Golden Tate’s dramatic touchdown/interception has been the subject of much hyperbole. Last night, Steve Young said that a touchdown was the player clutching it against the chest. That’s not in the rule book as defining who has control and who does not.
I thought we could take a frame by frame (well, 8 frames apart, it would be too long if we went each frame) at the play, while also examining the relevant portions of the rulebook.
First, for the relevant portions of the rulebook. Here is Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5.
Item 5: Simultaneous Catch. If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball.
From that, we learn that one player gaining control, and another player later gaining control is not simultaneous possession.
In addition the Casebook lists specific cases. Well, I say the Casebook, but it’s the 2011 version. I can find no Casebook yet for 2012. I’ve asked for clarification and will update, but I don’t think they did away with the Casebook. Surely not.
There are five “approved rulings” related to hypotheticals dealing with simultaneous possession that inform our interpretation of the rule. (A.R. 8.24 to A.R. 8.29). The relevant ones:
A.R. 8.25: First-and-10 on A20. A2 and B3 simultaneously control a pass in the air at the A40. As they land, both players land on their feet and wrestle for the ball on their feet. Eventually, B3 takes the ball away from A2 and is tackled at the A38.
Ruling: B’s ball, first-and-10 on A38. Until one of the players in simultaneous possession of the ball goes to the ground or out of bounds, the ball remains alive.
A.R. 8.26: First-and-10 on A20. A2 and B3 simultaneously control a pass in the air at the A40. As they land, one or both players fall down to the ground.
Ruling: A’s ball, first-and-10 on A40. The ball is dead.
A.R. 8.29: First-and-10 on A20. B3 controls a pass in the air at the A40 before A2, who then also controls the ball before they land. As they land, A2 and B3 fall down to the ground.
Ruling: B’s ball, first-and-10 on A40. Not a simultaneous catch as B3 gains control first and retains control.
I’ve seen people reference a shot on the ground, where Tate’s arm is off the ball. Irrelevant. The key questions are who gained control, and when, and then when the play is dead for purposes of the players still wrestling for the ball. Here’s an 8-frame look at the ball arriving in the sea of hands, until the players are on the ground.
The ball arriving:
The players falling:
And falling, hands on ball:
Is the right arm of Tate starting to come off? It looks like it in super slo mo:
Tate back on ball, both going to ground:
Both continuing to ground:
Tate getting ready to hitting ground, both wrapped on ball:
Continuing on to the ground, Tate’s butt hits:
By this point, play is dead per rule and simultaneous possession either is or is not established.
Last night, I said I thought it was simultaneous possession in my initial viewings. I now think that Tate’s right arm came off slightly on the way down, and so his control wasn’t established again until after it went back on (sixth picture down). He did have his hands on ball right away, and he did have possession when they contacted the ground. If his right hand had not come off for a split second on the fall, I think it is simultaneous possession by rule, regardless of what happened on the ground twisting around. There is no such thing as a player having more control than the other based on having it near his chest. It was a bang-bang play.
The outcry is as much about the overall view of the officials and the high leverage of the situation. Many have been waiting for a key moment, they’ve got it. In truth, this non-sense needs to end because of the grind of every game, the bad game administration and conferences, and the bad calls, most of which far outweigh this on a competency scale. Heck, the offensive pass interference is the key call here. Not only did Tate take out one player, he took out two with a shove, clearing his path for the leap and the controversy.
But if we get a blowup out of this, so be it. I’m ready for some football. I’m skeptical that people are actually going to stop watching because of this though.
[photos via Michael Shamburger]