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Fans at National Football League games have the right to cheer, make noise and generally have a good time. That’s why they pay good money for tickets.
But they don’t have the right to keep anything that flies off the field of play or sidelines and into the stands as one Indianapolis Colts fan learned at Sunday night’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Fans at baseball games have been keeping home runs and foul balls for years. Hockey fans too, occasionally, snag and keep hockey pucks that fly over the glass. More recently, footballs that fly in the stands have become souvenirs that fans can keep.
But football helmets? Apparently that’s a different story.
Giants running back Brandon Jacobs got upset in the third quarter of New York’s game against the Colts aired on prime-time television. As he came to the bench, he pulled his helmet off and threw it with considerable velocity. The $250 custom-made helmet ended up several rows up in the stands behind the Giants’ bench. NBC cameras caught the aftermath of Colts security taking the helmet from an angry fan. Several other fans got involved in the mini-scrum, yelling at Jacobs then at security personnel.
Jacobs said he meant to throw the helmet at the bench, but it slipped and went airborne. “It got caught onto the sticky leather of my gloves,” Jacobs told reporters after the game.
Jacobs later apologized for the errant toss. No fan was hurt, according to Colts officials. If a fan had been hurt, Jacobs, the Giants and possibly the Colts would have had a potentially serious legal matter on their hands.
Fans at Colts games, like most NFL and college games, are allowed to keep footballs that go into the stands. But “allowed” is the key word. There is nothing legally that would dictate that fans get to keep anything that flies up in the stands, said Colts Senior Vice President Pete Ward.
“It’s not a finders keepers policy,” Ward said. “It’s still private property, so common sense would apply.”
Ward said since each player's helmet is custom made with specialized sizing and padding inside and a special face mask, they are not easily replaced, certainly not on the fly during a game. This is the first time a helmet has gone up into the stands during the 27 years the Colts have called Indianapolis home, Ward said.
Indianapolis Colts security personnel didn’t hesitate to go into the stands to retrieve the helmet.
“We have security on both sidelines,” Ward said. “They saw what happened, and they were on it.”
The fan who had the helmet, was given an NFL regulation football in exchange.