Monday, September 15, 2008

When a fumble is not really a fumble, and the incomplete pass that never was either.

I can only hope that at some point later in the 2008-2009 NFL season the events that transpired in the final minute of yesterday's Chargers - Broncos game at Invesco Field in Denver will be insignificant in the grander scheme of how the AFC West was won. At this moment though, the bitter bile burning in my stomach over this travesty of officiating is still going strong. For those unfamiliar with what happened...

The Broncos were behind 38-31, but had driven down the field and were sitting on the 1 yard line with second and goal to go. Bronco quarterback, Jay Cutler, took the snap and went to throw but as his hand was coming back he lost his grip on the football and fumbled. (After the game Cutler would even state that he thought it was a fumble blaming it on the slick ball). Charger linebacker Tim Dobbins rushed forward to scoop up the errant ball and stepped out of bounds, effectively sealing an amazing Chargers comeback, but wait.

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Referee Ed Hochuli had blown the play dead when the ball came loose and ruled it an incomplete pass. The play was reviewed by instant replay and proved to be a fumble however in true LSWTF fashion, in instances such as this based on current instant replay rules, the opponent cannot gain possession in such situations. Say what?

“All we can do to fix it is put the ball at the spot that it hit the ground, which is why we moved it back to the 10-yard line and the down counts and it becomes third down,” said Hochuli.

So basically they reviewed the play, found that they were wrong, and also could do nothing about it. What was the point of instant replay again? The Broncos would score a touchdown two plays later and hit on the 2-pt conversion to win the game. But this story doesn't end there. Time for a history lesson and a bit of irony. This travesty of officiating happened 30 years almost to the day of one of the most notorious bad calls in NFL officiating history, which coincidentally also involved the Chargers (doh) and a fumble/incomplete pass dispute.

The Holy Roller

Most of the writers of LSWTF were not even born when one of the most infamous plays in NFL history occurred and this writer was more interested in Star Wars and legos than football at the time so here is a history lesson for you all courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame...

When it comes to football lore, few moments in National Football League history are so significant that they earn a specific nickname. One such bizarre play in a game between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders in 1978 was just that and today is simply referred to as the “Holy Roller.”

Ten seconds remained in the Week 2 match up at San Diego on September 10, 1978, when Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler dropped back to pass from the 14-yard-line. Chargers defensive end Fred Dean broke through the line and hit Stabler. Realizing there was nothing else he could do as the seconds ticked away, “The Snake” hurled the ball forward. As the ball rolled loose on the ground, Raiders running back Pete Banaszak swatted it toward the end zone. Tight end Dave Casper continued the ball’s forward motion with a kick at the five yard line and then fell on in it in the end zone for a touchdown as the clock ran out.

“I fumbled it on purpose,” Stabler admitted honestly after the game. “Yes, I was trying to fumble.”

Despite a protest from the Chargers sideline, referee Jerry Markbreit ruled it a legal play. Kicker Errol Mann added the extra point and the Raiders won the game, 21-20.

Markbreit’s decision to uphold the play was absolutely correct by the rules in place at the time. However, that would soon change. During the off-season, the league added a provision to the rule book about fumbles after the two-minute warning that allows only the player who fumbled the ball to advance it. As such, the rule change implemented will forever prevent the “Holy Roller” from happening again.

I think it is time for the NFL to review the "fumble/incomplete pass" rule in regards to instant replay. It is truly amazing that the Chargers have found themselves on the wrong side of a fumble/incomplete pass call in a divisional game once again. Thoughts?


Dews said...

It really was dumbfounding seeing the call and then the horrible explanation afterwards.

It really does make instant replay useless if they are handcuffed by a mistake already.

Jimmie said...

Yeah, what was the point in reviewing it then? Granted they allowed the TD after and the first half was...well. But still, they played back into that game. Sucks to go out like that. I sure hope they watch the last minute again before they take the field for MNF against the Jets and Brutus. Get em fired up.

Sassie said...

woo hoo, go Bronco's! A win is a win, and those were the rules.

Jimmie said...

You're dead to me Sassie the Donkey fan.