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Published: Wednesday, 9/15/2010

How about a little sanity in NFL rule book?

The lady with whom I've played house with for some 35 years reacted with a bit of a yelp, or some such sound, when Calvin Johnson outjumped a Chicago defender, claimed sole possession of the football, came down clearly and cleanly in the end zone with the ball firmly in his grasp, and seemed to lift decades of darkness and despair off the shoulders of the National Football League team from Detroit.

The lady is not a Lions fan, but she knows the pain - she owns and somewhat proudly wears a Buffalo Bills t-shirt, for goodness sake - and she perhaps recognized a watershed moment in the rejuvenation of a franchise.

Your veteran observer, meanwhile, sat stoically and said, and I believe this is a direct quote: "Settle down, lady, it's incomplete."

Your veteran observer knew that almost immediately because he was and is aware of the NFL's No. 1 rule for officials - you are mere robots; we will do the thinking for you.

The league that brought you the tuck rule now brings you the when-a-catch-ain't-a-catch rule. And, although it is written more eloquently than this, it basically states: It ain't a catch if we say so.

You remember the tuck rule, I assume. It's the rule that sparked a New England Patriots dynasty and transformed Tom Brady from a sixth-round draft pick into a guy who marries women named Gisele. It came into play during a January, 2002, playoff game between Oakland and the Patriots. Brady was hit by Charles Woodson and fumbled the ball. The Raiders would win. Until, that is, the referee decided they wouldn't.

Buried there in Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2 of the NFL rule book was an obscure reference to anything that happens between the time a quarterback moves his arm (and the ball) forward and then fully tucks said ball back against his body; it shall be ruled an incomplete pass. Never mind that Brady had abandoned any notion of passing the ball as Woodson came at him like a heat-seeking missile. By definition of the rule, since he had not fully completed the act of tucking the ball he was still in the act of throwing it and, therefore, could not fumble it.

The NFL's head of officiating at the time said with a straight face, "Intent doesn't factor into a rule."

What we learned on this most recent Sunday is that neither does common sense.

The NFL rule states that a receiver has to maintain possession through the entire process of the catch. Long after common sense would consider the process to have been completed, Johnson's momentum sent his hand and the ball into contact with the ground, and he let the ball go. Big mistake. By any rational, logical, sane definition, Johnson scored a touchdown. But the NFL rule book doesn't always deal in sanity. It encourages and justifies a referee's inability to make reasonable decisions.

Detroiters should have accepted it with a shrug. In the year of Armando Galarraga's perfectly nonperfect game, this was just piling on.

What should really concern Lions fans, if they exist, is that the pass Johnson, ahem, failed to catch, was thrown by Shaun Hill and not Matthew Stafford. For the second time in as many seasons, which is his entire pro career to date, the No. 1 draft pick has been sidelined by a shoulder injury. When he will return is unknown. That is indeed problematic. There should be a rule against it.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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