CHICAGO – That was a touchdown. You can show me the rule book. You can cite the referees. You can stand me in front of Jim Schwartz even as he defends the call that killed his team.
I don’t care. By any definition that makes sense, by any memory of any person who has ever played the game of football in their backyards, on their local fields, in high school, in college, anywhere – that was a touchdown.
When you do what Calvin Johnson did, lift up between defenders, come down with the ball – with two hands – get both your feet down, hold the ball after that with one hand (one massive hand that can grip a football confidently) and as you go to break your fall with the other hand, you carry that ball all the way down to the ground, it’s a touchdown. He didn’t just break the plane of the goal line, he could have painted a new one! That may not be the definition for a passing touchdown (although it is for a rushing one), but it should serve as some parameter.
Calvin Johnson owned that ball. He owned it long enough for Lions fans to cheer, for Bears fans to groan, for one official to signal a score.
Here is what referee Gene Steratore said afterward: “The ruling is that in order for the catch to be completed he has got to maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process of the catch.”
In my mind he did. How long does the catch have to go on? Another 5 seconds? He made the catch, got his feet down, then went to break his fall with his left hand while maintaining full possession with his right.
I also don’t concur with Schwartz when he said, “The rule is if you are going to the ground in the process of making the catch you need to finish with the football, and we didn’t finish with the football.”
Yeah, but “going to the ground” is where I differ. Johnson wasn’t diving for a ball. He leapt up for it. Way different. Those rules about completing a catch generally apply to one being made as the body is heading to the ground. When you leap for a ball – and come down with it – to me, that IS making the catch. If your momentum then carries you downward and you have time to try to break your fall, I don’t think you consider that part of the catch the way you do when a guy is diving for the ball.
Johnson said: “I figure if I got two feet and a knee down, to me that is a catch that’s why I got up and took off.”
Right. At the very least – if he, I and so many others are totally wrong by the letter of the law – then this is a dumb rule that needs to be changed. Even Chicago fans were shrugging and grinning and saying they stole a victory from an embarrassing loss.
Hey. It’s hard enough for the Lions to win a dang game. When they show this kind of moxie – after losing their quarterback – and play opportunistic defense and march downfield after falling behind, well, that kind of effort shouldn’t be wiped out by an interpretation.
And that’s what this was. An interpretation. If the refs had not called this off, how strong would the protest have been against that? My guess is not as strong as the one you hear this morning.
What that tells you is people are talking – people who watch football, play football and know football. They felt the same thing. If it looks like a touchdown and it feels like a touchdown, it is a touchdown. Maybe the rules should reflect that – not some abstract concept.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).