After TDs, tone it down

NFL rule change reins in celebrations

down-by-contact now reviewable

March 30, 2006|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

Orlando, Fla. -- Pro football fans likely will see fewer end zone theatrics and a little more instant replay drama next season because of rules changes passed by NFL owners on the final day of their annual meeting.

The league's competition committee, with the agreement of the NFL Players Association, had suggested curtailing some touchdown hijinks, including prohibiting players from celebrating on the ground or using props, such as end zone pylons. Owners concurred overwhelmingly.

Meanwhile, down-by-contact plays, which could not be reviewed by instant replay, now can be scrutinized.

The rule dampening celebrations means that some of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson's more colorful exhibitions, such as mock proposing on one knee to a cheerleader or using a pylon to putt the ball, are out. The same for Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith's fireman slide down the goal post.

Still permitted are spiking, dunking, spinning the ball and dancing, as long as it is not prolonged. Most coaches welcomed the move. Offenders of the new rule will be hit with a 15-yard penalty.

"It's about the team, not the individual," said San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer.

While the anti-cavorting rule got substantial attention, the change allowing for replay review of down-by-contact plays could have significantly more impact on the outcome of games. Those are plays involving fumbles where there is continuing action leading to recovery of the ball.

Previously, because those plays were considered whistled dead by an official, there had been no review opportunity to sort out the fumble.

Two competition committee proposals that failed were allowing communication through a helmet radio between the sideline and one defensive player, and liberalizing rules on flinching by wide receivers that now results in a false start penalty. Currently, quarterbacks have headphones that allow coaches to call plays and provide coaching.

The defensive helmet radio proposal drew some criticisms over logistics and implementation, and some felt that the false starts should be eliminated through better coaching. The flinching rule change is being tried in the NFL's European league.

"We were happy with all of them," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who serves on the competition committee, said of the rules changes. He also said he believed that eventually the defensive radio helmet would be approved.

Ravens coach Brian Billick said he was disappointed that the defensive radio helmet proposal had failed.

Several other changes involve player safety. A greater burden is being placed on defensive players to avoid hitting quarterbacks below the waist; the ban on horse-collar tackles from behind was broadened, and there's some help for snappers on kicks and punts.

Competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons' general manager, said high-profile injuries to quarterbacks Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger and Brian Griese prompted conversation about the low-hit rule. But he added that none of those cases would have been a penalty under the new rule.

The prohibition on horse collars from the rear or side now includes grabbing the jersey rather than just the inside of the shoulder pads, but it would not apply to runners between the tackles and quarterbacks in the pocket. And defenders are banned from lining up directly over the head of the center on kicking plays.

A Kansas City Chiefs proposal to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams was tabled until the owners' May meeting in Denver.

Meanwhile, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who has indicated he wants to retire by July, said he hopes to name a search committee for a successor next week. Tagliabue, a proponent of taking the game global, said that chances are increasing that the league will play a preseason game in China in August 2007 as the kickoff to a year-long prelude leading to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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