THERE IS NO ESCAPE. The Super Bowl is upon us and apparently by law the national conversation must now switch to football.

Being a law-abiding person, I will do my best to contribute. I’m neither a sports writer nor football expert, but I do have expertise in occupying a sofa near the TV.

From the vantage point of that sofa, I hear that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league is considering abolishing the point-after attempt that puts the final dollop of cream on a touchdown.

Of course it is. You may think that the NFL is a football organization, but in fact it is a Buddhist-like entity on a quest for perfection. It is for gridiron nirvana that the league changes its rules from year to year.

For 2013, the league made at least seven changes to the game. For example. Rule 5, Section 1, Article 2 now allows tight ends to wear numbers 40 through 49 and H-backs to wear numbers 80 through 89. Thank goodness for that.

But the consequence of all these rule changes is to lend a degree of almost theological contemplation to the simple business of large people trying to move a pigskin down a field while other large people try to stop them.


To be an official in today’s NFL you have to have a mind that can wrap itself around the ever-shifting rules and the ever-complicated subtleties. It has become an almost superhuman challenge. When it comes to an impressive grasp of nuance, Supreme Court justices appear by comparison to be a bunch of dumbos.

Indeed, it would not surprise me if young people aspiring to be philosophers and rabbinical scholars give it all up to wear striped shirts in the NFL. It is where the action is, where the great questions of American life are answered, such as: “Did the player have control of the ball all the way through the catch? Were both feet inbounds?” And my personal favorite: “Did he break the plane of the goal line?”

The plane of the goal line is a special object of fascination. As the commentators have described it to those of us on our sofas, the plane is an imaginary line that extends up and out to infinity. It can be broken by an airborne player with the ball on, above or across the plane of the goal line for a touchdown so long as part of the ball passed over or inside the pylon. That is, unless the league changed the rule.

The moment I realized that the NFL rules had become impossibly complicated came late in the season, when the Steelers blocked a field goal attempt by the Green Bay Packers and recovered the ball, only for it to go out of bounds. Incredibly, the ball was given back to the Packers. Of course, the play was not reviewable.

Why? Perhaps deep in the rule book it says the ball is given to the team with the best hats worn by supporters — and you can’t beat cheese in that situation. Perhaps the rules reference one of the obscure provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Now the league may get rid of the PAT, and kickers who have little to do except read books of sonnets on the sidelines will have even less to do. True, we will be spared the sight of men in tight pants crouching with their butts in the air. This is not my cup of tea, but some people like it. Unfortunately, I suspect my wife is one of them.

Goodell is thinking about this change because he finds PATs almost automatic, thus boring. Yet while they succeed 99 times out of 100, it is the one missed kick that is the essence of sports. Besides, when it comes to boring, nothing beats the referee going under the hood to review a play and perhaps Skype with his mother.

Yes, I know some of the rule changes are designed to stop concussions, and that is commendable, but the NFL has a good game and the league dates back to the 1920s. It’s past time to settle on the rules for the sake of sofa dwellers everywhere.

Reg Henry is deputy editorial-page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Readers may send him email at [email protected] This column was distributed by MCT Information Services.

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