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Hair’s a ‘dread’-ful call



Week 11: Lions at Cowboys

Maybe it is some sort of unwritten code in professional football circles, but you rarely see a player tackled by long hair sticking out of the helmet. It may considered poor practice to tackle a player that way, but it is entirely legal. The rules consider that long hair is a part of the uniform, as it would otherwise be an advantage for a long-locked player to obscure his jersey with his hair.

Marion Barber (24) and his hair from an August 2010 preseason game.

Marion Barber (24) and his hair from an August 2010 preseason game.

In a fourth-quarter, goal-to-go situation, Cowboys running back Marion Barber was legally tackled by his dreadlocks by Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. However, Suh was penalized for a horse-collar tackle. This gave the Cowboys a new set of downs from the five-yard line, which lead to a pull-ahead touchdown.

The horse-collar tackle was a declared illegal in 2006, as the nature of pulling a ball carrier down from the back shoulder area twists his body awkwardly. This twisting, exacerbated by the weight of the tackler, causes season- and career-ending ligament damage and broken bones. The Dallas Morning News has an excellent animation of the anatomy (literally) of a horse-collar tackle.

This play was not a horse-collar tackle (video, 0:43 in). While there are some signatures of such a tackle (like a ball carrier being bent backwards from the top of his frame), there are many aspects notably absent (for instance, Suh doesn’t apply his weight into the tackle).

Line judge Darryll Lewis threw the penalty flag on this, while referee Carl Cheffers and umpire Undrey Wash are clearly indicating that the tackle was by the hair. While I never considered this possibility before, if the hair is part of the uniform, it could be part of a horse-collar tackle. But Cheffers and Wash should have corrected the situation by pointing out the elements of the tackle that did not make it a horse collar.

Photo credit: Michael Glasgow

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)