In the span of 50 seconds Monday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a game ripped out of their hands. Not so much by the New York Giants, mind you. But by the officials and the NFL's "illegal demonstration" rule, as woeful a rule as the league has in its cluttered book.
When tight end Eric Green caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Neil O'Donnell to cap the Steelers' furious fourth-quarter comeback and set up a 20-20 tie with 50 seconds left, he broke into an impromptu dance with teammates Louis Lipps and Dwight Stone in the end zone. It was short and sweet.
It fell under the category of excessive celebration, though, and cost the Steelers 5 yards on the ensuing kickoff. Then Gary Anderson inadvertently kicked off out of bounds -- he was trying to kick to the left, but hooked it -- and the Giants got the ball at their 40. (The penalty for an out-of-bounds kickoff is possession of the ball 20 yards from the point of kickoff.)
Fast forward to Matt Bahr's game-winning 44-yard field goal, a kick that was just inside the left upright. Had the Steelers not given up 5 yards on the illegal celebration penalty, it's doubtful Bahr's kick would have been good. And the Steelers at least would have gotten to overtime.
Maybe the Giants would have won anyway. That's not the point. The point is that the officials should not be influencing the outcome of games with judgment calls that are borderline at best.
Even Jim Finks, who chairs the NFL's competition committee, admitted the call was very borderline. Finks, president of the New Orleans Saints, said the rule was instituted last March to penalize premeditated demonstrations.
"[Green's] demonstration was spontaneous," Finks said. "It wasn't long. It wasn't rehearsed. That's not what our rules were intended to penalize."
Finks went further, suggesting there is something of a palace revolt by the officials who don't like the rule. "It's a judgment call, up to the officials," he said. "But my impression is that they don't like the rule so they're going out of their way to call it to show that."
Green was upset even more by the fact that the officials missed an obvious pass interference call earlier in the game.
Three weeks ago, after a run of illegal demonstration penalties, the league modified the rule. In the wake of the Monday night fiasco, the league needs to do some more revision. There could be a change by next week's owners meeting in Dallas, if not before.
In the meantime, the No Fun League lives.
* QB CAROUSEL: The Eagles' quarterback odyssey led them to Seattle reject Jeff Kemp yesterday. After two losing starts by rookie Brad Goebel (168 yards, no touchdowns, six interceptions), the Eagles claimed Kemp, who was waived by the Seahawks after throwing a league-high 12 interceptions in only five starts.
The Eagles could have traded for backups Billy Joe Tolliver of the Falcons, or Jack Trudeau (before he got hurt) of the Colts, but refused to surrender the asking price of a second-round draft choice. After a bye this weekend, they expect Jim McMahon to return on Oct. 27 against the 49ers. McMahon suffered a strained knee ligament without being touched while scrambling out of the pocket in a game against the Redskins. Randall Cunningham is out for the season with torn knee ligaments. Gone now, too, is retread Pat Ryan, who was brought in after Cunningham's injury. He was released to make room for Kemp.
Kemp, by the way, is the NFL's lowest-rated passer with an efficiency rating of 52.9.
* PASS THE BLINDFOLD: The 49ers are another team that didn't recognize a good deal when they saw it. Coach George Seifert wouldn't give up first- and third-round draft picks for Denver's disgruntled running back Bobby Humphrey, even though that is the club's biggest deficiency.
The 49ers' best running back is quarterback Steve Young, whose 68 yards rushing last Sunday was the team's season high. Seifert never committed to Keith Henderson, who has not rushed more than 10 times in any game. And former first-round draft choice Dexter Carter (70 yards on 19 rushes this season) isn't ready to carry the load.
Humphrey wanted the Broncos to renegotiate his contract and refused to report this season.
Seifert reportedly wants to save his first-round pick for a cornerback in next year's draft. At 2-4, the 49ers appear at a crossroads, not only for this season but for the future. They play the streaking Lions Sunday in San Francisco.
* UNDERCLASS UPDATE: Of the 33 underclassmen who applied for early entry into the NFL draft last spring, 22 were drafted, two signed as free agents and nine -- including Raghib "Rocket" Ismail -- went undrafted and unsigned by the NFL.