No organization with flawed humans in charge is going to be run perfectly, and that includes the National Football League. There are serious matters not worthy of being spotlighted in a piece such as this, issues such as domestic violence, player safety and questions about the supposed integrity of those running the league. At the other end of the spectrum are stories that involve teams being robbed because of questionable or even awful calls during games, incidents that live on because of what they meant to the NFL at the time and how, if at all, they shaped the league moving forward.
One way that the NFL could clear things up once and for all and eliminate certain controversies: Please fully explain what is or is not a “football move” and how it turns what looks to be a catch to the naked eye into an incomplete pass. A team losing a first down during a regular season because of a controversial call is one thing. It is quite another when such a decision occurs during a playoff game where one play truly can make all of the difference between a club having an opportunity to win a Super Bowl and that team being sent home following a heartbreaking defeat.
This list begins with a controversy that is evolving as of the posting of this piece. The issue involving the New England Patriots possibly under-inflating footballs to obtain an advantage over the Indianapolis Colts during the 2015 AFC Championship Game gets more curious with every new story that comes out. Did the Patriots somehow manage to switch the bag of footballs after the original balls were properly inspected by the head referee hours before the game? Did employees of the team somehow deflate footballs on the sideline without a single camera catching them? Whatever happened, this is not the story the NFL wanted to see in the Bye week before Super Bowl XLIX.
It is hard to put this matter any higher in this list because the Patriots have not yet, as of the posting of this piece, been found to be absolutely guilty of any wrongdoing. The accusation of New England deflating footballs on purpose so that quarterback Tom Brady would better be able to adequately grip and throw those balls on a rainy night is a serious one, especially when you consider the past doings of head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick could be looking at some harsh punishments in his near future, including a massive fine and a lengthy suspension, if he is found to be guilty in this matter.
9. Redskins name
The only thing ridiculous about the controversy involving the Washington Redskins’ name is that it is still an ongoing issue in 2015. Not a single person out there would be hurt were the name of the club to be changed to something else, and yet club owner Daniel Snyder continues to hold onto “Redskins” as if it is somehow physically attached to him. Even those who do not feel strongly about the issue one way or the other would have to agree that changing the team name to one that nobody finds offensive would be best for the Washington football club and for the National Football League.
8. Calvin Johnson non-catch…somehow
It is the infamous call that started the trend of “when a catch that is clearly a catch isn’t a catch in National Football League games.” Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions beat a Chicago Bears defensive back to the ball while in the end zone late in a regular season game. Megatron got both hands to the ball, got both feet down inside of the end zone, used his empty hand to make sure he remained in play and then, thinking he had scored, put the ball on the turf to celebrate. That last movement resulted in the play being ruled an incomplete pass. Imagine how upset Johnson and the Lions would have been had that call occurred in a playoff game. More on that later.
The Cleveland Browns were driving down the field while trailing the Jacksonville Jaguars late in a home game back in December 2001 when quarterback Tim Couch connected with wide receiver Quincy Morgan for a first down even though it appeared that Morgan never had full control of the ball. Couch quickly got the Cleveland offense to the line and spiked the ball before play was blown to a halt. Referee Terry McAulay claimed after the spike, however, that he had been buzzed for a replay before Couch had run a play. The Morgan catch was overturned, and the Cleveland faithful in attendance reacted.
6. Fail Mary
Replacement officials. The Green Bay Packers at the Seattle Seahawks. Monday Night Football. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, of course. With the Seahawks trailing and needing a touchdown on the final play of the game, a Hail Mary was delivered toward a crowd of players in the end zone. Who actually came down with the football remains a matter of opinion even though replays seemed to show that Green Bay had secured a game-clinching interception. The replacement refs on the field who had the best view of it couldn’t even agree on the call. The call of touchdown was held up after review, which was made that much worse for the Green Bay field when it was learned after the fact that Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate should have been flagged for offensive pass interference.
5. Dez Bryant non-catch
The Dallas Cowboys were attempting to rally when away to the Green Bay Packers in a 2015 NFC Divisional Round Playoff Game when Tony Romo found wide receiver Dez Bryant down the left sideline. Bryant rose above a defender, got both hands on the ball, took three steps as he was falling to the ground and then stretched the ball toward the goal line. The ball made contact with the ground as Bryant was trying to score, and after replay the referees decided that Bryant had not “established possession” and made a “football move” before the ball hit the ground.
4. Tuck Rule
Before “Spygate” and “Deflate-Gate” saw the light of day, the Tuck Rule Play helped the New England Patriots secure a spot in the Super Bowl. Quarterback Tom Brady was attempting to bring the ball down to secure it via his body during a 2001 Divisional Round playoff game against the Oakland Raiders when the Raiders forced a fumble, a turnover that should have put Oakland through to the AFC Championship Game. The call was reviewed and ultimately overturned because of the little-known “Tuck Rule,” and that one moment helped the Patriots become arguably the top franchise in all of the National Football League for over a decade.
There remain knowledgeable football people who will swear that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots taped more than coaches’ signals over the years leading up to February 2008. Some of those people may choose to come forward now and make their voices heard with “Deflate-Gate” making national headlines on a daily basis. The allegations that the Patriots videotaped a St. Louis Rams practice in the days leading up to Super Bowl XXXVI have never been proven to be true. Such rumors will be brought up, however, if Belichick and his staff are found guilty of deflating footballs during the 2015 AFC Championship Game.
2. Immaculate Reception
I have seen every replay available, and I’ve read a plethora of articles regarding the most famous play of the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff Game involving the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders, and I remain unconvinced either way on whether or not it should have been a complete pass per the National Football League rules of the time. Did the ball make contact with Pittsburgh halfback John Fuqua or the ground before it either deflected off of Oakland safety John Tatum or was caught by Franco Harris? Watch a slow motion replay and try to make the final call if you can.
1. Seahawks ripped off
It’s the one story that never gets enough mentions during Super Bowl season. The Seattle Seahawks were on the wrong end of several calls that went the way of the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XL, and referee Bill Leavy addressed that game years later: “It was a tough thing for me,” Levy said about the controversial calls. “I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game and as an official, you never want to do that. It left me with a lot of sleepless nights and I think about it constantly. I’ll go to my grave wishing that I’d been better.” Those words did little good to erase obvious officiating miscues that helped mold the outcome of a Super Bowl.