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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Fumble Play 

Since the NHL is on sabbatical, we'll pick up with the NFL.

In today's Vikes - Eagles game, the Eagles scored a TD in the 2nd quarter on what your scribe has long held is a downed play. Here's what the rule should be:
the offense may advance a fumble only if recovered or returned from behind the spot of the fumble.
The touchdown was scored on a 4 yard fumble into the endzone. The current rule makes an exception for the last two minutes of a half or game, or if the fumbler is the quarterback. This makes sense? Where is the law of continuity on that one?

Chris Collingsworth, one of the game commentators, who's been around a while said he's never seen anything like that in his years in the NFL. Evidently, he missed quarterbacks of the guile of Ken Stabler and Fran Tarkenton, for whom the rule was qualified and further qualified. The purpose of the rule is to cover such deception first practiced by Stabler, when on a 4th and goal from the 10-11 yd line, late in a Monday night game, was in the process of being sacked. He didn't have a pass, and, as I recall was practically all wrapped up, including his throwing arm. He was able to "fumble" the ball in the direction of the goal line. I believe it was Dave Casper, an end/receiver was just over the goal His recovery was scored as the winning touchdown. It was an obvious maneuver on Stabler's part, so they changed the rule to deny yardage on a fumble by the quarterback or during the last two minutes.

Fran Tarkenton's innovation in these situations, at the end of a scramble, regardless of the yard line, and while going out of bounds, would lunge forward, hold the ball out, and impart a spin to the ball, pitch it forward, so that when it hit, it would go out of bounds. I don't know if the rules committee has marginalized this play, but again, the goal line was the exception. Tarkenton would gain the spot where the ball went out of bounds, unless it had crossed the goal. Then they would spot the ball on the 1 yard line!

What's wrong with giving the offensive team no more credit than they earned by advancing the ball? No exceptions for player or game situation.

In case you're scratching your head, think about it. In the case of today's Mitchell touchdown, he recovered the ball in the end zone. Where did his teammate fumble? On the 4 yd line. OK, then that's the spot. Supposing Mitchell had recovered on the 5 and run it in? Good. That's a touchdown.

This change is no more difficult to enforce than the rules surrounding a lateral. In fact, it treats a fumble as an attempted lateral. It completely factors out the players intention. And while we're at it, you could remove the penalty for a forward lateral. Just call it a recovered fumble, ball dead at the spot of the "fumble".

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