One of the joys of writing about the NFL is the sheer ridiculousness of some of the stories you get to cover, stories so outlandish that it's hard to imagine that they are for real. Stories so odd, so insane that the only proper response is to shake your head and sigh.
Stories like the reports that Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker is receiving an excessive celebration penalty and fine for showing his support for the gathered troops...on Veterans Day weekend, of all games.
The NFL will claim that he broke a rule, that the fine is for going down on one knee, not for the salute itself. They will claim that he knew the rule, which requires him to stay on his feet, and chose to break it, so the fine has to stand. They will claim that if they allow an exception for Decker, then each and every player slapped with an excessive celebration fine can claim that they were doing so to support some section of the community or other.
But in addressing this incident, it forces us to ask bigger questions. Not whether he broke the rules, or how they should be interpreted in light of the circumstances, quickly you begin asking yourself "should this rule even exist."
Some rules are dumb, and dumb rules should be changed, so join me as we take a look at the five dumbest rules in the NFL which need to be addressed.
The NFL is an exciting league. It is a sport built around moments of intense, exciting action, followed by the suspense of waiting for the next play to begin.
Many plays last for only a matter of seconds, but what can happen in those few seconds can be spectacular.
Few moments in football are more exciting than a fumble. No matter when it occurs, no matter what phase of the game you are in, a fumble will have each and every fan, coach and player, whether at home or in the stadium, on the edge of their seat for a few moments.
Why anyone would make any rule to limit the amount of fumbles is beyond me, and yet, that is what the NFL have done.
In the NFL, the ground cannot cause a fumble, but any fan who has ever seen the ground cause a fumble will always ask the same question...why not?
I mean, it sure looks like a fumble, the player had it in his hands one moment and the next it was bouncing around the floor into the hands of the opposition.
Everything within you says it's a fumble. Whether you're cheering for the team who lost the ball or the team who recovered it, everything in your heart of hearts tells you it's a fumble...except, that is, for the official ruling.
It's dumb, and what's more, it's not consistent with other rules in the NFL.
For a pass to be a pass, the player needs to maintain control of the ball all the way to ground and beyond. If the ground can cause an incompletion, why oh why can it not cause a fumble?
I'm not, for a second, suggesting, by the way, that a pass shouldn't be ruled incomplete if it pops out of the players hand when he hits the ground, only that the same rule should apply if the ball is already in his possession.
The ground should be able to cause a fumble; I simply can't see a good reason for it not to.
I'm not suggesting that either rule needs to be removed outright, but the way they are implemented right now is, frankly, dumb.
First of all, there is the disparity between offensive and defensive interference. If a defender prevents a player from making a catch, he is flagged for pass interference, and the offence get the ball at the spot of the foul.
That sort of makes sense, the logic is simple. Without the interference call, the receiver would likely have made the grab and gotten the ball there anyway, but then why does the same logic not doesn't follow on defense? If a receiver knows he is beat, knows that the pass will be picked off, he can do pretty much anything he wants to the corner or safety marking him, and will only give up a 15-yard penalty.
If we are going to assume every receiver would complete the catch, why don't we assume every DB will also get the pick?
However, that's not even the dumbest part of the rules. Put simply, they make the game less interesting. A DB is limited in his ability to cover a receiver to an absurd extent. That he can't even touch him beyond five yards makes no sense, especially when a receiver can do pretty much anything to the DB.
DB's should be given a similar amount of rights as WRs are, especially since the receiver already knows his route; the DB doesn't. They should both be able to push and shove a little. They should be allowed to try and upset one another a little bit, so long as neither player is impeded.
Hold onto a jersey: 15-yard penalty, either way. Intentionally trip a guy, push him out of bounds off the ball or otherwise prevent him from making a play on the ball: same thing. If a DB knows he's beat and just knocks the guy to the ground, then absolutely, it should be a penalty, but if a DB and WR are both matching one another, step for step, and are running the same route, then, to my mind, they both have the right to the space they are in.
Put simply, putting your hands on your mark should not be enough, in and of itself, to draw a flag. The official has to prove that the action would have prevented him from making a play on the ball, and the rules should be enforced equally for both offensive and defensive players.
OK, I get it, a quarterback, like kickers and punters, is a commodity most teams don't have too much depth at.
Teams may have three running backs take to the field during any one game, a handful of tight ends and wide receivers, linebackers, corners or safeties, but, barring an injury, only one quarterback.
I get that the NFL want's to protect one of its biggest commodities, but the rules protecting QB's now are, well, just dumb.
Pocket passers are becoming increasingly rare, quarterbacks are now expected to be dual threats. "Passers" (if you can even call them that any more) like Cam Newton and Tim Tebow are at least as much, if not more, running back than quarterback, so why can't they be hit like them?
If a quarterback is liable to take off and run at any moment, then a linebacker should be able to chase him down as he would any running back. It simply makes no sense that he isn't allowed to.
That defenders cannot chase down quarterbacks at full pace in case they get called for roughing the passer is also madness. If a hit before the pass is made is legal, it should be legal afterwards too. I'm not talking about starting chasing down a player once the pass is complete, but you should always be able to finish your tackles and always tackle any player at full speed, with full force, regardless of his position.
You should not have to modify the way you tackle or the pace at which you run after that man, just because you're chasing a quarterback, not a running back.
A quarterback, standing in the pocket in the process of making a pass and being chased down from behind, perhaps needs a little protection, but that's what his offensive line is for.
Very late, excessively violent hits can be penalised using existing rules; passers don't need their own specific rules to give them extra time to complete passes or make plays with their feet.
What's more, it is simply beyond belief that there is a rule which requires a play to be blown dead as soon as the quarterback is "in the grasp or control of any tackler." The quarterback should have the chance, as any other player would, to break that tackle and make a spectacular play, and any tackler should have the chance to finish his tackle.
Some rules exist to protect players safety, others to make an officials job easier or clearer and others in response to a particular problem the NFL simply can't ignore or allow to continue. We may not like them, we may even wish the rules didn't exist, but at least we can understand them.
And then there are rules which seem to exist solely to make the game less interesting, less fun and less entertaining.
The excessive celebration rule is definitely one of the latter.
This video is called "Terrell Owens Greatest and Most Iconic Moment." TO, a player with numerous great and iconic football moments, is best known and best remembered not for any play or any catch. No, he is most remembered for a celebration... that celebration...and rightly so.
OK, perhaps there needs to be some rules, but the rules currently written are amongst the dumbest rules in any sport, anywhere, ever.
Look, I know the NFL is not "sports entertainment" in a WWE sort of way, but what is wrong with allowing players to entertain us following a spectacular play? We've paid nearly 100 bucks for a ticket; we came to be entertained, so let them entertain us.
If the NFL wants to limit celebration, then by all means do so, but limit when, where and for how long players can celebrate, not how.
If you want to limit celebration to the end-zone, go ahead, if you want to prevent players from celebrating for more than one minute, go ahead, if you want to prevent players from celebrating anything other than big plays (TD's Sacks, 4th down stops, blocked punts or FGs etc) go ahead—even I agree that celebrating a won coin toss or batted pass on first down is excessive—but stop telling players how they can celebrate.
If a whole team want to perform a choreographed routine, let them. If a player has gone to the effort to come up with a genius use for the football, they should be allowed to.
If it's racist, sexist or otherwise offensive, there are rules for that, but taunting is part of the game, so let players make a big deal about something which is often...well...a big deal.
What else could it be?
No other NFL rule is as debated, disliked and inexplicable as the always controversial "Tuck Rule."
If you search "dumb NFL rules," this one pops up far more than any other, and for good reason.
For those of you who have never read it, the rule reads as follows.
NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2: When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.
If you understood that, well done...I certainly didn't. If, like me, you didn't, allow me to explain it to you as it was explained to me.
While a QB is attempting to make a pass (while his arm is moving forward), no matter where the ball ends up or how the ball leaves his hand, if it travels forward and hits the ground, it's an incomplete pass.
If the ball is knocked out or slips out of his hand at any time while his is not attempting to pass the ball, then it's a fumble.
Simple. That part of the rule makes sense to almost everyone. Unfortunately, that's not the "tuck rule"...sorry.
There is, for reasons no one really understands and which isn't really justifiable, an exception to this clear, easily understood rule.
If the player attempts to make a pass, but then changes his mind and brings the ball back to his body, either to run, escape pressure or whatever, and the ball comes loose, during those brief seconds between his beginning to tuck the ball and it actually being tucked back into his body, if the ball pops out, it's an incomplete pass, not a fumble.
And that, my friends, is the very definition of a dumb rule.
It simply makes no sense.
For one thing, the QB is making no attempt to pass the ball at the time the ball comes loose, yet somehow, passing rules apply. Literally a second later, once the ball is tucked, it would be ruled a fumble, so why are the rules different during the act of the tuck? His intention is the same during the tuck as it would be once complete—his intention is to no longer make the pass—so why don't passing rules end the moment the quarterback stops attempting to make the pass.
But that's not all. Worse still, there is simply no reason for the rule to exist.
It does't protect the safety of any player. It doesn't make officiating easier, and it wasn't created in response to any controversy which threatened to tear the game apart. It simply continues to exist with no good reason for its existence.
As I said in the rule five, any rule which robs fans of the excitement of a fumble is dumb, but one which removes a fumble, while simultaneously making an official's job more difficult, and has significantly affected the outcome of numerous supremely important games shouldn't have ever been conceived of.
It is absolutely dumb. Fans know it, most players acknowledge it and even former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira now admits he doesn't like the rule.
Why has it not been changed yet?
We may not like the following rules. We may think they ruin the game, slow it down or remove some of the excitement compared to the "good old days," But, like them or not, these rules are here to stay, and it's probably for the best.
Helmet to Helmet Hits
So many rules which are implemented in the name of safety also have the adverse effect of seeming to make the game less interesting.
Following recent scientific and medical evidence about the very real danger of serious, long-term brain damage caused by excessive concussions, the NFL has wisely sought to reduce the risk of concussions. This is absolutely right and necessary. I am in no way calling their intentions dumb.
The problem is, the way the rule is currently implemented is dumb.
The reason is simple. It's far too biased towards the offensive player. Defensive players can go to make what appears to them to be a perfectly legitimate tackle, only for the offensive player to drop his head at the last moment, and, as it becomes a helmet to helmet hit, the defensive player is fined and suspended.
The reason it's really dumb is because it causes defensive players to think twice about making perfectly legitimate hits, and once again makes NFL defence even more lame and handcuffed. Real NFL fans love defense, yet it is increasingly becoming a non-existent part of the game.
Different Rules for Different Times
American football is not an easy sport to learn. The rules are tough enough already, but once you get them, it's a rewarding feeling to know what's coming next and why.
That is, unless it's in the last two minutes...or in a playoff game...or in overtime.
It will never make sense to me why the NFL competition committee can agree on rules which work perfectly 95 percent of the time, but which need to be different every so often, just to keep you on your toes.
Why does it make sense that both teams have a chance to score in overtime in the postseason, but not in the regular season games which decide who makes it to the postseason?
Why do the rules which work for 56 minutes of the game not apply for four?
Don't ask me...I don't know. Sadly, these are rules which have been in place for so long, they are now just accepted as part of the game, and most of us know these rules and just accept them.
But let's be honest, they are dumb rules.
The Instant Replay
This is another rule which isn't in and of itself, bad. None of us would want a team to lose based on a bad call, and the instant replay gives teams a chance to right those wrongs.
The problem is that its implementation is dumb.
First of all, there is no good reason to take challenges out of the coaches' hands in the last two minutes of the half. The last few minutes should be the most exciting, fast paced of the game, yet because of the replay rules, result in far too many stoppages while plays are reviewed.
I don't mind giving the coaches unlimited (successful) challenges during the final two minutes, but it is ridiculous that it has to come from the booth and that every call is likely to be checked. If the coaches' challenge is good enough for the rest of the game, then why not in the last two minutes?
Next, the on-field official going under the hood is dumb. As they have proved this season with the review of every touchdown pass, the vast majority of reviews can be confirmed in seconds.
The booth should begin the process of reviewing every play as soon as the play is over and stop as soon as the next one starts. That way, if the coach throws the challenge flag, the decision should be well on its way to being made and can be fed back to the official on the field almost instantly in most cases. The on-field officials shouldn't need to start again from scratch under the hood when a challenge is made if the replay officials have already confirmed or overturned the call while the debates are going on.
Finally, any call should be challengeable. If a coach can articulate what he wants overturned, he should have the chance to have it overturned. It is ridiculous that a coach can tell an official exactly what he thinks was wrong about the call, and there is no reason for it not to be overturned, but the official tells them it's not a challengeable play. That's dumb.