars got possession, virtually guaranteeing a win.
Browns fans reacted negatively as the play went under review. Fans from all over hurled glass beer bottles onto the field, with some spectators aiming for the visiting team. One projectile made contact with the leg of Jags cornerback Kiwaukee Thomas; sportswriter Dennis Manoloff got hit in the head with bottles twice. A water bottle hit an executive with the stadium’s security firm in the head. Refs called for a pause on the game while fans threw everything they felt like onto the field. Officials tried to cancel the game over safety issues and a shard-covered field. But the NFL ordered the teams to finish.
Cleveland Browns fans threw all manner of objects at Denver Broncos players
As the game clock ticked off in an October 1, 1989, Cleveland Browns game at Municipal Stadium against the visiting Denver Broncos, kicker Matt Bahr scored a field goal to secure a win for the home team with an assist from heavy winds that carried the ball through the uprights, according to the Plain Dealer. The game very likely would have finished differently had officials not made the teams switch sides of the field. The Broncos had been within scoring range at the four-yard-line on the other end of the gridiron, which put their pre-play huddle right up close with The Dawg Pound, the Browns’ section for the most raucous of fans.
The opposing, visiting team was literally within striking distance, and Browns supporters sitting in The Dawg Pound started to throw whatever they had on hand at the Broncos, led by star quarterback John Elway. They were pelted with eggs, a battery, and a dog biscuit. Broncos lineman Keith Bishop endured an egg, while referee Tom Dooley got nailed by a battery, leading him to decide to make the teams switch sides in the fourth quarter. "After we got them calmed down, I walked behind the huddle and they continued to throw things," Dooley explained.
Bengals fans got so unruly their coach chastised them
According to Cincinnati TV station WLWT, the Cincinnati Bengals welcomed the Seattle Seahawks to Riverfront Stadium for a late regular season game on December 10, 1989. The Seahawks started the day with a 5-8 record, while the Bengals sat at 6-7, meaning tensions were high with both teams competing for a playoff spot. With slightly under four minutes to play, the Seahawks trailed until quarterback Dave Krieg threw a one-yard pass to Curt Warner, giving the Seahawks an insurmountable lead of 24 to 17, jeopardizing the Bengals’ postseason chances (via The Washington Post). But on the last play before the game-winner, Bengals coach Sam Wyche unsuccessfully tried to argue with referees that an illegal motion occurred.
After that call, and while the Seahawks mounted their comeback, Wyche grew more incensed and so did the crowd at Riverfront Stadium. Fans unleashed a barrage of snowballs and beer bottles onto the field, aiming for the officials and members of the Seahawks squad. Finally, Wyche calmed down with some humor, making Ohio city, whose football fans were well known for ugly incidents (see above), the punchline: "Will the next person that sees anybody throw anything onto this field, point them out and get them out of here?" Wyche said over the public address system (per WLWT5). "You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati!"