Ask Gary: NFL has proven that rules need changing

by Gary Shelton on January 26, 2019 · 8 comments

in general

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

In the aftermath of the egregious pass interference no-call and OT game last Sunday everyone seems to have an opinion about what rule changes should be made to OT and PI calls. Where do you stand on all of this?

Larry Beller

Larry, let's start with the basic tenet that we have rules to begin with: fairness. More than anything else in the game, you want an even playing field, one where the stars (or great teams) don't get better officiating than the ordinary player (or team).

You and I are both old enough to know that the rule changes are moving targets. What was illegal 20 years ago is now legal. The worst thing you can do, in my mind, is to argue to keep something the way it is merely because that's the way it always has been. Right?

Personally, I'd change both rules. It's just basic fairness that each team gets the ball in overtime. You don't want a game to come down to a coin toss. Now, more than ever, the rules lean toward the

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offenses, which means that it's entirely possible to get the ball in extra time and march down the field. Why shouldn't there be a bottom-of-the-inning opportunity for the other team?

I know, I know. They can always play defense and force a punt. But that's harder than ever in today's game. The coin toss-loser has to conquer two drives; it has to stop the opposition and then it has to score.

If you remember, a million years ago, a lot of coaches used to prefer to kick off to start games. That's because the offenses weren't as sophisticated as they are now, and you had a chance to get the ball at the 40 with a stop. But who in the world stops anyone these days? Do you see a lot of defenses with snazzy nicknames? No, because even the best defenses are just holding on these days.

The Patriots won a coin toss. But shouldn't they have had to play defense, too.

I'd also change the pass interference penalties. It's the biggest penalty in football (aside from an ejection, maybe). Seriously, it could be a 70-yard penalty. So why in the world wouldn't you want to get that call right?

In my days of covering Don Shula, he convinced me that replay was a good thing. Replay isn't going to go away for the public, he would say. If you don't have it in the game, you're the only people who aren't judging it.

I know, I know. There is a lot of jostling on most plays. When Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett in the first half the other day, Dorsett was mugged in the end zone. There was no call. If he doesn't make a nice catch, who knows what would have happened?

So, yeah, it's a can of worms that I'm encouraging the NFL to open. But it's such a big penalty, and such an important play, that I'd review it. I'd review offensive pass interference, too. The game is too important not to review it.

And yes, the Saints got robbed.

Did you ever have any interactions with 8-time NL batting champion Tony Gwynn?

Scott Myers

Oh, yes, Scott. Your question brings a smile to my face. He was a marvelous man as well as a marvelous player, and one of the top five interviews of my life was with him.

It was the day before the World Series between the Yankees and Padres in 1998. Marc Topkin, the wonderful writer for the Times, had a travel day, and so the Gwynn assignment was mine. It was like hitting the jackpot.

I remember there being hordes of media people on the field that day, big, ugly guys with cameras and boom mikes they liked to stick in your face, and I was straining to hear Tony talk. It was hard, and I was worried that it would be a bust of an interview.

What I didn't know is that Tony planned on two sessions, one for the cameras and one for the print guys. When he was done with his drills, he came over to the dugout and sat on the steps. We gathered around him, and he lit it up for 45 minutes. He was funny, he was honest, he was insightful.  He talked about how fortunate he was to reach a second World Series. He talked baseball, hitting and fielding and growing up, about the years away from the Series.

His voice was easy, like he was a neighbor talking over the hedge. He laughed easily. He was unhurried as he told his stories.  He leaned back on the steps and chatted like we were buddies at a sports bar.

I still remember that day, that interview, that player. Gwynn played a long way away in a different league in another time zone. But I was glad, for one day, to share his company.

If you're interested, this is what I wrote that day:

* * *


When he moved across the outfield, you could no longer see the gray in his  stubble. Only the flash of his smile.

Tony Gwynn skipped across left field, basking in a sun that had taken 14  years to rise again. This was his time, his moment, and even Gwynn seemed to  marvel that it finally had arrived. He moved across the grass as if he were on  a dance floor, the simple joy of the day swelling within.

In the home of the legends, Gwynn seemed as timeless as the monuments not  far away.

Finally, he has returned to a World Series. After almost a decade and a  half of wondering if he would ever make it back, the classic swing of Tony  Gwynn will grace the Fall Classic.

What part of this Series that is not promised to the Yankees seemed destined to belong to Gwynn. He is no longer the essential Padre - you can  debate between Kevin Brown and Greg Vaughn and Trevor Hoffman for that. But at  38, Gwynn remains the ultimate Padre.

He has been so good for so long that we rarely pay attention to Gwynn  anymore. He has spent his career going 2-for-5 in meaningless games that  conclude at 2 a.m., so we barely glance his way until the end of the year when  we notice he has hit .350 again.

But now he is in the World Series, and again, we find ourselves pulling for  an aging athlete to win the ultimate prize. His has been a career of elegance  and excellence, and what, exactly, is wrong with the vision of Gwynn, the  pie-faced Padre with the oversized smile, sliding a championship ring onto his  finger?

He is John Elway. He is Karl Malone. He is Ernie Banks. And he is the best  reason there is to pull against the Yankees in this Series.

"That's flattering if people are doing that," Gwynn said. "I was lying  in bed last night watching the football game, and Joe Theismann says something  like "Isn't it great that Tony Gwynn is going back to the World Series after all these years?' I jumped up and said, "I didn't hear what I thought I did,  did I?' But I don't think of myself in those terms."

For the rest of us, it is hard not to. Even pitching coach Dave Stewart  finds himself thinking of Gwynn and comparing him to Elway, who finally won a  Super Bowl ring last season.

"He's had so much loyalty, so much integrity," Stewart said. "He had a  lot of opportunities to leave, but he stayed. So I'm wishing and hoping that  at least one time, he can have a trophy to put in his living room that says  he's a champion."

Once, Gwynn thought that was going to be easy. His first full season in the  bigs, the Padres made it to the Series. They lost to the Tigers,  but he was  sure they would be back.

"I thought, no problem," he said. "We had a veteran team. But '84 turned  into '85, and '85 turned into '95, and suddenly it's 14 years later. It's been  hard, so hard, to get back."

Seven managers, eight batting titles. Teams with Gary Sheffield and Fred  McGriff that looked as if they were headed somewhere. Teams that looked as if  they were going nowhere.

"We had no history, no tradition," Gwynn concedes. "People look back on  our organization, and they hardly ever say anything complimentary. There are  the ugly uniforms, the way the Tigers ran through us in '84. This is a  chance for us to establish some positive history for our franchise."

History. Gwynn knows a little about history. It was what brought him to  Yankee Stadium early Friday.

History says you don't ride a bus to Yankee Stadium, he said. You jump on  the No. 4 train. You take it to the 161st Street exit. You get out and marvel  at the way the park rises above the neighborhood.

This is how Gwynn arrived. He walked into the stadium, and 13 of his  teammates turned right toward the dressing room. Gwynn and his son Anthony  turned left toward the monuments.

"The first plaque you see is Babe Ruth, and that hit me like a ton of  bricks," he said. "You think "This is baseball.' They've been to 35 of  these. I've been to two."

That explains the smile. That explains why Gwynn sat on the dugout steps  and impersonated longtime Yankee announcer Bob Sheppard speaking his name.  "Tony Gwynn," he said, grinning. "Ga-wynn."

He shook his head. "When I come out of the dugout, I hope I don't trip and  fall."

If you listen to Gwynn, his season has been a series of tripping and falling. He has been injured most of the year, but he says that wasn't the  problem. "I basically s-----," he said. "I had two months where I was  locked in, then two months were I did absolutely nothing. Why candy coat it? I  s-----."

Oh, Gwynn hit .321 this season, thank you very much.

Now he was here, on this unpromised afternoon, all grins and gratitude,  joyous to be back in the Series after 14 years without an invitation. Finally,  he has another chance.

"It's October 16, and I'm in Yankee Stadium," he said. "What could be  better than that?"

The Lightning are at 76 points at the all-star break. That should
translate to about 110 points at the end of the season. I hope this
Lightning team does not follow in the Capitals' tradition of winning the President's Trophy then losing in the early round of the playoffs.

Richard Kinning

Richard, it isn't just the Caps. Nine of last 10 President's Cup winners have fallen short of the Stanley Cup. It's very difficult to do both.

Part of the reason is the nature of the hockey playoffs. There are no byes, and most of the teams with weak goalies have gone home. It's a low-scoring, ad-lib of a sport, and after the first round, a team never knows who the opposition is going to be.

I've written it many times. When the Lightning won the Cup in 2004, part of the reason was its playoff draw. That's not a knock, because they still had to beat the Flyers in seven and the Flames in seven. But they didn't play Ottawa, they didn't play Boston, and they didn't play Detroit or the top teams from the West.

The hockey playoffs are a grind. It takes a non-wild card NFL team three wins once it gets into the playoffs. It takes 16 for the NHL. That's a lot of sticks to the ear.

You're best just to think of the playoffs as a second season. And as we all know, it's the only one that counts.

Who were your mentors throughout your journalism career? How did they influence or guide you? (If this sounds like an exam question, sorry--I work in a college!).

Barry McDowell

Barry, I've had a million of them. I'd like to think I took something from a lot of people I worked with.

The most important name that comes to mind is Edwin Pope, the late sports editor of the Miami Herald. Pope was terrific, a teacher with a gentle, guiding hand. He was the guy who would fight for you against the upper editors, who never knew as much about my beat as they thought they did. (Example: The Dolphins lost to the Jets 51-45 one day. My editor argued that proved that they needed a better running back in the draft. Gee, I said. They gave 51. Wouldn't that indicate a need for more defense?).

There are great Edwin stories. Once, in Buffalo, he turned to me and said "I have 12 tall-boys under my feet, and one of them is for you." I laughed, not because I didn't drink, but I thought his sharing percentage needed a bit of work." Edwin introduced me to Jim Murray, to Blackie Sherrod, to the rest of his old running buddies. He was a stickler for language, and it made you pay attention when you were writing.

I learned a lot from my first boss, a guy named John Bowman. I remember my first paycheck was for $16...before taxes...for two weeks. But sports writing is a thought process. It's a muscle, and the more you write, the stronger. you get.

You learn a lot from your co-writers, too. Joe Posnanski. Mike Vaccaro. my old partner John Romano. Tom Archdeacon. If you paid attention to what they were writing, and how they were writing it, you had to get better. I like Rick Reilly better than a lot of people. Dave Anderson was great. George Vescey (who once attributed a line I had written about visiting a Buddhist temple in Japan, only to find out that the room with key to enlightenment  was shut for the day. "I went to find eternity, and it was closed.")

Shelby Strother, who worked here, was very good. Tony Kornheiser. Gary Smith.

There were great editors, and great beat writers. There were columnists who you rarely agreed with, but they could turn a phrase to help you. Bill Conlin, a horrid man, had a nice touch as a writer. Greg Cote, my old buddy from the Herald, taught me a lot.

Dave Barry, the humor writer, did, too. Harlen Coben, the novelist. I learned as a reporter, and as columnist, and as a feature writer, and as an editor.

I'd like to think I'm still learning.

Do you believe that there is an agreement already in place, that Todd Bowles will become head coach when Arians retires?

Jim Willson

No, Jim. I really don't. Why would the Bucs promise their next head coaching job to anyone, let alone a coach who failed in the NFL's weakest division (it's the Patriots and everyone else)? Bowles had no leverage to negotiate. Who else was going to promise him a short cut to the head coaching job.

The second thing that strikes me is this: If the Arians' regime is successful (no one will want any of his staff if it isn't), then there are other potential candidates on the staff. Harold Goodwin is the team's assistant head coach, and he's been interviewed for a head coaching job. Arians has said that Byron Leftwich, who will call the plays is a future star. You'd have to say that, right now, the Bucs' offense is ahead of the defense. So Leftwich may get hotter, too. Certainly, offensive coaches are in vogue right now.

Then there is Bowles, who will get another shot eventually. It's how good teams work. They lose coaches every year. Bowles has done it before, so he might have a stride lead on the rest of the staff. But over 2-3 seasons, someone else can catch up.

Think back at the Bucs. Monte Kiffin was great most years, and few teams came calling (the 49ers flirted heavily once). Then there was Mike Smith, who some fans were scared of losing after one year. After three, the fans were scared they wouldn't lose him.

Time changes things, Jim. I see no reason not to be hopeful if you're a Bucs fan, but this franchise has eaten a lot of good coaches over the years. It's no time for a battlefield promotion.

As a football fan I like the Bruce Arians pick for the Bucs' coach. He actually made it to a Super Bowl. Call me a skeptic if I have a wait-and-see attitude since we have not seen .500 football here in years. If he does not make the playoffs in three years do you think the Glazers will fire him like their traditions shows?

Richard Kinning

Well, they aren't going to fire themselves, are they? If Arians doesn't succeed, sure, he'll get fired. That's the risk of any coach. But in three years, he'll be approaching 70, so I think he'll be able to live with it. Most coaches get fired. As Arians says, he's been fired "nine or 10 times."

Arians didn't make it to the Super Bowl as a head coach, but he won two rings with the Steelers as the offensive coordinator. Both Lovie Smith and Sam Wyche coached teams to losing Super Bowl games, so success isn't always guaranteed.

But I like Arians, too. The Bucs seem to matter all of the sudden, don't they. I remember that I once told Jon Gruden that the most dangerous thing was actually playing games, because that could wipe the feel-good off of him. Of course, Gruden won the Super Bowl that first season, so maybe I should have stayed quiet. The point is that a lot of people who have seen a lot of failure are ready to follow Arians.

The reason we all watch the NFL so closely is that it's a high-wire act. Some coaches seem to have it figured out, and the next year, they're home watching. Nothing is guaranteed, especially on a team that needs as many repairs as this one. If Arians is going to succeed, well, Jason Licht has to succeed. The Glazers have to succeed. The scouts have to succeed.

Otherwise, we'll meet at the firing press conference very soon.

The Red Wings are having a terrible year. I will be shocked if Steve Yzerman is not running that team next year. Agree or disagree?

I agree with most of it, Jim. The Red Wings are lousy, and they could use a homecoming hero. It makes sense on a lot of levels.

But I'm not sure that it makes perfect sense to Yzerman, who does get to make the final decision. If he's serious about spending time with his family, then he might want to take a year off. He might prefer the challenge of a Seattle franchise and it's build-from-scratch possibilities.

I'm like you. If I had to bet right now, I'd bet that Yzerman ends up back in Detroit. The entire franchise would get a boost from that, so he could name his price. But I've always heard that Yzerman was beloved by the old man and as much by his heirs. We'll see.

Personally, I'd like for him to see the joy in the Lightning.

How likely do you think it is that Steve Yzerman, the architect of our Lightning, takes over the Detroit GM job in the next two years?

Richard Kinning

It seems like a good chance. Yzerman has godlike status in Detroit, and he could easily blend his home life and his work life. Winning is great anywhere, but it's especially good in the towns where you were a star. It's like Bear Bryant winning at Alabama or Steve Spurrier winning at Florida. Nothing is sweeter.

I was there the night that Yzerman won his first Cup, and when he circled the ice with the trophy, it was a love affair between the man and the city. I don't think he's forgotten the way it felt.

Not a lot has been written about Yzerman lately. But the Detroit papers write as if it's a foregone conclusion that Stevie Y takes over next year.  I'd hate to see it; he is beloved here, too, after authoring the latest turnaround. But in sports, great performers move on.

What is the latest on the Tampa Stadium? I see that Tampa is tearing down old buildings in Ybor at the site, is the deal still alive?

Richard Kinning

Richard, it's deader than Rasputin, and they killed him several times. Tampa was fine to build a stadium, it seems, as long as the Rays paid for it. Let me ask you a question: Has there ever been a city anywhere who got a new team without building a place for it to play?

I'm not saying Tampa should have paid, but it was obvious fairly early that they wanted the team to put in a lot more money than it was willing to do.  Remember, they were moving because they can't make enough money were they are. Tampa isn't exactly a slam-dunk of a market itself. So why should the Rays have ponied up that much cash?

The recent improvements to the Trop seem to hint that the team is ready to play there for a few more seasons. After that, we may lose baseball. Brace yourself.

It is amazing to me that the Buccaneers have only 6.8 million in cap space next year that is the 4th least amount. I would expect that from a playoff team, but we are far from that. Seems that there is some explaining to do. Mike Evans and Jamis Winston are $20+ million a year. Do you think we can get a good QB and receiver for less than $40 million a year?

Richard Kinning

No, I don't.  Not for much less anyway.

Richard, I know a lot of people are agog at paying Winston so much money. But for crying out loud, Blake Bortles makes $18 million a year, and he's awful. Ryan Tannehill makes $19,250,000, and he isn't very good either. Quarterbacks, even bad ones, simply get paid a lot.

You want some numbers (according to Spotrac)? Aaron Rodgers averages $33.5 million per year. Matt Ryan makes $30 million. Jimmy Garoppolo makes $27.5 million, and he just got here.  Matt Stafford makes $27 million a year.  Joe Flacco makes $26.5 million. Case Keenum, for crying out loud, makes $18 million a year.

It's like being a rock star. These guys make a lot of money. You might as well curse the rain as whine about it. Once a quarterback hits his second contract, he's going to be filthy rich.

As for Evans, he makes $16.5 million a year, less than Odell Beckham. Still, he's in the upper echelon with DeAndre Hopkins and Brandin Cooks.

Sadly, most players are paid for individual stats and for their original draft position. It won't hurt either Evans or Winston that they're team played so poorly. But together, Winston and Evans will make roughly $38 million this year. That's a hard-swallowing number.

After reading that for the last 9 straight years the team leading the NHL at the All-Star break has not even made it to the Stanley Cup finals much less won it all, it begs the question will the Lightning be able to buck that trend? What is your theory as to why that happens so often? Does size and toughness trump skill in the playoffs or is it more that the top teams pace themselves for the long playoff push? We have seen the talented, undersized Lightning players shut down by bigger, tougher teams in the playoffs before. Do you expect it will be any different this year?

Larry Beller

It's a good question, Larry. And you know as well as I that there are no guarantees that the Lightning will be an exception to the rule.

I think the main reason it happens so often is the sport itself. It's a grind, and often, there isn't a lot of difference between the first seed and the eighth. Certainly, there isn't a lot between the second seed and the eighth.

I don't think that you can say that size and toughness always trumps speed and talent. But it doesn't sometimes. But I've covered Super Bowls, and Olympics, and the NBA finals, and the NHL, and baseball. And I've never experienced anything like the post-season journey that hockey players undergo. Like I mentioned to Richard, matchups are so key at this level. If Washington had stubbed its toe before the Lightning series last year, it might have made a difference. But it didn't.

From the first hockey game I witnessed (the old Atlanta Flames, the ones who moved to Calgary), it struck me that there wasn't that much difference between an average team and a good one. It's a physical, so there is attrition to consider, too.

In the regular season, as you know, a good team can pad its stats against some very bad ones. That happens less often in the playoffs. Even now, you can see that the Bolts have an average record (5-5-1) against teams that have at least 60 points this year.

So you cut out all the mediocrity, you keep all of the good goaltenders, and you try to bottle whatever momentum you can for four tough series and 16 post-season wins. Forget the President's Cup; most years, you can point to one team and say "this is the team I'm picking." But they probably won't win it.

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