The rule has been in place in 1997. Whether it makes sense is one thing. (It arguably doesn’t.) Whether it’s applied consistently is another. (It isn’t.) As applied on Sunday against the Panthers following a late, unlikely touchdown pass that tied the game against the Falcons at 34, it was the right call.
First adopted in 1997, the rule identifies the following as a “prohibited act” in the category of unsportsmanlike conduct: “Removal of his helmet by a player in the field of play or the end zone during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player.”
Yesterday wasn’t the first time it affected the outcome of a game. In 2002, it happened to the Browns and linebacker Dwayne Rudd, who removed his helmet and threw it while celebrating what he believed was the game-clinching play. The flag gave the Chiefs 15 yards and an untimed down. They tried, and made, a game-winning field goal.
It’s been suggested that, because Panthers receiver DJ Moore didn’t actually remove his helmet on the playing field, he wasn’t in the “field of play or the end zone” within the language of the rule. As one source with knowledge of the application of the rule explained it to PFT, the rule is intended to prevent a player from taking his helmet off, throwing it, and running around without it as part of a demonstration in any portion of the field of play, whether within the boundaries of the gridiron or beyond it.
There’s another issue that hasn’t gotten much, if any, attention. Watch the play. Watch it all the way to the end. After Moore removes his helmet, jumps into the stands, and comes back down, tight end Stephen Sullivan, No. 84, enters the celebration without a helmet. He was on the field during the play — and removed his helmet while in the playing field — or he joined the celebration from the sideline. Either way, there was a violation of the rules.
So, either way, it was a proper application of the rules. Whether the helmet-removal rule is applied consistently — and it isn’t — is a different issue. Whether the rule makes sense — and it arguably doesn’t — is another.
The rule is a close cousin to the recent emphasis on taunting, in that it expects players who play an emotional port to instantly become robots. That’s just not realistic, and it ignores the fundamental humanity of the men who play the game.
That said, it remains a rule. It has been a rule for 25 years. And the coaching point is easy. Always keep your helmet out until you’re back in the bench area, after the play and the celebration have ended.