Monday, September 13, 2010

Completing The Process

There's a term in chemistry called reaction rate and it means exactly what it sounds like, the time it takes for a reaction to complete. Metal rusting is a slow reaction, gunpowder burning is a very fast one.

I think usually our emotional responses are more of the gunpowder type. Something happens to alter our mood and we instinctively understand how we are supposed to feel about it. But then, sometimes things happen that are beyond our ability to process quickly and our reaction times are blunted.

The no-catch catch by Calvin Johnson yesterday was one of those events. How do you react when your gut is telling you one thing – quite confidently – but the "experts" are explaining it differently?

After digesting my reactions a bit, I wrote something that I still like, most of which I will share here:

I've heard and read the explanations. I've seen the replay, both in real and slow-motion several times. And I still don't understand it.

A poster at MGoBlog wrote a really great article on how to make videos. You know, the little highlight deals that people paste all over YouTube. I wish I could find it, and if I could I'd link it. The author was a film major or somesuch and he discussed a lot of cinematographic techniques that Hollywood uses to have a conversation with the audience, things like the good guy is always introduced on the left and the bad guy on the right because English speaking audiences read left to right.

Point is though, he discussed believability. These techniques in film have conditioned us to expect certain things, both consciously and subconsciously and when we get things that are incongruent with our expectations, for example the good guy introduced on the right, then we the viewer are discomfited long after the impression, regardless of the explanation.

This play was like that. Every single one of us knows what a catch looks like. We know what a touchdown looks like.

Both hands on ball, foot one down. foot two down. Catch. Touchdown. Let's go drink punch.

This play was exactly like that except some interpretation of an obscure rule said otherwise. Regardless of whether the call on the field was correct, and I'm not sure that it was, it still jarred with the believability of the play. There wasn't even some ambiguity for us to fall back upon. It wasn't 'he broke the plane, he didn't, his second foot came down on the chalk, the ball was slipping in his hands ...' It was none of that. It was catch, one, two, drink punch, oh-wait-a-second.
This morning while running the play kept percolating through my head. How does this make sense? How does this make sense?

The answer was, it doesn't.

It does not make sense.

As I wrote last night, we all know what a catch is. If it's a catch on the playground, then it's a catch in the National Football League. It really does boil down to something this simple. I dunno, maybe the league should employ a 5 year old as a final arbiter on whether a catch is a catch. At least the 5 year old would get the easy ones right.

If the call was correct then the rule is bad. Anyone can see this. This is a direct product of the league trying to legislate out judgment. If game officials had the leeway to use reasonable judgment in rules interpretation then this would have been a catch. What makes this particularly outrageous though, is that in no way has subjectivity been legislated out of the game. On virtually every play one official or another is using judgment and experience to make determinations of penalties, ball placements, completions, and turnovers. Rules that restrict the flexibility for game officials to use their professional judgment when it absolutely matters the most are absurd.

As sports fans each of us has experienced heartbreak. As a Michigan alum and Detroit sports fan mine center around game 5 of the 1987 NBA playoffs, the Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook hail mary to beat Michigan, the famous Chris Webber timeout in the national championship game against North Carolina. There are many more famous ones that any of us would recognize. Baseball's degree of individual matchups has made individual names synonymous with these events. Mitch Williams, Donnie Moore, Bucky Effin Dent.

But those are heartbreaks we understand. Those are reasons that we cherish sport. Here in Detroit Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game this summer on a bad call by Jim Joyce. It was an obvious bad call. Everyone knew it. Joyce knew it. But it was a human error, it was the type of error we can understand and ultimately forgive.

But systemic error? Rules that are written by lawyers and officials that are terrified to make common sense interpretation? Those create emotions we don't understand. They create feelings of helplessness.

And maybe even worse is the level to which the talking heads defended the call. Mike Pereira clumsily defended it in real time. Studio guys at the NFLN network defended it. No one who sucks at the teat of the corporate giant NFL questioned the call or criticized it. Maybe that's changed since last night, but it hardly matters. Anyone seeing this should have appropriately reacted This Is Not Right. Not on reflection, but as a first reaction.

I spent several hours last night waiting for this call to make sense. I wasted half an evening looking for an explanation.

It took me until this morning to realize that there wouldn't be one. There couldn't be one. And finally I was able to distill out how I actually feel about the whole thing.


You're goddam right I am.

1 comment:

  1. Joe Posnanski:

    "Anyway, the Calvin Johnson call may have been technically right (and I should add for clarification that it was called that way on the field initially — NOT on replay. It was confirmed on replay). But the way I saw it, the call was certainly wrong. That is: Johnson caught the ball. I think that without the emphasis on every little detail, before people started watching every tiny flutter of the ball and worrying about obscure add-ons to confusing statutes to unclear rules, that would have been without hesitation ruled a catch and a touchdown. I believe it would have been called a catch in 1950 and it would have been a catch in 1970 and it would have been a catch in 1990 (Did you EVER hear about this “going to the ground” rule before three or four years ago?) It would have been a catch during recess, and it would have been a catch in the CFL and it would have been a catch in college football, and it would have been a catch in electric football. It would have been a catch because the eyes tell you that he caught the ball.

    That, I think, is the human element.

    And maybe we ARE losing that. Maybe that is a by-product of instant replay. In many ways we don’t look at plays anymore. No, we break plays down into molecules. We run the play back and forth, back and forth, magnify it 20 times its normal size, then sharpen the focus. We use high-definition graphics to give us another viewpoint. We go deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper in an effort to get things “right,” and maybe we do that so intently that eventually a wide receiver makes what looks to everyone like a clear catch and the officials call it incomplete because of a long, baffling and illogical series of rules that were devised because we now have the technology to enforce them."


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