The NFL Competition Committee is evaluating a proposal to limit the use of eligible/ineligible receiver reporting shell games. Count Steelers' owner Art Rooney among those that thinks it was handled poorly at the time to the detriment of the Ravens.
There's a lot things I'd rather do than re-open anything related to this can of worms (like say, watch March Madness) so I'll simply take the brief opportunity to explore it from a different angle.
Blocking and Tackling
Vince Lombardi was famous for saying that football is about blocking and tackling. I can't say I disagree. If you cannot do those two things, no number of schemes, plays, or trickeration can help you.
The Patriots couldn't block our defense or stop us from blocking them on offense, thus necessitating this questionable tactic and more notably, a bevy of short passes in the second half with no running plays.
However, the Ravens couldn't tackle either and missed at least one opportunity to win the game with a proper open space tackle and another to prevent a touchdown.
In some ways, it was just a question of who would screw up these fundamentals the most and lose the game because of it. Which is essentially what happened.
Of course, Lombardi was probably not knee-deep into the NFL rulebook looking for vagaries and gray areas to exploit but I digress.
Perhaps that is why the Competition Committee is looking into the proposal to erase this loophole and why Art Rooney said what he said.
We got beat in an instant classic, despite facing numerous disadvantages, and I can live with that. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the grabbing of low hanging fruit hot takes in pursuit of internet clicks trumps all. Losing the game somehow became less aggravating than the shrill narrative about the game afterwards.
I suspect that if Baltimore had won the game instead, the narrative shifts to how the old school "line up and win" smash-mouth, blocking-and-tackling mentality won out over the finesse team who had to dig deep into the rulebook for a counter. Baltimore would have been lauded for pulling off the major upset on the road while the Patriots would have been excoriated for blowing another great season prematurely and trying and failing to use a strange tactic to help them.
But because New England did win, the narrative shifted to the brilliance of Bill Belichick and how his ineligible receiver tactic is proof that he greatly outcoached his opponent. He is a great coach but I'm not sure that tactic is proof of it — especially since it might very well be outlawed less than six months later.
Distilling that game down to that issue is a disservice to the great rivalry game that was played and a reminder of the lazy way in which sports are covered in this modern era of click-hoarding.
Still, I suspect the committee will follow through on ending the tactic if only because it could later be abused in such a way that does not make the game of football better or more compelling.
That, more than anything, is what the Competition Committee is ultimately charged with preserving.