The NFL flags and fines players for excessive celebration on the field. Commissioner Roger Goodell just sent a very clear message that the league's owners aren't above those same rules.
The NFL fined Titans owner Bud Adams $250,000 on Monday for making obscene hand gestures at Buffalo fans while celebrating Tennessee's 41-17 win over the Bills. Adams was seen making the gesture both from his luxury suite and again on the field at the end of the game Sunday.
Goodell notified Adams of the fine Monday, less than 24 hours after the 86-year-old owner said he got caught up in the excitement of the win. League spokesman Greg Aiello said the fine is for conduct detrimental to the NFL.
The Titans declined to comment after the fine was issued but Adams issued an apology earlier Monday. He also said he expected league discipline for his actions and would accept any punishment.
"I do realize that those types of things shouldn't happen," Adams said in a statement. "I need to specifically apologize to the Bills, their fans, our fans and the NFL. I obviously have a great deal of respect for (Bills owner) Ralph Wilson and the history we have shared."
Players have been fined by the league for making the same gesture Adams made. San Francisco kicker Joe Nedney was fined $7,500 in October 2007, and Michael Vick was fined $10,000 and donated $10,000 to charity in 2006 while playing in Atlanta.
"The league holds us as players to a higher standard, so to have an owner flip the bird not once but twice the league has to hold him to the same standard if not more," Bills safety George Wilson said Monday before news of the fine. "He's at the top of the hierarchy. If you don't hold him accountable, then you're questioning the integrity of the system."
The NFL fined former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo $1 million after he pleaded guilty to a felony and suspended him for the 1999 season.
Since then, the biggest fine handed down to an individual was $500,000 to New England coach Bill Belichick for the Spygate scandal. The league also fined the New York Jets and former coach Eric Mangini $125,000 in September for violating its rules on injury reporting with Brett Favre last season.
It probably didn't help Adams that Goodell was at Sunday's game, after having breakfast with Adams. The league said that Goodell left Adams' suite at the end of the third quarter and spent the fourth quarter sitting with fans in the end zone before leaving the stadium.
Video of Adams gesturing from his suite was caught by a fan and was all over the Internet and cable TV by Monday afternoon.
Adams and Ralph Wilson were original owners in the American Football League, and Sunday's matchup was a legacy game with both teams wearing throwback uniforms. Wilson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, and the two franchises have been involved in some emotional playoff games.
The Bills staged the greatest comeback in NFL history on Jan. 3, 1993, against what was then the Houston Oilers in a 41-38 overtime victory, while the Titans pulled off the Music City Miracle in 2000, a game-winning kickoff return for a touchdown with 3 seconds remaining.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said he knew that Adams had been excited for the game because of the 50th anniversary of the AFL and because Wilson was coming in for it.
"They're close. There's been some tremendous matchups over the years between the two clubs. The playoff loss there, the Music City Miracle here ... There's a great deal of history here. I know this was a game he'd been looking forward to," Fisher said.
This isn't the first time Goodell has punished someone with the Titans. He handed down a five-game suspension to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in October 2006 for swiping his foot across the head of Dallas center Andre Gurode.
Buffalo defensive tackle Marcus Stroud saw footage of Adams on TV but didn't care.
"He owns that team and Mr. Wilson owns our team. That's about the gist of it, as far as it goes with me. It's not like he can come down and strap up and put on any pads or anything like that. It doesn't bother me. If that's what he wants to do, go for it," Stroud said.
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, N.Y., contributed to this report.