Monday, February 02, 2009

Using the ball as a prop:
What is the rule?

In the aftermath of Super Bowl XLIII some commentators (most notably Marshall Faulk of the NFL Network) have stated the opinion that after his (ultimately) game-winning catch Santonio Holmes should have been called for an unsportsmanlike penalty for having used the football as a prop. We decided to take a look at the rule book for some clarification.

Rule 12 ("Player Conduct") of the NFL rule book is one of the lengthiest portions of the entire rule book, stretching on, appropriately enough, for twelve pages; and it is in section three of that rule that we find the guidelines for touchdown celebrations. More specifically article one, subsection "f" outlines the behavior that Mr. Faulk and others found to be outside of the rules: "Possession or use of foreign or extraneous object(s) that are not part of the uniform during the game on the field or the sideline, or using the ball as a prop."

There are no points of clarification as to what constitutes a "prop" as it relates to this rule (Merriam-Websters defines a prop as "something used in creating or enhancing a desired effect") ~ after all, even in a simple spiking the ball is used to create a "desired effect." However in watching the replay of that moment (over, and over, and over) it seems obvious that the ball was indeed used as a prop, so why no call?

Is it a case of the ultimate irony of this game is that the same group of officials who enforced 18 penalties for 162 yards (there was at least one penalty that was declined) simply wanted to stay out of the way of Mr. Holmes' game-winning moment? We think not. Rather it appears (after having watched the replay) that the referees departed from the end zone once the pile of Steelers' players, those who descended upon Mr. Holmes after made his catch, departed the field. In other words, nobody was looking.

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