NFL votes to rein in TD celebrations
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Chad Johnson, Steve Smith and Terrell Owens lost a good portion of their end zone celebrations. Carson Palmer, Brian Griese and Ben Roethlisberger gained some protection for their knees. And NFL coaches gained the ability to make replay challenges on down-by-contact plays.
Chad Johnson said he thinks the new celebration rules could alienate NFL fans.
The NFL owners meetings concluded in Orlando on Wednesday afternoon with owners giving big thumbs up to 15 playing rules proposals by the competition committee. Player safety and player conduct headlined the long list of recommendations, and the committee passed most of them with ease.
Only two recommendations failed to pass. Eleven owners voted against allowing a defensive player to wear a radio helmet connected to coaches on the sideline. An effort to cut down the rapidly increasing number of false start penalties against receivers who flinch at the line of scrimmage also failed.
"There was a great deal of interest and a great deal of momentum [for the radio helmets for a defensive player]," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the committee co-chairman. "But if there was a malfunction of the equipment, then all bets were off. On the offensive side, you simply have the quarterback, but on the defensive side, it could be the linebacker or the safety. There is a lot more involved."
Overall, though, the committee reveled in its success.
"The competition committee did a terrific job and that showed with the endorsements that they had on their recommendations," commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.
Among the biggest changes:
• Limited celebration: Perhaps the most controversial decision involved end zone celebrations. A few years ago, the committee tried to clamp down on excessive end zone celebrations, particularly in light of Joe Horn's touchdown celebration with a cellphone and Owens signing a football with a Sharpie after a touchdown. But in 2005, numerous creative celebrations crept back into the game.
"I think it's needed," San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer told The Associated Press. Schottenheimer is entering his 21st season, most of any current head coach. "The game is about the team, not the individual."
Chad Johnson of the Bengals gave CPR to a football after a touchdown, went down on a knee after a touchdown and proposed marriage to a cheerleader and pulled out an end zone pylon and pretended to hit a golf shot with it. Steve Smith of the Panthers did an end zone Snow Angel, went to the ground and did a rowboat celebration and cradled a football like a baby and wiped its bottom as if it needed more diapers.
In a vote of 29-3, the owners gave officials power to penalize a team 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff for excessive celebrations anywhere on the field. Spikes, dunks, Lambeau Leaps, spins, dances and simple celebrations will be allowed. But penalties will be given for any celebration other than that.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what Chad [Johnson] will come to celebrate with now," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy told the AP after the vote.
Johnson told a Cincinnati reporter Tuesday that he will have his own competition committee meeting with Keyshawn Johnson and Owens to come up with creative ways to celebrate touchdowns. One area that remains in play is the sidelines. Mike Pereira, the league's supervisor of officials, said if sidelines become the next area of excessive celebration, the competition committee would address it next winter.
• Replay changes: Perhaps the biggest victory of the competition committee was the inclusion of down-by-contact plays on replay challenges. Last year, the committee fell four votes short of getting down by contact plays included. This year, it passed, 27-5.
Pereira said there were 12 plays in 2005 that would have been overturned in a replay challenge on a lost fumble that was ruled down because the player had been downed after contact with a defensive player. If the defensive team wins the challenge, the ball would go to them at spot of the recovery. In 2004, about 13 change of possessions would have been made in favor of the defensive team that recovered.
One slight modification included in the rule change would shorten the time the referee has to review a play. The review time would go from 90 seconds to 60 seconds from the time the referee begins looking at the replay monitor. In reality, that's not much of a big deal. The average time an official reviews the play is one minute and seven seconds. The league is hoping to shorten the 3½ minutes of lost time during replay challenges.
Safety was also a big winner during Wednesday's meeting. Here are the rules that passed involving safety.
• A rushing defensive player won't be allowed to forcibly hit a quarterback below the knees. He has to make every effort to avoid such a low hit. Palmer, Griese and Roethlisberger suffered knee injuries on low hits but those three plays were considered legal by the committee because they involved defensive rushers coming off blocks. Several other plays such as the old Rodney Harrison hit on Trent Green when he was with the Rams along with a Jared Allen low hit on Kerry Collins would be subject to a 15-yard penalty. That proposal passed, 25-7.
• Centers who snap on field goals, extra points and punts can not have a defender line up directly over him. Instead, the defender has to line up outside the snapper's shoulder pads. The penalty for illegal formation will be 5 yards, but few penalties are expected to be called because officials will warn the player before the snap.
• The committee expanded the definition of a horse collar tackle. Last year, the committee determined the tackling style of Cowboys safety Roy Williams and others was causing too many injuries. Williams would grab a player by the back of his shoulder pads, pull him down and fall on his legs, causing at least four serious injuries during the 2004 season. In 2005, though, only two "horse-collar" penalties were called. On Wednesday, owners voted in a change that will include grabbing the back of the jersey as a horse collar tackle. The vote was 25-7 in favor.
• Other little changes for safety included trying to limit the number of re-kicks by giving the kicking team more chances to take penalties after kicks. That ended a three-year process of minimizing the number of special teams kicks that are violent and risky for injury. The owners also prohibited kicking teams from loading up one side of the field on free kicks.
There was one significant change in the roster cutdown before the start of the season and one after the final cutdown.
In a vote of 29-3, owners allowed teams to keep 75 instead of 65 players on their roster in the first cutdown, which is annually the Tuesday after the third preseason weekend. The trade off was the NFL Europe exemptions that allowed teams to bring more players to camp expire at that time. The reason for the change is simple. For the most part, the NFL Europe players weren't going to make the team but teams keep them to the final cut in order to have bigger rosters for the preseason finale.
Now, teams can cut the NFL Europe players in the next to last cut and have 10 extra players who could either make the team or be candidates for the practice squad.
The second part of the roster proposals is that the eight-member practice squad was extended four years to 2009. Before last season, teams could only keep five players on the practice squad.
In recent years, the competition committee has increased its efficiency in terms of getting their proposals to pass because they take surveys of teams and coaches and solicit as much input as possible.
With the down-by-contact change that was voted down last year and then approved this year, the committee is optimistic that next year it could pass the rule change to allow defensive players to wear a radio helmet and get play calls from coaches on the bench. They will also push next year to lessen the number of false starts, a failed effort this year.
There were two ideas not supported by the committee that didn't pass.
• The Bucs' recommendation to include all penalties for replay review was almost unanimously defeated.
• The Chiefs proposal to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 was tabled to May, but it doesn't have the support of Tagliabue and the Committee and is expected to fail.
The Committee also completed a six-page clarification of the writing of the holding penalties that it hopes will bring uniformity to the calls and the coaching of offensive linemen.
Overall, it was a good day for the committee.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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