To Play or Not to Play?
Let’s start todays piece with a topic that everyone seems to have an opinion on; Tampa Bay rushing the kneel-down play by the Giants. We’ve all seen the play repeatedly aired over ESPN and the NFL Network, and we’ve all heard the differing opinions of various players, coaches, commentators and analysts.
On one side is two-time Super Bowl winning coach, Tom Coughlin. “I don’t think you do that,” Coughlin said. “You don’t do that in this league. Not only that, you jeopardize the offensive line, you jeopardize the quarterback. Thank goodness we didn’t get anybody hurt — that I know of, a couple of linemen were late getting in.”
On the other side is rookie Tampa Bay head coach, Greg Schiano. “I don’t know if that’s not something that’s done in the National Football League,” the Bucs coach said, “What I do with our football team is that we fight until they tell us game over. And there’s nothing dirty about it, there’s nothing illegal about it. We crowd the ball like a sneak defense and try to knock it loose. We’re not going to quit, that’s just the way I coach and teach our players. If some people are upset about it, that’s just the way it goes. I don’t have any hesitation. That’s the way we play. We play clean, hard football until they tell us the game is over.”
I, for one, am surprised at how many football people have taken the side of Greg Schiano on the issue. Perhaps I shouldn’t be; forty percent of some one hundred and seventy thousand people took the same position in one poll I recently visited. Of those forty percent, at least some of them have to be confused about the matter.
No one is saying that he shouldn’t throw when he’s up by 40 in the fourth quarter, or that he needs to pull his starters when he has a large, late game lead. The argument is that you don’t try to crash into defenseless players, who are in a submissive stance or posture, creating the possibility for injury where there should be none. The argument isn’t that you came off the ball; it’s that you had three players going low on the center. The argument isn’t against sneak plays; the surprise onside kick or fake spike plays are much beloved (or hated) pieces of NFL history, the argument is that this was bush league, and on this point I will stand with the majority.
I believe it was a frustration call. Rather than accept that his team blew a game they clearly should have won, Schiano sent them out there grasping at straws. He suggests that he and his staff teaches playing hard on every play, but when Eli Manning knelt down on his own 7 yard line to end the first half with the Bucs leading 24-13, there was no contact at all…none. If you want to teach your team something, why don’t you try teaching them to protect a two touchdown lead in the fourth quarter? Why not teach them that allowing 604 yards of total offense will very rarely win you games in the National Football League? And ideally, teach them that when you make a mistake, you own up to it, admit it and move on, rather than standing your ground, painting a huge target on your team and creating a media distraction.
Schiano insists that his team didn’t do anything illegal, and this is technically true, but I don’t see how taking a knee is any different on the field than it is in the end zone, or how it differs from the fair catch or the quarterback slide. Maybe it isn’t a rule, but maybe it’s something the rules committee should discuss in the next off-season.
Speaking of rules, the replacement refs at times this weekend resembled the Keystone Kops in their enforcement, or sometimes non-enforcement (See Alex Smith’s nose), of the rules. Although our knee jerk reaction is to get ticked at these college zebras for the level of ineptitude they have thus far exhibited, perhaps our anger is better served when redirected. If you’re an “occupy anything” type, you are probably going to want to rant about the league, demand that they pay what the regular refs are asking, and quickly flock to the NFL offices with your picket sign held high. If, on the other hand, you work for a living, then you might find a little outrage pointed at the regular refs is a great outlet for your frustration. It’s a fair assumption that if you are fortunate enough to be the fan of a 2-0 team, you’re probably indifferent on the matter…for now. If your team loses next week, then those errors will start to grow like Rosanne Barr on a Twinkie diet, and you’ll soon feel the pain of us all.
Eventually, the regulars will be back, and more than likely they’ll be warmly received in stadiums league wide. I say let the boo-birds out when they return. But Steve, why on earth would you boo them, we want them back? Well, dear reader, I’m glad you asked.
Although it is hard to get a fix on exactly what the regular refs draw for salaries (they vary depending on tenure, experience and maybe who they know), a low ball figure comes in at $3,800 dollars a game. Do the math, that’s $60,800 dollars a year, not counting preseason or playoff games. Add the four preseason games and you’re looking at $76,000 a year. That’s for the lowest paid ref in the game. This is a part time job, folks. Not only do they get that, but I’m fairly certain they get travel expenses and a more than reasonable per diem package to boot. Is this not enough? What more do they need to get the best seats in the house to the greatest sports league in human history? What, private jets? Personal masseuses? Man Friday? I’m just saying, I don’t know too many construction workers that can relate to that. I’m short on executive admin friends who bring home that kind of bread. I don’t know if you can relate or not, but if you think they’re being even a little bit selfish with their holdout, let them know by booing at them the first time they throw a flag. Everyone can get in on it, we’ll call it “occupy yellow flag” so everyone feels at home. First flag by the regulars, a standing boovation by seventy thousand strong. Wouldn’t that be something?
I had hoped to get into Jay Cutler a little bit today but I’ve got to wrap it up. In the meantime people, just let Cutler and his teammates work out their own stuff. Unless you play for the Bears, leave him alone about his relationship with his linemen. They’re big boys and capable of speaking for themselves.
About the Author
Written by Steve Massey
Steve Massey is the author of Grid Iron Audible at @prosportsblogging.com, a weekly column covering all things NFL related. He is originally from California, but now resides in Northern Arkansas with his beautiful wife and best friend, Debbie. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveMassey9