It is hard to watch a preseason game from start to finish, but the Hall of Fame Game is a chance to welcome the NFL back after a six month hiatus. After a turbulent off-season that saw many rule changes and other officiating challenges, here are three observations of the laid-back night.
Strong debut for McAulay
Terry McAulay stunned us officiating-watchers last month when he announced his retirement from the field to be the rules expert on Sunday Night Football. NBC called on McAulay several times during the game to explain the new helmet rule, analyze a replay review (correctly explaining why a catch would stand) and discuss other rules questions. McAulay seemed at ease with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, with the latter advising McAulay to “quit” after his correct replay prediction. Later, Collinsworth was laughingly asking, “Where were you in the Super Bowl?” referring to some catch calls from Super Bowl LII that left Michaels and him stumped.
McAulay was articulate during the broadcast and will be an asset to Sunday Night Football.
Football Zebras noticed two mechanics anomalies during the Hall of Fame Game.
First of all, the umpire was in the offensive backfield on extra point and field goal kicks, abandoning the “double umpire” formation with the side judge. Only the side judge manned the defensive backfield for those kicks. This is curious as there are several rules prohibiting the defense from leaping, running an unbalanced line and trying to gain unfair leverage. It seems like there needs to be two umpires on such kicks.
Plus the positioning of the umpire in the backfield was such that many blocked kicks would land right in his lap.
My guess is that this is a preseason experiment to see if the officials can get a better look at the action on field goals and extra points. This is the time to experiment with mechanics for possible changing in future seasons.
Walt Coleman’s crew also experimented with six men on the field. Umpire Jeff Rice sat out the fourth quarter. We did not see him requiring medical attention, so we assume this was practice in the event of a crew injury in the regular season, which has been practiced in prior preseasons. Down judge Jerry Bergman moved to umpire and rookie line judge Mark Stewart took over the chains as down judge. The line judge position was vacant.
The helmet rule
The NFL passed a new rule that states that if a player lowers his head to initiate contact with his helmet, it is now a personal foul and subject to disqualification.
The officials called two helmet fouls in the Hall of Fame Game (but no ejections), causing social media to lament the “end of football as we know it.” Well, not quite.
McAulay explained on NBC that the NFL told officials “to just throw” the penalty flag in the preseason. The league is developing a video library of these helmet plays. Officiating boss Al Riveron will then use that library to show officials what they want called and what they don’t want called during the regular season. The hope is that all officials will have direction heading into Week 1.
That’s quite a bit happening for the first game of the year.