Ask and you shall receive: NFL about to eliminate very dumb catch rule

SHARE Ask and you shall receive: NFL about to eliminate very dumb catch rule

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson comes down with what appears to be the go-ahead touchdown catch with less than a minute left in a 2010 game against the Bears at Soldier Field. It was later ruled that Johnson had lost control of the ball. (Sun-Times photo by Tom Cruze)

One of the worst ideas ever, the scourge of mankind, the bane of clear-thinking people everywhere, seems to be on its way out.

I’m referring, of course, to the NFL’s catch rule, which is a conspiracy against athleticism and all that is good, true and right with the world.

Apparently — and I hope I have this right — a catch will soon be considered a catch.

The league’s competition committee is recommending the elimination of two provisions: that receivers have full possession of the football all the way to the ground; and that there can’t be even slight movement of the ball in receivers’ hands.

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Sanity has finally prevailed. Hopefully, the phrases “going to the ground’’ and “surviving the ground” will be banned from the English language.

Now, according to NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron, it will be up to officials to decide if a receiver was making a “football move,’’ whether that’s a third step after catching the ball or reaching out with the ball to get more yardage. Excellent. It’s a lot easier to know what a football move is than it is to know what surviving the ground is.

If owners approve the new rules next week, all a receiver will have to do is maintain control of the football for it to be a legal catch. And referees will ignore any negligible shifts of the ball that show up on instant replay.

God is good.

A 2010 Bears-Lions game at Soldier Field started the outrage over the NFL’s overly technical, stick-in-the-mud rules about what constitutes a catch. The Bears won the game, and everybody else lost.

If sanity had been around that day, Calvin Johnson’s beautiful reception would have been a touchdown. Lions quarterback Shaun Hill lofted a pass into the corner of the end zone to Johnson, who outjumped cornerback Zack Bowman, took two steps in the end zone and then landed hard enough on his butt that, as he planted the football on the ground and got up, the ball popped out of his hand. You couldn’t have thought up a more gloriously athletic play.

But after a replay review, officials ruled he hadn’t maintained control of the ball while he was on the ground.

Everybody knew it was a catch, even the man whom Johnson beat on the play.

“I thought it was a touchdown,’’ Bowman said that day. “Then the one ref was like, ‘Nah, it’s not a touchdown. He dropped it.’ And I was like, ‘Sweet!’ ’’

Since then, we’ve witnessed a series of fine catches followed by torturous, Zapruder-like replays that allowed us to see every movement of each play frame by frame, even though none of us can remember asking for it. Time and again, those replays would lead to a referee informing us that the receiver did not maintain possession of the ball through

the play.

The same thing happened last season to Bears tight end Zach Miller, who made an outstanding catch in the end zone against the Saints. But officials ruled that he had not completed the process of the catch, possibly because he had let go of the ball while on the ground to tend to his badly mangled, dislocated knee that would later be the subject of a discussion about whether his leg should be amputated.

Everybody knows what a catch is. Everybody knew that Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant’s leaping grab against the Packers in the 2014 playoffs was a catch, even though it was overturned after a replay review. Everybody knew that Steelers tight end Jesse James made a catch when he reached out with the ball to break the plane of the end zone during a game against the Patriots in December. Wrong, we were told. Overturned.

The competition committee reviewed some of those controversial plays.

“We worked backward,” NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent told the Washington Post. “We looked at plays and said: Do you want that to be a catch? And then we applied that to the rule.”

The most common-sense view, the one shared by so many of us who watch football, was expressed by Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow, whom the competition committee consulted as it considered the rule change.

“We were watching the Jesse James play,” Vincent said, “and Kellen said, ‘Tell me why that wasn’t a catch. It looks like a catch. It smells like a catch. The fans think it’s a catch. It’s a catch.’ ”

It’s as if the league has been trying to do itself harm. Why would an enterprise built on the talents of some of the world’s best athletes want to take some of the most beautiful plays out of its game? It made no sense. A schoolmarm and the stern headmaster at a boys’ boarding school seemed to running things. That’s what replay is, the ultimate scold.

The NFL isn’t known for admitting mistakes, so it has been rewarding just to watch the league work to change one of the worst ideas ever in sports. Soon the catch rule will be no more, peace will rule the land and we’ll all live in harmony.

But upon further review, what the hell was the league thinking in the first place?

Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.


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