The Blame Game: Who’s Responsible for the NFL’s Convoluted Catch Rules?

USP NFL: DIVISIONAL ROUND-DALLAS COWBOYS AT GREEN S FBN USA WI

Let’s face it: The NFL’s rules on what constitutes a legal catch are ruining football (along with the many different interpretations of those rules by the referees).

There was a time when amazing, acrobatic, physics-defying catches by super-talented wide receivers would be the most exciting part of watching a football game.

When a once-in-a-longtime play is unfolding in football, you don’t want to have to use your brain to be analyzing every little detail of the play and mentally matching those details up with the rulebook. You want it to be an emotional experience that makes you scream, jump out of your seat or throw whatever electronic device is closest to you (depending on which team you’re rooting for).

But now we have no choice but to be skeptical of a completed catch on these brilliant plays because the NFL hates us.

And why would the league bother changing the rule? After all, we’re talking about the NFL even more because of the bad officiating and stupid rulebook. The NFL has turned into a real sport + the allure of drama and soap opera-y plots off the field a la professional wrestling. That’s a recipe for billions of dollars.

So if we can’t get the NFL to simplify its rules, don’t we at least want to know how all this catch/non-catch bullshit came into existence in the first place? Who’s really responsible for these constant headaches we deal with almost weekly at this point?

Many experts will say it all started in 1999 with the “Burt Emanuel Rule”. Emanuel was a receiver for the Tampa Bay Bucs, and his team was facing the St. Louis Rams in that season’s NFC Championship Game. Towards the end of the game, with the Bucs losing 11-6, Emanuel caught a key 2nd down pass to keep Tampa’s hopes alive. But then the refs reviewed the catch, which no one could figure out the reason for doing, and determined it was an incompletion because the tip of the ball touched the ground while Emanuel was securing the ball. Two plays later, the Bucs’ chances were ruined and the Rams were on to the Super Bowl. During the offseason, the league changed the rule so that the ball could now touch the ground during a legal catch as long as the receiver maintained control. But this apparently brought about a lot of gray area, which is the same gray area the refs tend to bungle on a weekly basis now. It’s all here in this fantastic explanation.

But I’d like to throw out a different theory today. If you’ll bare with me for just another five minutes or so, I can prove definitively that this entire situation is the city of Cleveland’s fault.

First of all, the root cause of all these problems doesn’t reside with a single rule change. It goes back much further than that. You know what would immediately wipe away all this controversy about catching a football? If the forward pass never came into the NFL in the first place! Think about it. No forward pass = no players having the burden of catching a pass. It’s so obvious. So let’s go waaaaay back in history on the forward pass.

Please follow along as I use Wikipedia as my source for all quotes you’re about to see:

  • “1905 had been a bloody year on the gridiron; the Chicago Tribune reported 18 players had been killed and 159 seriously injured.”
    • Wait just a second. 18 people DIED while playing football in 1905? What the hell? I’m going to have to dig deeper into that at some point, but not today. But that fact stopped me in my tracks for about 20 minutes while researching this.
  • “There were movements to outlaw the game, but U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt personally intervened and demanded that the rules of the game be reformed.”
    • Thank you, Teddy. I wish there was some way I could personally repay you for saving football.
  • First legal pass: “On September 5, 1906, St. Louis University’s Bradbury Robinson’s first attempt at a forward pass fell incomplete and resulted in a turnover under the 1906 rules.”
    • Hold up. In 1906, any pass that was incomplete was a turnover? And we think the current rules are effed up?
  • “St. Louis coach Eddie Cochems is to forward passing what the Wright brothers are to aviation and Thomas Edison is to the electric light, according to historians.”
    • So all of this controversy over Dez Bryant’s non-catch, Megatron’s non-catch…it’s all this guy’s fault!
  • “This is disputed by historian David Nelson and others, who concluded that the first forward passes were thrown on Christmas Day 1905 in a match between two small colleges in Kansas.”
    • Ohh, so that’s why we actually celebrate Christmas. Because it’s the birthday of modern football. That makes so much more sense than what the Catholics celebrate Christmas for.
  • “According to Nelson, in that Christmas Day game, one team completed three passes and the other team completed two.”
    • Ahh, so your classic Titans-Jaguars game. Got it.
  • “That same St. Louis team led by Cochems was the first team to use the forward pass as a central feature to the offensive scheme as they compiled an undefeated 11-0 season in which they outscored opponents by a combined score of 407 to 11.”
    • Yeah, but did they win the Super Bowl? Because if not, they are HUGE CHOKERS!
  • “In 1913, Notre Dame head coach Jesse Harper showed how the forward pass could be used by a smaller team to beat a bigger one, first utilizing it to defeat rival Army. After it was used on a national stage in this game, the forward pass rapidly gained popularity.”
    • Of course this is Notre Dame’s fault! Everything’s Notre Dame’s fault!
  • “The first forward pass in a professional football game may have been thrown in an Ohio League game played on October 25, 1906. This Ohio League was the predecessor of today’s NFL. The quarterback of the Massillon Tigers, one of pro football’s first franchises, completed a short pass on that day while his team was on its way to winning 61-0 over the hapless West Virginia Mountain Staters.”
    • First of all, how dare they run up the score like that? Where’s the sportsmanship?!?!
    • More importantly, do you know where Massillon, Ohio, is located? Yep, just a little bit south of Cleveland. No wonder that city has endured the shittiest sports luck over the past century. It’s karma! They brought the forward pass into professional football. They’re responsible for all these stupid rules about catching, non-catching, two feet inbounds, toe drags, “acts common to the game”. Fucking Cleveland did this to us!
    • Or, I’m willing to split the responsibility between Cleveland and Notre Dame, if that’s what you’d prefer.

So there you have it. If it wasn’t for these barbarians mutilating such a beautiful sport, we’d probably still be treated to awesome games like this in 2015:

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