by Ken Reed

The NFL can’t seem to avoid controversy this season.

From the way they completely botched the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson situations, to the brutal handling of the “pass-interference-no-pass-interference” play in the Detroit Lions-Dallas Cowboys playoff game (a review of the play showed there were actually three penalties against Dallas on the play and none of them were ultimately called), to yesterday’s debacle in the Green Bay-Dallas divisional playoff game when Dez Bryant’s amazing catch was overturned after a replay review.

I didn’t have a rooting interest yesterday but I was enjoying the drama of the Packers and Cowboys going at it in historic Lambeau Field when the referees stepped in and ruined the game (and ended Dallas’ season).

Anybody, and I mean ANYBODY, who has played football or watched it for any length of time could see that Bryant jumped, made an amazing two-handed catch, pulled the ball into his body, took three steps and reached for the goal line with the ball in his outstretched left hand when the ball came loose because of contact with the ground as Bryant tried to score a touchdown that would have given the Cowboys the lead on a gutsy fourth down call by Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. The ground can’t cause a fumble once the player has possession and Bryant clearly had possession.

The rule in question is called the “Calvin Johnson Rule,” named after the Lions’ receiver was ruled to have “not completed the catch” on a play in the end zone. (For the record, he did complete the catch. The NFL botched that play too.) The replay official in the Dallas-Green Bay game, and the game’s referee, Gene Steratore, determined that Bryant was still in the process of making the catch when he was reaching for the goal line. They said he didn’t make a “football move.” What?! Pulling the ball in, taking three steps and lunging for the goal line isn’t a “football move” these days?

Please. Who made up this infamous “Calvin Johnson Rule?” Surely it wasn’t anyone who’s played or coached the game. Was it some NFL bureaucrat in a back office somewhere?

Dez Bryant made an amazing catch on a late fourth quarter, fourth-down play in one of the league’s iconic football arenas yesterday. It was a play that deserves to be played over and over in coming NFL seasons. Instead it was erased from NFL history by a nonsensical rule — one that must be overturned in the offseason.

ESPN rules analyst and former NFL referee Jim Daopoulos said he’s not sure why the “Calvin Johnson Rule” exists, especially when it so blatantly goes against the eye test.

“I could go into a bar right now and ask 50 drunks whether it was a catch or not,” he said. “And those 50 drunks, whether they like Dez Bryant or they hate him, and no matter if they know the rules, will all say it should be a catch.” (See “Inside Slant: Post-Dez Bryant …”)

Well, then perhaps the NFL should use the “50 Drunks Test” on red flag calls instead of putting an NFL referee in the replay booth.

The one positive from this unfortunate ruling is the classy manner in which Bryant (somewhat surprisingly, given his volatile nature in the past), Garrett and Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo handled the situation after the game.

“I thought Tony Romo made a great throw, Dez made a great catch on the ball,” Garrett said. “Obviously it was ruled a catch at the outset. It looked like to me he had three feet down. What they describe to us all the time is ‘a move common to the game,’ and Dez reached out for the goal line like he’s done so many times. It’s a signature play for him. He maintained possession of it throughout, in my opinion.

“But let me make it really clear: This game wasn’t about the officiating. We had 60 minutes. We had an opportunity to come up here and win a football game, and at the end of the day we didn’t get that job done. That play was big in the game, but there were other plays in the game and unfortunately we didn’t do the things necessary to win the ballgame.” (See “Dez Catch Reversal …”)

Sportsmanship 1, Inane NFL Rule 0.

–Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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