The NCAA rule book reads that a 15-yard penalty will be assessed for "any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves)."
The ball that Georgia receiver A.J. Green snagged in the corner of the end zone for a last-minute, go-ahead touchdown Saturday is no longer up in the air. But exactly what part of that rule Green violated (or didn't violate) afterward is.
A post-game release from the SEC said that "following a brief team celebration, Green made a gesture to the crowd calling attention to himself." Green, not your stereotypical diva receiver, still doesn't know what he did wrong.
"Everybody just came and jumped on me. I didn't do anything that I thought nobody else ever does," the soft-spoken sophomore said. "That was crazy. I definitely don't feel like I did anything that could put a flag like that."
Replays show Green catching the ball, falling down, getting back up for a chest bump with fellow receiver Michael Moore and being mobbed by several teammates before trotting off the field. Roughly 20 seconds passed.
Green's catch put the Bulldogs up 13-12 with 1:06 to play. The subsequent kickoff (from the 15-yard line after the penalty was assessed), LSU return, score and two-point conversion put the Tigers up 20-13, made Georgia 3-2 on the season, and put the Bulldogs on the outside of both top-25 polls.
It also created unneeded controversy.
"To me, if you're losing the game, and it's late in the game and it looks like all hope is lost, and then you get a spark, you get down the field and score a touchdown, I think that was probably the right amount of celebration," said Georgia coach Mark Richt.
"I don't know if it was excessive for the moment. Considering what happened, I thought it was probably about par for the course."
Added Moore: "I gave [Green] a chest bump and kind of ran away, and then the rest of the team was just celebrating with him. There was no individual act that I know of ... That's just how the game goes. There's never going to be a perfectly called game."
The 15-yard penalty didn't lose the game for the then-18th-ranked Bulldogs, and LSU was flagged for excessive celebration as well after Charles Scott scored the winning touchdown for the Tigers (a celebration that was, Richt said, "well within their celebratory rights"). First-year Georgia tight end Orson Charles was also flagged for celebration after a 22-yard reception in the third quarter.
"He needed to celebrate with his team," Richt said. "That's what I told him."
Whether there was truly "excessive celebration" on either end in the game's waning minutes, or if it was more excessive sensitivity and excessive desire to promote sportsmanship on behalf of the referees, is a debate some Bulldogs are still struggling with.
Simply put, Green's celebration was tame.
"I don't even know what happened, but it must have been really bad if they throw it when you score a touchdown with a minute-something left against the No. 4 team in the country," said quarterback Joe Cox.
"Football's an emotional game, and a game that's supposed to be played with passion," Cox went on. "I understand there's a lot of things that shouldn't be done, taunting and things that are just unsportsmanlike. But when you're celebrating with your teammates after a good play and a big play, I don't see why you'd penalize a team for getting excited about having a successful play."
According to NCAA Football Rule 9-2, "After a score or any other play, the player in possession immediately must return the ball to an official or leave it near the dead-ball spot."
And after an arguably phantom celebration helped Georgia find a way to lose Saturday, Green said he'll be doing that from now on.
"I'll be cautious next time," he said. "I'll give the ref the ball and go celebrate with my team on the sideline."
But, at least when he makes what looks to be a game-winning catch, he shouldn't have to be.
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