Yes, Jim Mora, right now I’m going to talk about the playoffs, and no, I’m not kidding you.
In the past month, we’ve seen football from the NFL that, as a multimedia culture, we will remember for years to come. We won’t be remembering the 2014-2015 NFL playoffs for remarkable statistical play, but rather for controversial moments that have taken the spotlight away from the four-quarter contest itself.
This isn’t just another article about “Deflategate.” What sports fans around the nation need to understand is that the series of events that provide a team with a journey to the Super Bowl may be due primarily to luck.
In the past seven years, relatively mediocre squads have ridden hot streaks that have helped them eventually win the Vince Lombardi trophy. The New York Giants, for example, come to mind with their massive upset of the 18-0 Pats in 2007.
On Jan. 4, during this year’s wildcard round, we saw something that has never been seen since the creation of the Super Bowl.
With 8:25 left on the clock, the Detroit Lions were leading the Dallas Cowboys 20-17 and were driving to potentially extend their three point lead. On a potential 3rd down conversion, Matthew Stafford threw a pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens had his eyes away from the football and clearly had at least a hand on Pettigrew.
According to NFL conduct, a defender must be facing the ball to be able to make contact with the receiver of the ball. The play appeared to be pass interference and the yellow penalty flag was immediately thrown on the field. Detroit was prepared to continue their drive with a first down, an automatic result of the penalty, but the referees had removed the flag after it was clearly thrown onto the turf.
The Lion’s offensive line was confused, the Cowboys rejoiced, and experts were dumbfounded. Fox Analyst and Former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira believed that the pass interference call should have remained. Additionally, it was gathered that referee Pete Morelli was caught on the broadcast announcing “Pass interference, 59, defense, automatic first down.”
Although I am biased against the Dallas Cowboys and would have been in favor of that penalty, it is unacceptable for a referee to change a penalty of that nature so sporadically.
“There wasn’t much contact made [by Hitchens on Pettigrew]” UR junior G.W. VanderZwaag argued in reference to why the flag was removed. “The pass interference penalty is one that is becoming over-called.”
This play allowed for the Dallas Cowboys to achieve their first playoff win in five years. We might not have seen an enthusiastic Chris Christie jumping around in Jerry Jones’ box if it weren’t for the faulty call.
Circumstances can change incredibly quickly in a given NFL week. The NFC divisional round had the Green Bay Packers facing off against Dallas at Lambeau Field. The contest stayed relatively close and free of controversy until 4:42 was remaining in the fourth quarter on a Dallas 4th-and-1 play. Tony Romo lobbed a 31-yard pass to Dallas superstar wide receiver and notorious hothead Dez Bryant. The wide receiver leaped over the Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to make what many thought rivaled Odell Beckham Jr.’s one-handed grab from earlier this season. He landed at around the one yard line and the call was originally deemed “a catch.”
Green Bay Packer coach Mike McCarthy immediately challenged the ruling on the field and the call was reversed. The Dallas bench was outraged.
The sudden repealed call revolved around the rules of the progress of a play. According to the Officials Pool Report of the NFC Divisional Matchup, the player “possessing the football must remain in control of the football throughout the entire process of the catch.”
The report also revealed that the ball came loose as Bryant hit the ground, which meant the attempted pass was incomplete. Mike Pereira commented on the call and stated that the ruling complies with NFL conduct.
Personally, I believe the call was correct, but the real topic for discussion is the NFL’s conduct. John Mara, longtime owner of the New York Giants, expressed his disdain for the rule in an interview with ESPN Radio.
Mara alluded back to a similar play that involved Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2010, saying, “[Bryant’s] looked like a catch […] But if you go back and look at the language of the rule and read the part about having to control the ball all the way to the ground, you realize that it was probably the right call.”
The fact that this same call appeared controversially–twice–allows me to predict that this rule will be amended in the coming years. When I polled our student body, freshman and member of the football team Dan Bronson agreed that the rule of maintaining control is “faulty,” and that from a perspective of pure vision, “that was definitely a catch.”
Unfortunately, this call cost Dallas a trip to the National Conference Championship and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a trip to Seattle.
Now, for the moment that anyone reading this article has been waiting for: the neverending tale that is “Deflategate.” All right folks, in one week, we saw a dapper Bill Belichick attempt to wear a collar for a press conference and throw his quarterback Tom Brady under the bus. In one week, Tom Brady managed to rock his old school Patriots beanie while saying, “ I would never do anything to break the rules.” Within this same week, the world saw coy responses from none other than SNL Executive Producer Lorne Michaels and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
According to Nye, Belichick’s excuses for why 11 out of 12 Patriot footballs were deflated below league standards “didn’t make any sense.” During a news segment on Good Morning America, Nye joked about how “rubbing the football” isn’t able to change the pressure of the ball and that the only tool that can change the “equilibrium” of the ball is an “inflation needle.” That was Bill Nye’s way of giving a “z-snap” to Belichick.
There are sports fans who honestly can’t get enough of this madness and then there are those who just believe this is being blown out of proportion.
VanderZwaag argued that the reason this has become such a large ordeal is simply “because of its timing.” Its proximity to the Super Bowl definitely makes this scandal a lot more glamorous and dramatic rather than if this had happened during the regular season.
Debates have ensued as to whether or not the Patriots are even worthy of their Super Bowl appearance this weekend. Based on the game itself, it seems that the balls had little, if any, impact on the outcome. Although it was reported that the balls were deflated only by two pounds (a relatively unjarring amount), cheating is cheating.
What makes this scandal even more dramatic is the fact that it is not Coach Belichick’s first charge of cheating. The fact that he has been involved in “spy-gate” (a scandal involving recording the practices of his opponent) makes fans question whether or not he deserves a more substantial punishment.
I parallel this issue of deflating a football with the usage of pine tar and hair gel by pitchers in Major League Baseball. Are both strategies incredibly harmful to the game? Not necessarily, but they do break official conduct.
This postseason will definitely be one remembered in the coming years. While most likely nothing will come of these scandals, the 2015 playoffs will always be accompanied by an asterisk. These shenanigans go to show that it is almost impossible to believe that the Super Bowl is an accurate representation of the two best teams in the league.
Powell is a member of the class of 2018.