Turn on any sports show this week and all the chatter will be about young the Univeristy of Washington Quarterback tossing the ball in jubilation after scoring a last second touchdown. With two seconds to go, Jake Locker crossed the goal line and brought the score to 27, 28. A simple extra point ties it and sends this game into overtime.
Let the record reflect: Young Locker was not taunting the opposition. He was not showing off. He did not throw or kick the ball into the stands. He simply threw it down over his back shoulder in a show of unadulterated joy.
By all accounts this boy is the poster child for "Student Athlete." His reputation is that he's modest, kind, studious and a leader of men. Not your typical flashy show off which stains so much of sports, today.
Apparently, the refs didn't read his resume. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
After the penalty, the ensuing extra point attempt was blocked. BYU won.
The loss is being pinned on the officials for their interpretation of a rule, instituted this year, to curb unsportsmanlike displays of exuberance.
In all the media, the mantra is the same: The officials over reacted-the NCAA instituted another stupid, unenforceable rule. "Let the kids have fun", is the chant over the airways.
These words from ESPN writer Jim Caple are typical of the Media's attitude:
"Doesn't a 15-yard penalty seem a trifle excessive? You're telling me that celebration demands the most onerous penalty you can give a team? That reacting to a successful play with pure joy is as bad as maliciously hitting a player out of bounds or clipping him below the knees or doing anything that might result in a severe injury? Please.
It was one of the absolute worst calls I've ever seen in football.
Mr. Caple, of course, misses the point. This young man is a college student. By all accounts an exemplary kid--one we would all like to have representing our families, town, or state.
His transgression was minor compared to other transgressions by players both on and off the field. (Rapes, muggings, theft, and shootings are almost common place among college football players, these days).
Yet, its consequences were huge. It could (eventually) cost Coach Willingham his job, and the University millions of dollars in TV revenues if they get ranked lower than they might have, had they won (unranked UCLA beat 18th ranked Tennessee and found themselves in the top 25). BYU was ranked 15th. Where would a win have put the Huskies?
So, the refs and the NCAA rules committee become the fall boys for this "over-reaction" to a minor transgression.
Of course, there's a group of Athletes who played in St. Helena from 1960 to 1965 who might have another opinion. If they do, it's because they played for a Coach, George Davis, who was emphatic that referees were like ordinary people--they want to be noticed. Ergo: We not were to give them a reason to drop a flag on us.
Coach Davis was emphatic. We were in the midst of a record setting win streak. He knew that, being human, what ref wouldn't' want to be able to tell the story about how he reffed the game where St. Helena lost? "That's just human nature," Coach Davis would tell us.
So our orders were clear. No one was to say, "Hey Ref." It was always to be "Mr. Referee, Sir." If you were being held by an opposing player, you were not to complain. You were to say, "Mr. Referee, Sir, could you please watch number 85. He's holding me."
I know. I once told a ref that I didn't' catch a ball he called complete. (He got mad, and told me to let him make the calls). Coach Davis refused a 15 yard penalty in our favor, because the ref had made a mistake. We were not like other teams.
Jake Locker is a college student. Universities are supposed to teach character above anything else. Good or bad, the rule is there.
In his famous address at the Lyceum, in Springfield, Abe Lincoln spoke of, "the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country: the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts;"
He exorted his listeners, "never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others."
Though there were, indeed bad laws, (which should be repealed as soon as possible, until then, he said "let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children's liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap--let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges… in short, let it become the political religion of the nation"
All coaches ought to tell that to their kids. "Hey, the rule has changed this year, if you score, leave the ball on the ground--no celebrating of any kind anywhere."
An don't tell me it can't be done. For the first hundred years of football, until the me generation erupted in the 60's, no one ever, ever celebrated a Touchdown. It was considered bush league.
As a parent, my heart goes out to the young man. But as a footballer who learned at the knee of the Master, there's only one reason to play--otherwise, it's just a game of football.
Jeffrey Earl Warren
James Warren & Son
1414 Main St.
St. Helena, Ca.