Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rules, Rules, Rules, Even in Football: Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions Makes a Game-Winning Catch That is Ruled Incomplete: NFL's Polian Explains

The NFL is swamped by a controversy that will -- depending upon division standings -- cast its shadow over the entire American pro football season, a clear TD catch that was ruled incomplete, based upon a weird NFL rule and by an even weirder interpretation of that rule.

A review of the NFL's own video shows that the Detroit Lion's Calvin Johnson clearly caught a touchdown pass with both hands, touched the ground with both feet and then in the process of falling by way of momentum, after taking two steps, shifted the ball to his right hand, still in complete control of the football, extended his left arm to the ground to brake his unavoidable fall, hit the ground with his knee while still in full possession and then put the ball to the ground with his right hand as pushed himself up off of the ground to run off in celebration of the TD and in so doing let go of the ball.

It was a clear TD that was nullified by the referee who subsequently ruled "no possession" because the ball hit the ground and Johnson then could not "show the ball", even though there is no doubt that Johnson caught the ball and had full possession and himself put the ball to the ground in getting up and thereby lost control of it. All of that is AFTER THE PLAY.

The head of the NFL Competition Committee, Bill Polian, Indianapolis Colts President points to the practical unwritten rule in the NFL which is 'Show me the ball':
""The bottom line is you have to complete the play, you have to show the official that you completed it," he said. "The catch phrase is 'Show me the ball,' and that's the way we officiate it.""
The problem here is a stupidly written NFL rule -- lawyers, drafting is everything -- which is, inter alia, discussed by:

Michael Schottey at Bleacher Report in Detroit Lions Loss to Chicago Bears Calvin Johnson's Fault, Not Referees (he quotes the applicable rules) and by

Martin Manley at upon further review in NFL - I was WRONG!

where the comments correctly focus on the fact that the interpretation of the rule in the Calvin Johnson catch -- that a receiver has to "complete the play" by producing the ball -- means that ANY receiver on the ground is then theoretically fair game for defenders because the play is still LIVE until the receiver gets up and shows the referee the ball.

Indeed, an open receiver standing in the end zone after a clear catch who is walking off to celebrate but has not yet shown the referee the ball and then is brutally tackled by a defender and then fumbles has NOT made a legitimate TD catch, because the play is not yet dead, at least not by the Calvin Johnson standard.

Given this rule, one should not only train linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties to prevent catching of the ball by receivers but one should also instruct them to hit receivers with full force on or near the ground to make sure receivers can not produce the ball to the referee, as the play is LIVE until that has been done. In that case, such hits would also not be "unnecessary roughness" since the pass is not yet complete, i.e. the play is not dead, and the ball is live.

Obviously, that would be nonsense and would lead to many injuries. Similarly, it can not be that a receiver who has made a legitimate catch can not put out one arm to break his fall and prevent possible injuries. If he fumbles, that is a different matter, it's a fumble. It does not make a clear catch incomplete.

The fact is, there has to be a CONSISTENT point for ANY AND EVERY ball carrier -- whether a running back or receiver -- when a play is considered dead, you can not have two standards - one for receivers and one for ball carriers.

Calvin Johnson had complete control of the ball as both feet touched the end zone. Everyone is  in agreement on that. TD. Play over. What happens thereafter should be irrelevant. After the touchdown -- and that is why it is called "the touch down", i.e. a touching down,  the play is dead at that point. The only correct rule is that a player must be in control of the ball at the time that his feet hit the dirt inbounds. Period.

Even for those who might interpret that he did not fully control the ball at the time of the catch, then the play is clearly dead when his knee hits the ground while he was in full possession of the catch, which he was.

It can not be that the play is only dead when he GETS UP WITH THE BALL and shows the ball to the referee -- as Polian would have it.

The NFL will have to live with the fact their rules in this regard are idiotic and are in need of serious immediate change. A catch is a catch. Gee, we even knew this in sandlot football. Maybe the NFL should get back to the basics of the game.

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