It is rivalry week at SB Nation NFL! All week long, the entire network will focus on rivalries all over the league — the famous and the obscure. Today, we’ll take a look at how the Patriots drove one man so crazy that he inadvertently changed the way football is played forever...and that’s not a compliment.
You know you’re a habitual line-stepper when saying “we had a first round grade on Tom Brady” still only checks in as the second-most ridiculous thing on your resume.
Everybody saw the Madden Bowl on Monday night, right? The Kansas City-LA, all-11-personnel, run-to-set-up-the-HAHAHAHAJK-go-sling-it fireworks show between the NFL’s two top offenses and two defenses that occasionally rank below the Browns, no offense, and, oh yeah, the refs showed up too. Showed up to the tune of 26 penalties, which, by my math three beers in, is roughly one flag per every 2 minutes of actual football being played.
But hey, let’s ask a couple All-Pros:
CANT EVEN PLAY DEFENSE.— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) November 20, 2018
Last season there were 277 pass interference penalties handed out, and that’s actually a slight decrease from 2016, where 289 flags flew for varying degrees of pushing/pulling/poking/prodding/grabbing/tugging/...OK, this is getting weird, but you know what we mean. Some of these jersey-pulls and bear-hugs are well-deserved, while a considerably irritating amount of them feel like the NBA when someone gets whistled for daring to give a bit of a side-eye in LeBron’s general zip code.
And it’s all the Colts’ fault.
Specifically, Indianapolis Colts GM and NFL Competition Committee member Bill Polian.
Cue the throwback music and take it away, Washington Post!
It was soon after the Patriots’ second Super Bowl win on Feb. 1, 2004, that the competition committee, the NFL’s rule-making body, acted to try to help quarterbacks and receivers. Passing yards per game had dipped to an 11-year low in the 2003 season, and the members of the competition committee determined that game officials were not enforcing a longstanding rule prohibiting a defensive player from making contact with a receiver more than five yards downfield. The committee made properly enforcing the “illegal contact” rule a point of officiating emphasis for the 2004 season. The hands of NFL defensive backs were, in effect, tied.
Many observers attributed the competition committee’s action to the Patriots’ defensive play in their 24-14 triumph over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game on Jan. 18, 2004. The Patriots intercepted Colts quarterback Peyton Manning four times that day and Indianapolis’s receivers were upset because they felt that several holding infractions had gone uncalled by officials at key moments. Bill Polian, the Colts’ influential team president, was particularly angry.
Let’s make this clear: quickly, off the top of your head, who’s the worst person in the entire bar to watch sports with?
The “REFS SCREWED US!” guy, of course, and it’s not close. It takes a lot to make Yankees fans look appealing by comparison, but Mr/Mrs ‘REFS, WHAT AH YA BLIND??!?” blows every pinstripe-wearing 27-rings could-be-a-Jersey-Shore-minor-character out of the water.
So what was Bill Polian’s solution? Not, you know, “have my team get better at football”, obviously - it was basically to turn NFL refs into the cop in 99 Problems.
I’ll let Jay-Z handle this one:
Am I under arrest, or should I guess some more?
You was going fifty-five in a fifty-four
THAT’S how Indy wanted it called, and how they needed it to not get tossed around like a puppy playing with a boat rope toy on prime-time TV in the playoffs, and that’s what they got. In spades.
And don’t let Bill or anyone else tell you that this was for the good of the whole league or anything - just a few years later, Pro Football Talk got this scoop from now-former VP of Officiating Mike Pereira:
Pereira made it clear that Colts president Bill Polian, a long-time member of the Competition Committee, pushed the issue due to the perception/reality that Patriots defensive backs were manhandling Indianapolis receivers.
Pereira was candid regarding his belief that the change to the application of the rule made little sense. Specifically, he said that the notion that a flag would be thrown and a first down awarded regardless of whether the contact actually generates an advantage for the defensive team “didn’t seem logical.”
“It was difficult for us,” he said. “You always tried to officiate the game advantage-disadvantage. And so it didn’t seem logical . . . to me at the time.
Fast forward a few MORE years, and mutated into something even Polian couldn’t have seen coming, like when the zombies start coming in 28 Days Later and we all briefly sharted ourselves and realized “They can RUN??!?”
After the NFL spent a better part of a decade bailing offenses out if a corner got closer than the person next to you in a concert mosh pit, teams started figuring out - most notably the prime Legion of Boom ‘Hawks - that refs can’t throw a flag on EVERY play, so just mug ‘em every time and see what happens.
“They (Seattle) look at it and say, ‘We may get called for one but not 10,’” said Mike Pereira, a former NFL vice president of officiating who is now a Fox analyst.
This is the new Sunday now - the reason why the jump-ball that used to be a spectacular mano-a-mano street-fight is a coin-flip for a penalty that can take you 40 yards down the field for daring to get in the way of a wideout that may have bricks for hands, but has just as good odds to get a penalty as he does to put more than 2 fingers on the ball.
And here we are, all because Peyton was a system quarterback that couldn’t modify his game to beat the one team that had his number.