The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Monday, January 13, 2003


Last Saturday I caught the end of the Steelers-Titans game. This was the third playoff game in two years with a weird penalty controversy; I don't watch much football but I have seen two of those games.

For the uninitiated: Last year the Raiders visited the Patriots and were leading late in the game. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was sacked, and the ball popped loose. The refs ruled that Brady was "tucking" the ball as he was hit, so the play was actually an incompletion. The Patriots went on to win.

Last week the 49ers came back from 24 points down against the Giants. On the last play of the game, a field goal attempt, the Giants snapper (who was 41 years old and a week out of retirement) flubbed the snap for the second time that game. The holder made a desperation pass, but the play was invalid because of an illegal man downfield. However there was also a hold penalty that could have been called on a 49ers player. If the two penalties had been called the down would have been replayed. The NFL felt compelled to apologize for the oversight, probably leading to ...

Last Saturday's Steelers-Titans game was all over the map. At the end of regulation the Titans were attempting a short field goal to win. The kicker missed, and a safety ran into him; the kicker then showed unexpected presence of mind by by taking a dive, basketball-defender style. It was so obvious I half expected to see a ref run up with an arm straight in the air and another in front of him vertically. But he drew the foul -- running into the kicker -- and succeeded on the second, shorter kick.

Sporting contests will always have a chance of being determined by penalties, and because officials are human, these calls may be erroneous. What I find irritating about the three cases listed above is that the officials are trying to do too much. It's almost as if they have a desire to call penalties in order to display their superior knowledge: "You, the uninformed viewer, may think that you saw a defender tackle the quarterback, resulting in what one might be so gauche as to call a 'fumble'. But I am of the cognoscenti, and can assure you that when the passer makes a motion as if to tuck the ball -- after several viewings of different viewing angles, it is 85% certain that this occurred -- and therefore an incomplete pass attempt must be called."

Why not just let the fucking players play the fucking game? Would it really be a crime against football if the obvious were to happen? Let's try applying the obvious to the three situations detailed above.


  • Scenario: Quarterback blindsided while holding ball, football loose. Result: Fumble.
  • Scenario: Kicker misses short field goal to win game. Result: Kicking team gets no points and loses possession.
  • Scenario: Snapper muffs snap. Result: The kicking team has a chance to execute a play cleanly to gain the necessary yardage. If not, they get no points and lose possession.


Wasn't that nice, simple, and equitable?


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