BUFFALO, N.Y. — A frustrated Buffalo Bills fan knows how fast the security detail can move when it sees signs of woe at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Motivated by the failure of his Bills, season-ticket holder Mike Allenbaugh carried a sign of protest to the final home game. But security forces took it away shortly before kickoff Dec. 17.
Allenbaugh thought he was obeying the rules, and after checking the team's stadium policy, came up with a sign that read: "firE coacheS dumP maNagement" — capital letters aligned to spell out ESPN. Fans do such things in hopes of getting themselves and their message on TV.
Allenbaugh says the security staff threatened to have him ejected before taking his sign, and that really annoys him.
"It's just ridiculous," he said this week. "I can go in there and say, 'Go Bills.' Why can't I say, 'I don't like you as a manager?'"
Allenbaugh wasn't alone. He was one of several fans whose letters published last weekend in The Buffalo News accused the Bills of stifling free speech. They saw security officials confiscate negative signs, T-shirts, and even paper bags some fans wore over their heads during Buffalo's 28-17 loss to Denver.
"Just because the management and coaching is awful, where do they get off violating our First Amendment right to freedom of speech?" Allenbaugh wrote.
The Bills did not return several messages left by the Associated Press.
The team's stadium policy posted on its Web site reads in part: "Banners and signs are permitted generally, but any such item deemed by management to be dangerous, inappropriate, or which obstructs the view for other guests will be removed. Flags or banners that are commercial or offensive in nature or attached to poles are prohibited."
Buffalo (5-10), coming off a 37-27 win at Cincinnati, closes the season on the road on New Year's Day against the New York Jets.
Ralph Wilson Stadium is owned by Erie County and leased to the team.
County Executive Joel Giambra said the team, under the lease agreement, has complete control over the stadium during a game and can set its own rules.
Allenbaugh's sign was directed at Tom Donahoe, team president, and the Mike Mularkey-led coaching staff, blamed by many for the Bills missing the playoffs for the sixth-straight year.
"The one part that they get you is 'anything deemed by management to be inappropriate,' and obviously, this was inappropriate to them," Allenbaugh said.