To Catch or Not to Catch (Day 18)
Oh, so y’all thought that was a catch? Welcome to Day 18 of the Anion Sports 25 Days of Christmas blog.
Late in the Sunday night football game yesterday, Steelers TE Jesse James went for and presumably made the game winning touchdown against the New England Patriots. *Note: Juju Smith-Schuster made a pay that was so insane I was sitting in my room screaming “Oh my god, Juju Smith-Schuster” over and over again. Only sports could bring that level of excitement out. Nonetheless, Juju didn’t get into the end zone even though he ran for what seemed like an eternity. What occurred next has stirred up debate, even though it shouldn’t have.
A little bit of context is needed before my next point. We are not referees. Our job is not to discern what is a catch and is not. I am giving you a fan’s opinion and nothing more. At the end of the day, how you and I feel about it does not matter. We are fans. But it doesn’t mean we can’t have meaningful conversation.
Okay, now that’s out of the way. Watch this.
Good? Cool. Now when you watch that, there are some of you that will instantly raise your hands making the touchdown sign and say, “He crossed the plane, ball dead, touchdown.” I’m sorry but that doesn’t matter. Don’t think so, here’s the rule stating that a catch is governed by the same rules both in and out of the end zone. We can rule that out because to enforce the break the plane rule, he must establish himself as a runner. “He made a football move!!!” That thing he did with his hands? That’s not establishing yourself as a runner. It’s why they took the “football move” language out of the rule: to avoid confusion. As by definition, “A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps.”
Mr. James forfeited all those options when he was forced to dive for the throw. He couldn’t ward off impending contact. He wasn’t turning up field in the way you should be thinking about (you must be on your feet to do so) and he obviously wasn’t takin additional steps because he was horizontal when he came in contact with the ball.
So now the only thing left is to secure the ball with his hands (or arms per definition) through the initial contact with the ground. See video #2 below.
You see that thing he does with his left hand? Yeah moving it. See the way the ball spun? Yes, losing it. Mr. James did not establish complete control through the entire process of catching the football. In fact, it’s plain as day. I have heard people saying that the eye test should determine what happens, it looked like a touchdown. Since when do we want the best of the best being determined by an eye test? He wasn’t a runner (I think most people are intelligent enough to know what running looks like) and he didn’t catch it all the way. There’s no half catches or three quarters. Ask Lion fans; you cannot have the ball contact the ground while using one hand or it is not a catch.
Like it or not, that is the rule. Just because it looked good, doesn’t mean it is a valid ruling. I watched that play with little to no bias. I wanted to see two perennial Super Bowl contenders potential home field advantage decided by the right call, not a whim or the eye test. The NFL referees get a lot of flack from me for not being consistent, but in this case, they got it right. I’m sorry, but this is the way they call these plays and they have been since it first became an issue in mainstream circles in 2007. The only thing that changed was after Dez’s catch, the language was clarified. They in fact made Dez’s play less of a catch.
It is what it is at this point. Just remember that this is the NFL. It should not be okay to score a touchdown while not holding onto the ball fully. And that end zone plane rule gets used in every situation that is even near the goal line, when it only applies to runners. Need an example of what a runner looks like? Watch your next goal line hand-off to a tailback. That is what a runner is. If Jesse James would have been blown up by a Patriots safety in that same position, he would have been the recipient of a pass interference hit on a defenseless receiver. Hardly qualified as a runner. The rules are the rules. And only us fans seem to want to break them when they are followed properly.