By Flint Wheeler
It makes sense to have the excessive celebration penalty in the rulebook. I understand why it’s there. I get it. Officials need some kind of option if a player goes nuts and stops the game for 90 seconds. Just the threat of a celebration penalty helps keep games from getting out of control every play. But while the threat doesn’t work if refs never call it, actually calling these penalties in meaningful games is more ridiculous than any celebration could be.
This past week gave us two reminders of the stupidity here. First came Monday Night Football, when the officials flagged Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah after he dropped to his knees in prayer in the end zone.
Abdullah is Muslim, so the penalty was considered potentially discriminatory when it happened. The NFL later apologized, but let’s not forget just how stupid it is to penalize anyone for sliding on his knees through the end zone. He didn’t have to be praying to make that flag horrible. He wasn’t using ridiculous props, or delaying the game, or anything. “Going to his knees” is why he was flagged, which makes no sense.
Then came Thursday night. With Arizona and Oregon tied late in the fourth quarter of a game that had been going back and forth all second half, the Ducks sacked the Wildcats to force a field goal attempt and get the ball back for a final possession.
But wait…a celebration from Tony Washington was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, allowing Arizona to (a) get a first down, (b) milk more time off the clock, and (c) score what turned into the game-winning touchdown to upset the no. 2 team in the country.
This made Washington the goat of the loss, it put an asterisk next to what should have been a killer upset, and even Arizona fans thought it was bullshit. Nobody ever likes the celebration penalty. Players, coaches, broadcasters. Nobody. In the fourth quarter of a tie game, you should have to go full Rod Tidwell to get flagged for 15 yards. After last night, I finally understand what college football people mean when they make all of those jokes about Pac-12 refs.
That gets to the larger point: We can’t trust officials to not take those celebration rules and enforce them in the dumbest way possible. In college, in the pros — it makes no difference. Officials will always call awful celebration penalties, and best-case scenario it’ll be embarrassing; in the worst-case scenario, it’ll change games. Please just ban these penalties altogether. Everyone will survive.
And you know what? I miss the days when Joe Horn’s cell phone was the biggest controversy in football. It was a better time.
Michigan Football. You wouldn’t think things could get any worse after back-to-back home losses to Utah (3-point underdogs) and Minnesota (10-point underdogs), but they sure did! After Brady Hoke sent a clearly concussed Shane Morris back into the game, there was widespread outrage, including calls for Hoke’s and athletic director Dave Brandon’s jobs. The incident triggered campus protests, and the Michigan president apologized to everyone on behalf of his football program. Not a great week for Michigan Men.
If you’re one of the people who thinks this wouldn’t have been nearly as big of a deal if Hoke were winning, that’s definitely true, but not for the reasons you think. If Michigan were winning this year, Hoke would have plenty of job security, and he’d have been in perfect position Monday to just admit he made a huge mistake, promise to be better, etc. That would have been the end of the story. My grandpa used to say, and I repeat it to my juniors, “When you’re right, be humble, when your wrong, admit it”. Simple but so, so true.