So you’re unfamiliar with NFL Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b)(2) …
Patriots at Jets, overtime, Jets kicker Nick Folk misses a 56-yard field goal. Patriots prepare to start a drive at the New England 38-yard line. I find this amazing: “The 2013 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League” is 159 pages long. There is even a half-page for “Guidelines for Captains,” including options on the coin toss.
For the infraction called for the first time in NFL history Sunday, on the decisive play in a game that could have major playoff implications, there is one sentence. Twenty-five words.
The sentence is on page 51: “When Team A presents a field-goal or Try Kick formation … Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.”
On the play in the Meadowlands, as the ball was snapped for the field goal, New England free-agent defensive lineman Chris Jones tried to shove another Patriots lineman, Will Svitek, through the gap between the center and right guard. Svitek almost squeezed through, but he was blocked by the Jets’ punt-team guard, Damon Harrison (actually a defensive tackle). The blocking didn’t matter. Once Jones shoved his teammate into the gap, the umpire standing behind the Patriots’ line, Tony Michalek, threw the flag. Correctly. “That’s a rules change for 2013 that a teammate cannot push a teammate into the opponent’s formation,’’ said referee Jerome Boger to a pool reporter after the game. “It’s any type of pushing action.”
There was some confusion—partially of the league’s doing—when Bill Belichick said after the game that the call was wrong because it didn’t originate from the “second level,” or area behind the line of scrimmage. And there are videos from earlier this season in which vice president of officiating Dean Blandino refers to “the second level’’ when he interprets the rule. As Mike Florio explained Sunday night on Pro Football Talk: “The problem is that the NFL previously has explained the new rule on its official website by suggesting that the rule applies only to pushes from the second level.’’
At NBC, a digest of rules is kept handy for the particularly prickly ones. And there’s no reference to a “second level” when discussing this rule. It is just as I have written it. The rule was included at the request of several offensive lineman and approved by the Competition Committee. The linemen, particularly the centers, felt the injury risk would go down if defensive players couldn’t cave in the centers by lining up right over them or having players be pushed into a huge scrum at them.
Without the call, New England would have had to go 30 yards to be in position for a field goal. If the game is tied after the first possession of overtime, the next team to score wins. With the penalty—which was absolutely the right call—Folk had another chance and nailed it.
Said Rex Ryan: “I was fairly happy about it. I was thinking, ‘It’s about time we got a break.’ ”
Said Jones: “The mistake was mine. I take it. Put it on my shoulders.’’
We will. And now, with the Jets and Bills winning Sunday, the AFC East is more of a horse race, with two games separating top and bottom.
Depressing Jacksonville note of the week
Jacksonville has played three home games this year and not scored a touchdown.
The Jags have scored 2, 3 and 6 points in their three home games: a safety, a field goal and two field goals … and lost by 26, 34 and 18.
The Jags do not play in Jacksonville again until Nov. 17, against Arizona. In the next three weeks, they’re in London (against San Francisco, in a surrendered “home” game), on the bye, and at Tennessee.
When is the last time an NFL team hadn’t scored a touchdown in its home stadium by the middle of November? In 1977, when Tampa Bay failed to score a TD at home until Dec. 18, in the final game of the season.
Requiem for Bum
It struck me on Saturday, reading Twitter, that many of you don’t know much about Bum Phillips, who died Friday night at 90. That’s not surprising. Phillips, the former Houston and New Orleans coach, was at his peak 33 years ago. I discovered how so many of you were lacking in Bum-know-how when I re-Tweeted the front page of Saturday’s Houston Chronicle sports section, headlined with “Luv Ya Bum,’’ and many of you were confused. One of you asked: “Doesn’t the Houston Chronicle have a copy editor?” No, no—the big slogan around the Houston Oilers way back then was, “Luv Ya Blue.” So there’s that.
I was too late to cover Bum Phillips as a coach—his last season was in New Orleans in 1985, my second covering the league—but I got to know him as a retired NFL coach, a Yogi Berra sort of character and father of Wade Phillips, who always loved being daddy’s boy. (Wade’s Twitter account is @sonofbum.) And I visited Bum in 1990 when writing about his son stepping out of his dad’s coaching shadow, which I’ll tell you about in a second. Bum Phillips was 86-80 in 12 years as an NFL head coach, but his best seasons came in a time of immense enthusiasm for the Oilers in Houston (1975-80), the last time the team truly captured the city before the franchise moved to Tennessee in 1997. In 1978 and ’79, Phillips got the Oilers to the AFC title game both seasons, only to find one of the great teams in NFL history in the way of Super Bowl glory. Phillips’ Oilers lost in Super Bowl seasons three and four for Pittsburgh, by 29 and 14 points, and a year later he was fired by owner Bud Adams.
It wasn’t just the winning. It was Bum himself—a Texan who wore Cowboy boots and a huge Texas belt buckle on the sidelines, and a 10-gallon hat when games were outside—who made the Oilers so attractive to the locals. The fans inside the decibel-friendly Astrodome made noise like today’s Seahawk crazies, and they waved these white and baby-blue pompoms so that sometimes when the cameras panned the stands it looked like it was snowing in there. And he said some fun things, after wins and after losses. He loved Don Shula. “He could take his’n and beat your’n, and he could take you’n and beat his’n.” (Pardon the spelling there. I don’t know how to spell “his’n,’’ never mind “your’n.”)
Check the Bum influence on Wade from a 1990 story I did on the rise of Wade as Denver’s defensive coordinator, when I visited the retired coach at his ranch near Houston:
Drive west of Houston for about an hour, until you run plumb out of town. Take a left onto a narrow state farm road across from the only restaurant for miles. Weave through a few miles of ranch road, past herd after herd of grazing cattle. Go over the one-lane wooden bridge and follow the dirt road to the end. Finally, with three ranch dogs nipping at your feet, walk into the metal-roofed arena where the cutting horses are being trained. Now, this is Texas.
Here a portly man wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses sits atop a sorrel horse named Mr. San Powder. He’s watching a rider teach Sport Court, a 3-year-old chestnut, how to isolate a calf from the herd and keep it separate for a few minutes. “You put the horse out here without the other cattle so he learns to succeed,” says the man in the sunglasses. “You don’t want him to fail. You want him to win. So you get him some confidence first.”
Wade’s father, Bum Phillips, 66, pauses to spit tobacco juice. “You know,” he adds, “it’s like working with young players. Get ’em thinking too much, give ’em too much right away, and it confuses ’em. You’ve got to get ’em some confidence. You’ve got to train ’em right, teach ’em right. I’ve always said, You show me a good teacher and I’ll show you a good coach. Coaching is not how much you know. It’s how much you can get players to do.”
[When Bum coached high school football], the Phillips family—Wade was born first and then came five daughters—got a new lesson in Texas geography almost every year. Bum, then a high school and college coach, chased jobs from the Louisiana border to New Mexico. They moved from Beaumont to Nacogdoches to Nederland to College Station to Jacksonville to Amarillo to El Paso to Port Neches to Houston. “You grew up pretty fast in this family,” says Helen, Wade’s mom.
The most abrupt move of all came when Wade was in the ninth grade. The Phillipses were living in Amarillo at the time, and he was going to a junior high school right down the street from his house. He was getting good grades. He was playing all the sports. He had his first girlfriend. One morning, the principal sent for him, and on his way to the office, Wade looked out the window and saw a moving van in the driveway. His father, he soon learned, had quit his position at Amarillo High to take the coaching job at UTEP. Within an hour, Wade was off to El Paso, without even getting a chance to say goodbye to his girl. But he didn’t protest. No tears. No anger.
“When Daddy would ask if we wanted to go to the Dairy Queen, we wouldn’t want to,” says Wade, half in jest. “We’d be afraid if we got in that car he’d move us again.”
And this life lesson, from his father:
“When I was growing up, people thought bitching was coaching,” says Wade. “But players eventually turn off the guys who yell and scream. My father once told me, ‘Don’t coach the way you were coached. Coach the way you are.’ I don’t believe in coaching by fear. I believe in coaching by teaching.”
Think of that: You don’t see the yellers and barkers much anymore on the sidelines—or at least not as much as you used to. After the Texans lost narrowly Sunday, I asked Wade Phillips how he thinks his father should be remembered in football history.
“He was the ultimate players’ coach,’’ Wade Phillips said. “He had a real knack for making every player feel special, like they were so valuable. I never heard him once talk about winning. You play hard because your teammates are like a family. You owe that to your teammates. He always thought the scoreboard would take care of itself.’’
The greatest tribute I saw Sunday? Texans defensive stalwart J.J. Watt sacking Alex Smith and turning to the crowd and tipping an imaginary ten-gallon hat. For Bum.
“Yeah,’’ Wade said, struggling for words. “That was emotional.”