For once in their lives, the four huge gladiators -- Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, Darryl Talley and Leon Seals -- were but mere spectators as they stood on the NBC camera stand in Rich Stadium's southeast end zone and watched a victory-starved town go crazy.
This wasn't their party.
This was Buffalo's celebration -- a time for the men in shoulder pads to change places with the hometown faithful and move to the sidelines.
After seven non-championship years -- including a pair of 2-14 seasons -- the Buffalo Bills clinched the Eastern Division crown in the American Football Conference with a 9-6 overtime win over the New York Jets Sunday in a soggy War of the Trenches.
It was time for a town that has been knocked down and bad-mouthed to jump off the mat and proclaim its victory.
"What do they call it -- Pandemonium?" linebacker Talley asked later. "This was fan-demonium. It was so much fun."
Ten thousand strong -- wearing Bills underwear, camouflage rain suits, yellow and orange slickers and garbage bags -- they tore down two sets of goalposts, stole the nets behind the goalposts and made the Rich Stadium carpet a more dangerous place than it had been for the previous 3 hours and 20 minutes of combat between two pro football teams.
How rough was it?
"I think I'd rather go against Bruce Smith any day than against some of those maniacs," Bills guard Tim Vogler joked in the surprisingly subdued locker room after the game.
The celebrants did enough pushing and shoving to cause one serious leg injury and leave another fan with the wind knocked out of him, security officials said. But considering the level of combat, it could have been worse. After all, the injury toll is heavier at the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and that can't be much more physical.
And Burke Security's strategy of not using overt force against the wave of celebrants helped result in only two arrests the whole afternoon inside the stadium, Burke manager Edward Muldowney said.
The champagne in this battle couldn't be uncorked for four quarters and 3 minutes, 47 seconds of overtime, until Scott Norwood's third field goal, from 30 yards, sneaked inside the left goalpost to put away the Jets. This was a gritty, blue-collar win -- like the city the Bills represent -- in a game marked by heavy-hitting warfare that produced no touchdowns.
When Norwood ended it, the 300 Burke Security guards who ringed the field deployed their non-combative strategy, allowing the inevitable to happen.
And it did.
The first wave of the Steve Tasker-like suicide squad descended on the uprights that Norwood had split, at the scoreboard end of the field. They survived less than a minute.
The other goalposts proved to be more stubborn, but maybe that was because some of the celebrants were watching the Smith-Bennett-Talley-Seals shenanigans.
How did the half-ton of defensive talent climb onto the camera stand directly above the players' tunnel?
"There were so many people there we just used them as a ladder and jumped on top," Seals replied.
The four Bills screamed and hollered and did a little of their cross-armed celebrating that's now outlawed on the field, since the league defined it as taunting.
There were other highlights, although most of the pack on the field saw nothing but a sea of heads.
One upright was passed up the visitors' side of the field, perhaps offered as a token of thanks to Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr.
General Manager Bill Polian got a safe ride up the tunnel, on the shoulders of Smith and Seals, it appeared.
Channel 4 sports reporter Glen Walker suffered a cut finger. A Channel 4 photographer, Paul Woodson, lost his camera for a while in the mass jubilation.
"You had at least 10,000 people on the field, without a doubt," said Bob Mossman, assistant director of security at the games for Burke. "They weren't nasty at all. Everybody was in a good mood."
Fans left nothing, ripping down the two goalposts (worth $7,500 each) and stealing the nets behind them (at $2,000 apiece). They also grabbed any souvenir they could, like the end-zone corner flags and the ribbons atop the goalpost uprights.
Wilson wasn't crying about the nearly $20,000 loss.
"I don't pay for them," he joked in the locker room. "The county pays for them."
After about 45 minutes and a few hundred renditions of "The Bills Make Me Want to Shout," the Burke Security forces easily dispersed the hundreds of fans still on the field.
That, of course, didn't end the partying at Rich Stadium.
At 5:35 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes after Norwood's game-winning field goal, a group of about 15 youths, singing an extremely off-key version of "I've Got a Feeling, Buffalo's Going to the Super Bowl," paraded their trophy -- one of the uprights -- around the north parking lots and back into the stadium.
"I've probably never felt anything better," Jerry Swiatek, 17, of Cheektowaga, said as the group headed back into the stadium. "This is the City of Buffalo's victory, definitely."
Buffalo's been knocked down, and it's time to get back up, said Kevin Hartwig, 17, of West Seneca.
"The Bills did it for the people, the fans," added Ron McNeill, 17, of West Seneca. "We have it coming. We've been so loyal."
That loyalty was evident throughout this seesaw game -- a nasty, hard-hitting game on the field and an intense nail-biter in the stands.
There were many omens throughout the first half that this wouldn't be the Bills' day: Leonard Smith's ejection, several Bills injuries and finally Norwood's 47-yard field-goal attempt that hit the crossbar, following a five-yard penalty against the Bills.
The Jets led, 3-0, at the half, but Mike Stang, 25, of Blasdell didn't think the omens portended a Bills loss. Stang is a diehard Bills fan, who waved his two cardboard signs -- a capital "D" and a six-post picket fence -- to exhort the Bills "D-fence."
"Naw, it's a test," he said of the bad breaks in the first half. "And we're going to pass the test."
Things looked worse with 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter, as Jets place-kicker Pat Leahy lined up for a 40-yard field goal that probably would have postponed the Bills' victory celebration for at least a week.
The Grazioplene brothers from Batavia still had victory on their minds.
"He's going to shank it, and I'm going to catch it," Paul, 22, said.
Before the kick was blocked by Fred Smerlas, Phil, 19, was looking ahead to the victory celebration.
"It's going to be bedlam if they win," he said. "It's going to be nuts."