I can’t watch NFL football anymore, or: Why Roger Goodell is a small, weak coward of a commissioner

I’ve long been more of a fan of college football than professional football, and the nullification of Calvin Johnson’s game-winning touchdown reception against the Bears according a rule and an interpretation of that rule, which everyone in the NFL is defending, disgusts me enough that I can’t watch that stupid league anymore. I refuse. I’m done with it until they change the rule or, at least, how the rule should be interpreted.

Here’s Calvin Johnson’s touchdown reception:

Here’s the NFL rule under which the replay officials nullified an obvious reception and behind which everyone associated with the NFL is hiding because they are small, weak men:

Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1: Going to the ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

To briefly review what happened in the video above, Calvin Johnson caught the ball, got two feet down, fell onto his left hip, his left hand slid out of bounds, he touched the ball to the ground while maintaining a secure grip on it with his right hand, started supporting/propping himself up with his right hand with the ball underneath it, and then he let go of it (or, possibly, lost control of it; it doesn’t matter). It wasn’t one motion, and he didn’t lose control of the ball in the process of making a catch or going to the ground. There is simply no debating it. It is obvious Johnson completes at least one if not two full processes before he starts propping himself up with his ball-holding hand, during/after which he lets go of it: the first is falling to the ground and landing on his left hip, and the second is rolling over while his left hand is out of bounds and the ball, gripped by his right hand, reaches the ground while he still maintains control of it. Then he lets go of it.

The rule says “he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground”. He did. He fell to the ground and then rolled over, and he didn’t lose possession yet; he still maintained possession. The rule says, “If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete.” He didn’t lose control before the ball touched the ground. I’ll say it again: when his right hand touches the ball to the ground, he still has control of it. Right after that, he loses his grip on the ball, either voluntarily or involuntarily. It touched the ground under his possession, and admittedly very soon after that, it squirts out of his hand. Any reasonable person would deem him to have possession when the ball touches the ground, but not immediately after that. He didn’t “lose control of the ball” before the ball touched the ground, and the ball did not “touch the ground before he regained control”.

The purpose of this rule is to prevent plays from being called receptions when someone catches the ball with two feet barely in, falls down out of bounds (or, maybe occasionally, in bounds), and the impact of hitting the ground causes the ball to come loose. I think in football and, for instance, in baseball, maintaining control of the ball while taking two steps is, or was, generally considered necessary to define complete control. I’ve also heard a rule (or opinion) cited that requires two seconds of control in baseball if the player isn’t running when he makes the catch (for instance, sliding, diving, or leaning over a wall). It is perfectly understandable that the NFL would want to amend a rule or correct a preconception that as long as you have two feet in bounds while securely holding the ball, even for a millisecond, that those two feet give you the reception. It makes sense that catching the ball over the middle, taking two steps, and then losing the ball upon contact with the ground would count as a completion and a dead ball—you took two steps while controlling it, the ground can’t cause a fumble, so the ball is dead where it hits the ground. Similarly, it’s perfectly understandable that catching the ball over the middle, taking two steps, and losing the ball when you get hit would count as a reception and a fumble. However, according the NFL’s position and everyone’s opinion who watches football, including mine, it shouldn’t be considered a completion when you toe the sideline or the back of the endzone, catch the ball while leaning out of bounds and falling down, and then lose control from the impact of the ground. This makes sense because you weren’t taking steps, each of which could be considered a “process”, but were just toeing the line and falling down, so you should have to complete the process of the fall with control to be judged as having caught the ball and completed the reception.

According to what everyone is saying about how the rule actually defines Johnson’s catch as an incompletion (which it doesn’t), then if a receiver lands on his back with possession of the ball, holds the ball up for the official to see it, and a defensive player comes and swats it out of his hand, then that is also an incompletion. Because the process of getting two feet down, falling down, maintaining control of the ball, and holding the ball up wasn’t completed without losing possession. Sure…

With these considerations and the letter of the rule examined line by line, it is clear that falling to the ground, sliding your non–ball-holding hand out of bounds, rolling over, and touching the ball to the ground with it under your possession is neither one “process” nor an incompletion under the spirit of the rule when it was discussed, drafted, and implemented by the NFL. Yet the slimy, disingenuous suits in the NFL Competition Committee and the Commissioner’s Office are hiding behind the rule and saying it was interpreted correctly, but that they’ll look at it in the offseason.

Most people’s point in venting about this awful call is that it was clearly a touchdown by any common-sensical definition of a reception and that the rule should be eliminated so that the NFL can go back to calling touchdown receptions touchdown receptions. Most people also say, “Yeah, by the letter of the rule, they made the right call.” I think I’ve explained why the video evidence and the content of the rule ineluctably prove that it was a reception by any definition and any literal or common-sensical interpretation of the offending rule itself. But my main point is that regardless of whether the rule defines this catch as a reception or an incompletion, the travesty is that the NFL itself—not bad officiating or a mistake&#8212caused this injustice and continues to hide behind a rule, claiming it was the right call, and that they might “look at it” in the offseason. As Michael Wilbon said on today’s Pardon the Interruption broadcast, “Change the rule TODAY.” If this happens again, it won’t be a good thing that the NFL was consistent. Consistently wrong, at least in this type of awful rule/interpretation, is worse than wrong one day and right the next. Be consistent by being right for the rest of the season/eternity, not by being wrong for a whole season and then right the next. The NFL deliberately caused this travesty, continues to hide behind the letter of the rule (which judges this a reception, not an incompletion, anyway), and refuses to apologize or do anything other than say “the call was right, but we’ll review the rule”. This disgusts me and makes me uninterested in watching another NFL game until they fix it.

This isn’t the first time this year an officiating disaster has befallen Detroit. A much worse call as far as the consequences it had for the individual player and for posterity was Jim Joyce’s missed call at first base on what would have been (was) the 27th out of Armando Galarraga’s 28-out perfect game. This was not caused by a bad rule or a bad interpretation, and no one hid behind anything or claimed it was remotely correct. Everyone recognized it was wrong. This highlights baseball’s colossal shortcoming in not having implemented instant replay except on potential home runs here in the second decade of the 21st century. They’re behind the times; that’s bad enough. But everyone knows and admits the call was blown. What the NFL continues to do is far worse. Everyone knows the rule is bad and the call was wrong; the NFL caused the problem and continues to deny that anything is wrong. That’s why the NFL and that small, testicle-less, slimy coward Roger Goodell should be boycotted. I never liked him, but that was just opinion; now the entire nation has solid proof that he’s an awful commissioner who ought to be ashamed of himself for focusing too much on the players’ image and not enough on the playing of the game, not to mention his own league’s and officials’ image.

Here are some related links:
HuffPo: Calvin Johnson Touchdown Catch Overturned on Controversial Call
New York Times: The N.F.L.’s Worst Rule: ‘Going to the Ground’
The Big Lead: Calvin Johnson and the Going-to-the Ground Rule

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