The Defensive Pass Interference of Football


The high priests of football have become defensive about their fireworks show. It’s offensive to fans and it is interfering with their work.

Interfere: to come into opposition, as one thing with another, especially with the effect of hampering action or procedure (often followed by with):

Constant distractions interfere with work.



It is pass interference by either team when any act by a player more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders an eligible player’s opportunity to catch the ball. Pass interference can only occur when a forward pass is thrown from behind the line of scrimmage, regardless of whether the pass is legal or illegal, or whether it crosses the line.

Looking into the future, the two biggest threats to football are head trauma and the hubris of big heads. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), just like its symptoms, is not going away for the NFL, universities, or high schools. The blight of football egos, so evident in owners and administrators, will continue to underestimate and exploit the discerning football fan. And that fan will find other sports to satiate his or her sporting fantasies. Mark Cuban said it best:

“I think the NFL is 10 years away from an implosion. When pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I’m just telling you, when you got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns against you.”

Right now, however, the scourge of the NFL, college, and high school football is defensive pass interference (DPI). Nobody knows what it is anymore. Nobody cares. But everybody knows that, at some point during a football game, a real crappy DPI call is going to be made. After every contested passing touchdown or big play NFL and college fans have the “luxury” of looking for the yellow flag graphic on their televisions. High school football fans just have to wait for the inevitable. It sucks.

The zebras congregate on the middle of the field. They speak assertively and gesticulate. Eventually the referee walks to the middle of the field and makes the two-hand touch mechanic. “Defensive pass interference number…”

We all know that the good old days of “three yards and a cloud of dust” are gone. If your football team consistently designs a game plan of “run, run, pass” you are watching a loser. In a galaxy far, far away football went airborne. Fans love offense. The crossover TV audience, the gamblers, and now the fantasy players all love big numbers from quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. And it all starts with the passing game. Experts, historians, and fans will argue for perpetuity about what drives a winning team, but the reality is that the modern game is dominated by the forward pass. Sometime in the outlaw years of the old AFC owners got hip that chicks dig the long ball. Don Coryell unleashed his “Air Coryell” offense with the San Diego Chargers of the early 80s amd electrified football. It sent shivers down the spines of old-timers. Bill Walsh integrated the philosophies of run and pass and exposed the heightened relevance of stats like “yards per pass attempt.”

Whatever. This argument says that the game of football, starting with the NFL, is being destroyed by convoluted interpretations of a simple rule. Forget about the “articles” attached to whatever ridiculous NFL constitution exists. The interference rule states that it is a penalty when a defensive or offensive player “significantly hinders an eligible player’s opportunity to catch the ball.” The operative word here is “significantly.” Too many times officials reflexively throw a flag when then there is aggressive arm jousting between receivers and defensive backs. If a defensive back doesn’t turn his head he is almost always penalized. A defender can still defend without turning his head or committing a penalty. And way too many times officials just drop a flag when something “looks” suspicious. They often ruin a spectacular defensive play because they can’t imagine the athleticism. The checkdown, or alternative, for an officiating crew is defensive holding. While that penalty is adjudicated way more sensibly than interference, it’s still no excuse to ruin a great play by a defender.

A stickum slathered Lester Hayes, despite his Hall of Fame talent, would have no place in today’s game. The replays of Lester molesting, jabbing, and kicking wide receivers for 50 yards downfield would probably elicit ejections from today’s officials. It’s too damn bad. He was every bit of football greatness.

The NFL should, at least, adopt the 15-yard penalty for defensive pass interference. The spot-of-the-foul rulings are arbitrary and patently unfair. In a game that demands the sudden contact of tackling it is too much to ask defensive backs and linebackers to play two-hand touch. Nobody wants to watch flag football on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays. We want football.

If NFL owners and NCAA presidents are smart enough to fleece billions from a national economy and fund badminton then they can wrap their swollen heads around the problem that is ruining their golden goose. Let football players play football. The scientists have proven that football kills people – either quickly or slowly. Smoking kills people. People still play football. People still smoke. Some people do both. Human beings love danger and nobody is going to legislate blood lust.

Hey football tsars.  Your game is starting to suck. We like the violence. We can’t do the things that football players do. We don’t have enough guts or talent. Let them play football. They know it’s dangerous. Stop trying to mollify your guilt or fears (of losing money) with lousy oversight and pedagogic definitions of civility. If a defense is kicking ass don’t make them stop because an offense can’t keep up.

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