Some things simply cannot be adequately defined in purely clinical terms. The taste of chocolate. The smell of puppy breath. The act of catching a football.
This doesn't keep the NFL from trying. And the more it tries, the more it screws things up.
Bully for you if you immediately flashed to Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy scoring a first-half touchdown against the Chargers on Monday night. Anyone with a TV and half a brain could see it. Murphy soared above San Diego defender Steve Gregory to snag a JaMarcus Russell pass.
His left foot came down. He had control of the ball.
His right foot came down. Even with Gregory clawing at the ball, Murphy still had control.
His butt hit the ground. He still had control of the ball. If it had been a run, the play would have been over. What was it John Madden used to say — two cheeks equal one knee?
Even as Murphy began to roll over onto his stomach, he still had control of the ball. Touchdown. Great catch. And nice throw, by the way.
Then came the announcement: The play is under review. So right away you knew something idiotic was about to happen. Sure enough, the catch was negated.
The problem with replay? Where would you like to start? The challenge system, whereby a coach has to weigh the potential loss of a timeout against the likelihood of overturning a call. When, how and at whose discretion replays are made available in the fleeting seconds after a questionable play. Booth reviews, such as the one that overturned Murphy's would-be touchdown would be their own special entrée into Byzantine logic.
But here's the biggest problem — replay has convinced the NFL that through technology, every play can be adjudicated flawlessly when applied to a five-pound book full of eight-point type.
Wielding replay like an atom smasher, NFL officials attempt to break every play down to its molecular level. They pull it apart, pixel by pixel, then glue it back together using ponderous maxims and working definitions. See there? That's not a fumble. That's a tuck.
The problem is, we don't live life in super slo-mo, with pause and rewind options. Reduce any dynamic physical activity to its most elementary state and you lose the inherently human experience.
At some point it becomes like parsing the Zapruder film for clues to President Kennedy's assassination. You slow it down, blow it up, remaster, digitize and whoa! That looks like a puff of smoke coming from the grassy knoll. And wait a minute — isn't that Amelia Earhart driving the presidential limousine?
When you look that close and try to be that inflexibly precise, you are no longer seeing what happened in real time. Which, as a reminder, is how we slog through everyday life. Want an example? Try baseball's check swing. Reviewed in dreamy slow motion it looks like a swinging strike almost every time. We have no scientific evidence to back this up, but the guess here is the percentage of checked swings that are called strikes is markedly higher now than it was 30 years ago simply because of what replays have conditioned umpires to believe.
The NFL tries to augment replay by constructing a rubric for every possible action on a football field. It can't be done, but that hasn't stopped the league from making several efforts to define the act of catching a forward pass. First one foot had to be down to qualify. Then two feet had to be down. Then there had to be a football move. Then the player had to click his heels while singing "Some Enchanted Evening." Now? Listen to the explanation of referee Carl Cheffers and try not to laugh.
"By definition in our rule book, he's going to the ground and has to maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire act of the catch. And in this case, he lost possession and the ball hit the ground. Therefore, it's incomplete."
If only Louis Murphy had known, he might have been able to resist the forces of gravity that led to his touchdown morphing into an incomplete pass. He knows better now — if you give NFL officials half a chance, they'll rule that piece of Godiva chocolate is really a lard omelet.
And they'll have the ponderous maxims to back it up.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.