Fifteen years ago, the 2007 NFL season saw one of the stranger finishes to a game imaginable, and one that led to a NFL rule change. That came in a November 18 game with the Cleveland Browns at the Baltimore Ravens, where Browns’ kicker Phil Dawson attempted a 51-yard field goal to tie the game at 30 in the final seconds.
Dawson’s kick hit the left upright, then hit the curved back stanchion, then bounced back over the crossbar. By rule, the ball crossing the crossbar and touching something on the other side made it a good field goal. But it was initially ruled no good, with one on-field official making that call after thinking that it had hit the front of the crossbar and bounced out. And field goals weren’t reviewable in 2007.
The Ravens went to their locker room to celebrate, but the officials stayed on the field and discussed it, and eventually reversed the call; that led to overtime, where Dawson hit another field goal to give Cleveland a 33-30 win. And the play led to the NFL changing the rule ahead of the 2008 season so field goals that hit the crossbar or upright are now reviewable, with some dubbing that “The Phil Dawson Rule.”
Greg Sherman recently spoke to three of the key figures in this play for a segment on his Mr. Bowtie’s Texas High School Sports Machine YouTube channel, showing the clip (starting at 3:04), then talking with Dawson (now the head coach at Austin’s Hyde Park High School), referee Pete Morelli, and NFL on CBS broadcaster Ian Eagle (with those interviews starting at 4:43, 7:11, and 11:09 in the below video):
The full piece is well worth a watch, but there are a few highlights worth breaking out. From a broadcasting standpoint, some of the most interesting comments here come from Eagle, starting with the remarks near the start of his interview on this being a possible finish he never anticipated:
“It’s hard to believe that the sequence of events took place the way that they did. As a play-by-play announcer, you’re locked in on the moment. And anyone that’s done football play-by-play recognizes that a game-winning field goal can be one of those moments, or a miss with no time remaining can also be one of those moments.”
“So, in your mind, as you’re preparing to call a last-second field goal attempt, those are basically the two options. This was not an option, this was never something that even entered your thought process as a play-by-play announcer.”
Eagle also talks about how he had to call it no good initially (but you can even see a delay there in the clip), but how he saw the officials looking at each other early on, and how he knew something was up when the officials didn’t leave the field.
“You trust your eyes first, but secondly, you’ve got to go with their call. There was that one moment of hesitation where the two officials looked at one another, and the final call in the moment was no good. …There was a rather pronounced extended stretch where the Browns weren’t walking off the field and the officials did not disperse. Normally, if a call is final, they’re gone, that’s it. They confer with one another and that’s it. That didn’t happen here.”
The potential lingering controversy about this play is if the officials did actually get replay help. Eagle says the CBS booth was informed early on that it wasn’t reviewable. And Morelli, in his interview, says they looked to get replay help, but were told they couldn’t. So he wound up going with the one official who insisted that the ball had hit the stanchion rather than the crossbar. And that’s what led to his on-field comment of reversed “after discussion” rather than “after review.”
“So I went over to the replay booth, and my replay guy says ‘I can’t help you with this play.’ So we went back, and I and the other guy who was so adamant, I know him very well, he said ‘I’m not leaving the field…this is what happened,’ and I just said, you know, I went with him. I said ‘You know, I get it. No one can make this up.”
Morelli says then-NFL vice president of officiating (and now NFL on Fox rules analyst) Mike Pereira gave his crew grief afterwards, though, suspecting they’d gotten replay help.
“It was a funny reaction from New York. At the time, Mike Pereira was the boss. He didn’t believe us. He thought we cheated somehow with replay, or did something.”
But he got a better reaction from commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Commissioner Goodell, he made a point to, you know, reach out, and say ‘You saved the league’ by doing that decision.”
And Eagle sums this up nicely at the end with how it stacks up in his long career.
“One of the most bizarre endings I’ve ever called in my career. And I’m not sure that we’re going to ever see it go down like that again.”
[Mr. Bowtie’s Texas High School Sports Machine on YouTube]