By Ken Reed
I’m guessing 99% of American football fans, including current and former players, watching the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots game this past Sunday believed that the Steelers’ Jesse James caught the football thrown by Ben Roethlisberger and scored what probably was the winning touchdown near the end of the game.
It was ruled a touchdown on the field but some dweeb in the replay booth claimed James didn’t actually do what we all saw him do: catch the football and score a touchdown.
Here’s the deal: James clearly made the catch with both hands and turned to try and reach the goal line. As he turned, he started to go down to the ground. Instead of simply falling to the ground on the one-yard line, he reached out with possession of the football to try and break the plane of the goal line. He accomplished that while holding the ball with two hands. That used to be a touchdown.
It still should be.
Why are the rules seemingly different for wide receivers and running backs? If the person holding the ball is a running back who after taking a handoff from the quarterback on the one-yard line jumps in the air and holds the ball across the goal line plane and is rewarded a touchdown no matter what happens when he hits the ground, why isn’t the same thing true for a wide receiver after an obvious pass completion and reach over the goal line?
In the running back scenario, why doesn’t the NFL claim the running back “didn’t complete the handoff”?
If a great majority of NFL fans don’t know what a catch is in the game of football, the league has a problem on its hands.
Here’s former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy on the play: “In flag football, high school football, college football, any place you play football other than the NFL, that’s a touchdown.”
Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky described the play like this:
“Jesse James looked like he had caught the go-ahead touchdown pass with 28 seconds remaining. He had both hands on the ball. He had two feet down. He had a knee down. He had a hip down. All before the ball crossed the plane of the goal.
“But the ball shifted and spun when James’s elbow and hands hit the turf. He did not ‘survive the ground,’ as referee Tony Corrente so memorably put it in explaining, after a long, long review, why the call was reversed and ruled incomplete.”
The play in question might have decided the NFL season. The home field advantage likely switched from Pittsburgh to New England via the overturned catch/TD call. That makes New England the probable favorite to win the Super Bowl. All because of an absurd catch rule.
The NFL definitely needs to review the catch rule in the offseason and lean on common sense when deciding what is and isn’t a catch.
Or, they could just go down to the local sports bar, show the Jesse James catch/no-catch play to 100 football fans and ask them if they think James caught the ball or not. 99 of them will say it was a catch and a touchdown.
With that, the NFL nerds can go back to their plush offices and work on something they’re actually good at: gouging the fans that built the majority of the shiny sports palaces the league’s teams play in.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.