Monday, December 12, 2005

The Anti-Holy Roller or The Frivolous Foist

In an otherwise forgettable matchup between a 2-10 and 4-8 team, one of the most amazing plays and subsequent rulings I have ever seen happened on ESPN last night. If you don't know about the infamous 'Holy Roller' or 'Immaculate Deception' play, read about it here. But I digress. The scene Sunday night at Lambeau Field was as follows: Green Bay had the ball 1st and 10 inside their own 1 yard line after the Lions turned the ball over on downs and Green Bay committed a false start on 1st down resulting in perhaps the shortest penalty in history. The score is tied at 13 and there is about 7 minutes to go in the game. Brett Favre hands off to Samkon Gado, who is about to be tackled in the endzone by Lions Linebacker Earl Holmes. As he is falling to the ground, Gado appears at first glance to intentionally fumble the ball forward and out of the endzone where it is recovered at the 1 yard line by Packers Fullback Vonta Leach (who incidentally started this whole chain of events by blocking no one on the play). After a lengthy discussion, the referees rule this intentional fumble a forward pass and call Gado for intentional grounding resulting in a safety and giving the Lions a 15-13 lead with an ensuing free kick to come. There is also a holding call on Green Bay Tackle Mark Tauscher that is going to be controversial as well in a moment. However, Mike Sherman throws his red challenge flag, and although this play cannot be challenged the officials have another conference call where they change their initial ruling. They now rule that since Gado is behind the line of scrimage and out of the 'pocket' he is afforded the same advantages as any quarterback and any pass he throws simply has to make it back to the line of scrimage to avoid intentional grounding. There are some serious issues in regards to fair competition with this ruling. Since the play was an obvious run, I doubt any officials were looking for any illegal men (linemen) downfield who may have been blocking. While a call for such a penalty in this situation would not have resulted in a safety, the simple fact that officials are not looking for the call sets bad precendent on the off chance that the 'pass' is complete and a long gain ensues. Furthermore, there is a rule in place to protect passers in the NFL. From the NFL rulebook: "Officials are to blow the play dead as soon as the quarterback is clearly in the grasp and control of any tackler, and his safety is in jeopardy." This rule is designed to prevent quarterbacks from being held up by one pass rusher and then summarily drilled by another. If Gado is afforded the same luxury as Favre when he is out of the pocket, he should also be called in the grasp when it is obvious his forward progress has been stopped and he is on the way down. Now back to the aforementioned holding call. Although replays showed the hold by Tauscher clearly occurred in the endzone, officials ruled it happened at the 1 yard line. Any hold in the endzone would result in a safety, but the hold at the 1 yard line would simply have resulted in a new record for shortest penalty in NFL history. Taking the only option afforded them, the Lions declined the holding penalty and when the smoke cleared, it was 2nd and 10 from the 1 yard line. Green Bay eventually got a first down and got out of the shadow of their own goal line. Even though they did not win the game on this drive, they would go on to win in overtime on a Ryan Longwell Field Goal. It is highly likely that the officials' decision cost the Lions the game. Further proof that the NFL is the greatest spectator sport. Could you have been entertained as much by 2 NBA or MLB teams who were just playing out the string?

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