Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/12/2014 (2515 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was never a discussion about whether the infraction that cost the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the 102nd Grey Cup was actually a penalty or not -- though I do appreciate all the malcontents on social media who took it upon themselves to explain to me what was exactly so illegal about it. No, it was always a question of whether the officials should have been more judicious with their flag-throwing when the game was on the line with time expiring in the fourth quarter.
As you should know, after being handled for the first 40 minutes of the Grey Cup, the Ticats relented and persisted to the point where they appeared to take the lead on a Brandon Banks TD punt return late in the final stanza. Not unlike in 2012, when the Saskatchewan Roughriders snatched defeat from the jaws of victory from the Montreal Alouettes, the jubilation on the Ticats sideline was short-lived because of a flag that loomed as large as a Red Dawn parachute on the field of play. An illegal block in the back was what was called, and then the Internet exploded along the lines of how it would have if Kim Kardashian posted another picture, this time facing the other way.
If you were a Hamilton fan, it was a marginal, arbitrary call that cost you a championship. If you were a Stampeders fan, a penalty is a penalty, and you never know what might have happened had that player not been illegally blocked, and therefore it was the right thing to do.
After the game, Ticats coach Kent Austin said, "A lot of stuff happens on every special-teams play. Some gets called and some doesn't," and that is the crux of the matter.
I never participated extensively on special teams, but I can assure you -- mainly because current Bombers GM and former special teams coach Kyle Walters used to make me watch film of it -- that phase of the game is a street fight of illegal activity. If it is true that a penalty can be called on every snap on offence and defence -- which it can -- then players on special teams could be indicted for war crimes with the kind of liberties and abuse they hand out to one another on every snap.
Officials are tasked with using their discretion almost all of the time in professional football; the question is whether their decision-making should be less arbitrary when the game is on the line.
If you watch enough sports, you are aware of the expectation that playoff games, and games of critical importance, are judged differently because no one wants the outcome determined by a flag or a zebra. In Game 7s of NHL series, in the dying minutes when a Stanley Cup is on the line, you can pretty much get away with anything save for throwing your skates at the opponent. So in football, where it is commonly recognized penalties can be called on every down, deciding when and where flags should be thrown is an even more critical consideration. The general school of thought is a blind eye is turned to the relatively minor stuff -- outside of a call or two to keep it in check -- but the blatant stuff, the obvious infractions that change outcomes of games are flagged. The debate is whether this illegal block was critical to Banks scoring or not.
If you had the luxury of watching the play numerous times in regular speed and slow motion you would know this: Karl McCartney was not going to make that tackle come hell or high water. He had no one outside of him to force Banks into his lane, and even if for some reason he was able to stay with Banks, Banks's teammate Terrell Sinkfield was standing there to wall McCartney away from making the play.
While what happened was an obvious transgression of the rules, it was not a block that sprung Banks and made that return happen. The Ticats were going to score on that return whether the infraction occurred or not, but because it was called, the Stampeders are now Grey Cup champions.
But when officials use their discretion on every play, an infraction that happened that did not affect the integrity of the play was unnecessarily called, and too commonplace on special teams to decide the final moments of a championship game.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.