Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

23 Sep 2005

Shanahan Rips Officials for Negated TD

The NFL has fined Mike Shanahan $20,000 for criticizing the game officials who negated a Broncos touchdown in Sunday's victory over the Chargers. For those who missed it, here's what happened:

Rookie punt returner Darrent Williams had broken loose for a 61-yard score. When he was in the clear, a few irrationally exuberant Broncos, jumping around on the sidelines, crossed onto the field of play. None of them had any impact on the return, but the fact remains that it's against the rules for more than 11 players to be on the field during a play, and the Broncos had more than 11 players on the field during the play.

On Monday, Shanahan said, "you don't see a lot of calls like that in high school." But the bottom line is, his team broke the rules. Yes, it's true that the officials often overlook it if a player absentmindedly steps onto the field, as long as that player doesn't impact the game. But you know what? Those officials are wrong to overlook it. The rules are there in black and white. The officials shouldn't decide on certain plays to disregard the rules; they should enforce them uniformly. So while Shanahan has a point, his real beef should be about all the times the rule wasn't enforced, not with the one time it was.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 23 Sep 2005

27 comments, Last at 25 Sep 2005, 3:45am by Kibbles


by Jamie T. (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 6:25pm

I understand the kind of thinking that would bring about a penalty like this. That being, the rulebook was violated and we have to enforce it. That being said, do refs not have the power to look at a certain play and say, "You know what? I'm not going to call that penalty, because it clearly would have no impact on the play anyway." I'm not talking about some personal foul, late hit call. This is a couple of guys comming off the bench, BEHIND THE PLAY, while there was still a few yeards left for him to run, to congratulate the dude after he gets his six. No harm, no foul. The punt coverage team sure wasn't hurt because these guys came off the bench, were they?

by spoilsport (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 6:32pm

Totally disagree with MDS. Game officials have disrupted Football too much as it is, and we routinely have to suffer their endless "declined penalties" and reviews. Enough! so now we have to watch how an exciting play gets voided because of 100% insignificant rule breaking that did not affect the play or hurt any players.

There are many ways to handle this in a more intelligent and non-disruptive way. here's a quick one
Define situations in which a warning is issued 9nstead of play avoided. On second or third warning apply the penalty, even double it. I would include penalties like this, removing helmets, etc.

by karl (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 6:36pm

no,no,no,no,no. shanahan was actually talking about the phantom pass interference that was called on randy moss to bring back his touchdown against kc. you see, shanahan actually gets the radio playback of other games going on around the league while he's on the sidelines coaching, he's not actually listening to what his assisstants are saying, that's why he's always got that crazy look in his eye. you know the look - that "i will do evil soon..." look.

by JasonK (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 7:24pm

I'm sure the rulebook isn't written this way, but the most fair to deal with this problem is to punish it akin to an unsportsmanlike conduct call after the play was over. The refs should rule that, although the infraction was temporally "during" the return, the fact that it occurred so far upfield, involved no contact with the opposition, and had no effect on the play itself makes it constructively "after" the play. Thus, Denver gets the TD, but the penalty applies on the ensuing kickoff.

(I don't really want the refs doing this kind of loose rule interpretation on the field, but it's fun to make the case.)

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 7:31pm

So are you saying that we should ignore holding penalties away from the play that are meaningless to what actually happened?

What happens if the punt returner fumbles the ball at the last second, and San Diego picks it up and suddenly there's 6 Broncos dancing on the 50?

How about we follow the rules, so we can avoid something ugly.

Disclaimer: I did not see the play in question.

by Joey (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 7:31pm

So while Shanahan has a point, his real beef should be about all the times the rule wasn’t enforced, not with the one time it was.

Why would Shanahan care how the rule is enforced in other games? He's only concerned about his own team and their games.

by Joey (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 7:48pm

I did see the play and while I'm a Bronco fan, I didn't curse the officials for throwing the flag. By the time the guy entered the end zone there were 2-3 guys a good 10 yards onto the field. Had the guy fumbled at the goal line, it could well have been a mess like Richie describes above. It doesn't take all that much discipline to stay on the sideline until the play is over.

by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 8:27pm

Whenever there is a clear violation of a rule, the officials MUST call it. Too many players on the field is too many players on the field: it's a simple rule that is easy to follow. The play reflected poorly on the Broncos players, and Shanahan's complaint reflected even more poorly on himself.

by Alan Milnes (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 8:43pm

As an official I was taught only to throw a flag if it affected the play or was so blatant it couldn't be ignored - you could find a technical violation on nearly every play if you wanted to.

Most officials wouldn't call this on the first occasion in a game - a quiet word in the Coach's ear from the Line Judge or Head Linesman and a warning that it would be a flag next time should have been sufficient.

by Vince (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 8:52pm

I think the refs had no choice but to enforce the rule as it is written.

I think in the offseason, the rule needs to be re-written so that this kind of thing is a post-touchdown celebration penalty.

by jimmo (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 9:02pm

It'd be great if a penalty like this one was assessed after the play; that's an excellent suggestion for the offseason.
For now, though, the penalty should be called as the rule dictates. Lamont Jordan had a TD called back against KC because of a holding call on the other side of the line and behind him; holding is still holding, and too many men on the field is still too many men on the field.

by Foos (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 11:21pm

Yeah, the officials always enforce the letter of the law. How many spearing flags have you seen, ever? How many 'horse collar' tackles have been unflagged this year, despite it being a point of emphasis? The idea that the officials call every foul on the books that they are able to is a complete fallacy. That was a BS call.

P.S.: I had some weird cursor issues in the comment box, running OS X Tiger and Firefox. Anyone else?

by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 11:53pm

I think players stepping onto the field is as blatant, say, as a player taking his own helmet off in premature celebration. If these things aren't meant to be called, then they shouldn't be rules. If it's only to be called in the event that it interferes with the play, then that should be specific in the wording of the rule - we're not talking hermeneutics here.

by internet retard (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 12:36am

hey guys the officials suck I always yell when they throw flags against my team and then I yell when they don't against the other team because I don't understand fairness or impartiality and instant replay is dumb because it slows down the game so even when it corrects grievous errors it takes too long I mean how can I yell about how the coach needs to be fired when there aren't any plays happening!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

by yo (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 1:52am

"It’d be great if a penalty like this one was assessed after the play; that’s an excellent suggestion for the offseason.
For now, though, the penalty should be called as the rule dictates. Lamont Jordan had a TD called back against KC because of a holding call on the other side of the line and behind him; holding is still holding, and too many men on the field is still too many men on the field."

Actually you're wrong. Holding is not always holding. The official rule is that holding is only a penalty if it occurs at the point of attack, or in other words if it directly influences the play. That's why the NFL apologized to the Raiders for that holding call, as well as for the Randy Moss interference call.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 1:53am

#9: Most officials wouldn’t call this on the first occasion in a game - a quiet word in the Coach’s ear from the Line Judge or Head Linesman and a warning that it would be a flag next time should have been sufficient.

Maybe it wasn't the first time.

I remember an old NFL Films segment about this very thing. Apparently, players tend to creep onto the field to get a better look when the action is away from them. The segment gave the impression that this is a constant (though seldom mentioned) problem, so much so that teams designate a "get back guy" -- someone whose job it is to keep players off the field, and who sometimes fields complaints from the refs about violations.

I would only have a problem with the call if it was inconsistent with the way the rule is generally enforced -- i.e., if there were no previous warnings, and this type of thing tends not to be called without any.

by Alan Milnes (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 4:23am

Varlos - good point.

by mark (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 4:30am

I am glad that the officials made this call, though I am shocked that they did so. Other sports should follow suit... How about we see a technical foul in basketball every time a coach's toes cross the line into the court during live play? Would love to see the reaction of the first coach called on it...

by ammek (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 5:17am

"P.S.: I had some weird cursor issues in the comment box, running OS X Tiger and Firefox. Anyone else?"


by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 5:40am

Was it Tom White's crew... or the crew that did the Chargers/Cowboys game? It seemed like there were a bunch of penalties in those, especially game changing ones.

I agree with the don't call a penalty camp. We all know holding is called at a 50% rate... and no one has been flagged for a horse collar in spite of numerous instances.

I do like the emphasis on offensive PI this year.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 10:15am

I agree with Richie, if there was a fumble or something, those guys 10 yards onto the field do very much effect the play. The people he should have criticized are the dumb-ass players who ran way out onto the field.

by Björn (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 12:30pm

The players hadn't run out to center field or anything, they were just running down the sideline, but the penalty was a good call. I an a Broncos fan, and when the penalty was called, I swore and screamed like a maniac. But I was yelling at the players.

I think there is more to it that just the possibility of the play continuing. Running onto the field before a score is plain disrespectful to the opposition.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 12:59pm

Thank god the Broncos don't have a marching band.

There are obvious and not so obvious penalties. A lot of this is attributable to viewing angles and the speed at which they happen. Horsecollar tackles, spearing, holding, inter alia, are not easy to see from anywhere on the field and happen in an instant. Something like...oh say half the team creeping on to the field during a punt return is obvious to anyone watching, including the refs. I like the suggestion that the penalty is assessed at the end of the play, but the refs can't make that change on the fly. If they don't call it, what do you tell SD fans? Yeah, we understand that it was an obvious penalty, but get real, it didn't have an impact. No harm no foul works in pickup BBall, but not professional Football. The Broncos players should have shown a little more discipline and "the mastermind" should be ripping them for negating a great play with carelessness.

by Kami (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 2:53pm

This rule is stupid. There need to be more random straggler players on the field at all times; and please, for god's sake, can we get a marching band out there for once?
I'd also really like to see mascots running onto the field to slap return coverage men on the rear and laugh at them behind the play.
No Fun League indeed.

by Björn (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 3:47pm

I really don't understand why Shanny is upset though. If anything, that call might have won them the game. Seriously. The penalty meant that Denver needed to put together a drive from the Chargers 30 instead of having a quick six. They did a couple of runs and a long pass to Anderson, which probably killed close to 2 minutes of clock. Now, remember that Jason Elam kicked the game winning field goal with five seconds left on the clock.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 8:20pm

re #24: maybe the rule is stupid (although I don't personally think so), but there's still no point in blaming the officials. If a rule is indeed stupid then it is the rule book which needs to be changed. Once the rule book is changed, then the officials will call the situation the way you want them too. But, going all the way back to the first comment in this thread, officials should absolutely not ever decide not to call something because they don't think it was serious. If they see an infraction they must call it. That's the only fair and consistent way to officiate.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Sun, 09/25/2005 - 3:45am

I don't think Shanahan was pissed that the officials called the penalty. I think he was pissed that they never call it any other times. And if that's the case, I agree with him 100%. If you're going to enforce a penalty, then enforce the freaking penalty. If you're not, then don't.

From what I've read, this is an incredibly common practice that happens on practically every long return. A lot of times you'll have the XP unit trotting on the field before the guy is technically in the end zone. And the penalty never gets called, except this once? If this penalty doesn't get called again all season, then Shanny's got a point. If it's a real point of emphasis, as the officials, claim, then I better see some more yellow hankies on long runbacks this year.