Week 13: Steelers at Ravens (video)
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was caught off guard watching the scoreboard, because in his attempt to get a good look at the play, he had one foot on the field and the other in the 6-foot white sideline border. The reason for the wide sideline border is to give a lane for officials and the chain crew to operate unimpeded. In this case, field judge Dave Meslow was able to get around Tomlin, so he likely issued a sideline warning to the entire Steelers bench. Had Meslow been interfered with, it would have certainly been a penalty.
The larger question is whether Tomlin interfered with the runback. I’m not convinced that there was an obstruction of the runback by Jacoby Jones. He might have stepped to his right a little bit at the most, but he was not interfered with, it didn’t alter his stride, and it did not put Jones in a position to be tackled. All outward appearances are that Jones would have been tackled or stepped out of bounds where the ball wound up being dead.
If in the official’s discretion there was sideline interference with the official or the runner, there first would have been an unsportsmanlike conduct foul (half-distance to the goal). The officials have the discretion to invoke the palpably unfair act rule, but it would not be judicious use of that rule in this situation.
A palpably unfair act is, by definition in its highfalutin language, just something that seems so wrong, that there is no remedy available in the rulebook for an extraordinary act by a player or other person. Such an example would be a player leaving the bench to tackle an opponent headed for the end zone. Officials can award a touchdown if they feel that is the equitable resolution.
In this case, it is not clear that Jones would not have been caught, and Tomlin’s actions had no material affect on the play.
The only recorded use of the palpably unfair act is the 1954 Cotton Bowl, when Alabama’s Tommy Lewis left the bench to tackle Rice running back Dicky Moegle. The officials awarded the touchdown (video).