Monday, February 06, 2006

Congratulations Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowl XL and deservedly so. But Fox Sports Daryl Johnston (3 Super Bowl rings with the Cowboys) needs to brush up on his knowledge of NFL versus college football rules. The Super Bowl was almost ruined for me down here in Oaxaca when Johnston, doing the game with Dick Stockton, went completely nutzo over the fumble by Matt Hasselbeck. The fumble call by the officials was reversed after review but not for the reasons being touted by Johnston.

When the official closest to the play first called the fumble, he ruled thusly because he did not see any Steelers player touch the scrambling quarterback. In the official's view, Hasselbeck lost his balance, fell to the turf, the ball squirted out, and, in the NFL, that's a fumble.

Note to Johnston: There is no "The ground can't cause a fumble" rule, as such, in the National Football League. The rule is that, if you are "downed by contact", when a knee or your body or the ball strike the turf, the ball is dead instantaneously at that point. Hence, the ground cannot cause a fumble if you are down by contact. Johnston's problem is that he thinks "down by contact" means contact with the ground. That's a college football rule, or at least it used to be.

In the NFL, a player is only down and the ball is dead if he is "down by contact" WITH A PLAYER ON THE OPPOSING TEAM. If the ball carrier is knocked down by his own player or falls on his own, as the official in yesterday's game believed, the ball is live. If it is knocked loose due to contact with the ground, the ball is still live. The official, based on what he saw, ruled correctly that the ball was fumbled and the Steelers had recovered it.

The replay showed that a Steelers defender had, indeed, gotten a hand on Hasselbeck just before his legs slipped out from under him. Therefore, the fumble and recovery ruling by the official on the field was overturned. Hasselbeck was downed by contact as stipulated in what I consider to be a pretty easy to understand (and a very long-time) NFL rule. Dick Stockton tried, as discreetly as possible, to gently remind Johnston that the ball carrier had to be downed by contact with an opposing player. Johnston wasn't listening.

Fox broke for a commercial and I thought that Stockton would take the opportunity to explain the rule to Johnston. If he did, the lesson didn't take. Johnston started hollering, "This is the worst officiated Super Bowl I've ever seen," or something to that effect. Finally, Johnston lamely stated, "There are just too many gray areas in the NFL rules." Jeez! Gray area? What gray area?

The contested offensive pass interference penalty called against Darrell Jackson was not a bad call. A pass receiver can get away with a push-off if, 1) he does not fully extend his arm(s) during and after the push and, 2) he doesn't do it right in the officials face in the end zone. The official is not granted the right to stand there and try to determine if it was just a little push or a medium sized push or an in-your-face-disgrace type push. Is pushing-off by a receiver legal or illegal? It is illegal and the official had the perfect right to make the call as he did.

In this piece, Fox Sports continues its unfortunate game coverage as Kevin Hench blames the officials for Seattle's loss. To be fair, almost everybody is laying for the officials, both last night and today. That is not being fair to the officials.

Read what Hench says:
But Chris Gray was called for holding James Farrior. When Farrior pushed upfield, Gray did hook him with his right arm, and Farrior went down. When referee Bill Leavy flagged Gray, it was a bad omen for the Seahawks.
Is hooking a defensive pursuer and taking him down legal or illegal? If it is illegal, and it is, then why would an official who saw it refuse to make the call? More from Hench:
The replay showed receiver and defender hand-fighting, with Jackson getting the slightest push into Hope's chest before turning to catch the ball.
The replay also showed that Jackson's left arm was fully extended, meaning that he gave Chris Hope all the push that he could muster at the time and from his position. The replay also showed that Jackson accelerated away from Hope with the push and Hope's head and shoulders moved backwards as a result of the push. The replay also shows that the official was standing right there. Hench doesn't mention any of this. In my opinion, the hesitation was due to the official reaching back for the flag and struggling to find it, like he had put it in the wrong pocket or reached back with the wrong hand. I'm not real clear on that flag groping and would have to see the replays again. All of that aside, is Hench's "slightest push" legal or illegal? Did the receiver gain an advantage with the push or not? I think the replays show that he did gain an advantage and that is illegal in the NFL, period.

More from Hench:
The flag came in during the runback and it looked pretty minor.
Where in the NFL rulebook does it declare that "pretty minor" holding during a 33-yard punt return in the Super Bowl is legal? Where in the NFL rulebook does it delineate the difference between pretty minor, minor, average, pretty average, major and pretty major? It doesn't. Holding is illegal. Holding occurs on every play in the NFL. The officials can't see them all and can't call all of them that they do see because the holders are usually pretty clever about hiding it. In this case, it occurred right in front of an official and he correctly flagged it.

On the disputed touchdown by Roethlisberger, it appeared to me that the ball initially broke the plane of the end zone and it was a touchdown. Hench admits that even if the touchdown had been taken away, the Steelers would have scored, anyway.

I can't remember the next disputed holding call. I'll have to see the replays, again.

Again, in the interest of fairness, the illegal blocking penalty on Hasselbeck on the runback after he had thrown an interception looked like a bad call. It had no effect on the game, it was all over by that time, but it appeared to be a bad call. It may be that the officials cannot permit a tackler to cut through the legs of a blocker to make a tackle. I dunno.

All in all, I think it is grossly unfair for "experts" like Hench to declare that Seattle should have won the game but for bad officiating and that the Steelers do not deserve their trophy. That is Monday morning quarterbacking at its worst.

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