Back and to the right… Back and to the right…
The controversy over what Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin did or didn’t do in his team’s Thanksgiving night loss to the Baltimore Ravens has reached new levels of absurdity. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. It was a national showcase in front of one of the largest audiences of the year. And with the year winding down and so many sites devoted to NFL coverage, these kind of “stories” are a perfect way to generate hits.
Although at this point, they’ve all but accused Tomlin of hiding on the grassy knoll.
There is no doubt Tomlin was standing on the grassy field when Jacoby Jones broke free for what looked like a sure kickoff return touchdown. Everything else, though, has seemingly been called into question. The story has been played so relentlessly the past week – particularly on Pro Football Talk where known Steeler hater Mike Florio has been like a dog thrown a bone – that Tomlin spent the first five minutes of his weekly press conference addressing the controversy. After apologizing for his “embarrassing, inexcusable” actions, he went on to coin a name for what we’ll always remember as one of the most bizarre situations in NFL history:
The Blunder, as Tomlin repeatedly referred to it, was not intentional. I’m not a fan of the guy but to even think a coach would purposely try to interfere with a play on the field is ludicrous. It’s one thing when your team is a regional game surrounded by the standard compliment of a half dozen or so cameras, to seriously think he’d pull shenanigans on prime time national TV game is beyond logic. Then again, John F. Kennedy conspiracy theorists have their magic bullet theory so I suppose there are people out there who’ll believe anything.
Oddly enough, the Tomlin fiasco comes just as we’ve wrapped up a week of specials commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. Many of those specials concerned conspiracy theories and examined “new evidence” that’s been unearthed in the years since that horrible day in Dallas. Not that something silly as a football game is on equal footing but the media frenzy following the Tomlin Two Step has followed an eerily similar pattern. First there was the incident, then came the conspiracies.
And like JFK, the conspiracies are fueled by subjective video footage. The earliest footage, of course, was NBC’s own sideline camera that just caught Jones as he swerved to avoid Tomlin. They also got a shot of Tomlin smirking on the sideline when the play was shown to the Baltimorons on the big screen, a smile that in some people’s minds is an indication of guilt. It certainly has the Ratbirds convinced as Tomlin told Ed Bouchette of the P-G he hasn’t bothered to apologize directly to them because “I know what perspective they have on it.”
Since then, Pittsburgh’s own KDKA came forward with their own footage which is apparently the most damning indication that his actions are intentional. As the video shows, Tomlin doesn’t actually take the fateful side step which places him on the field until Jones is past the first wave of defenders. For the rabid anti-Steeler factions, this is proof positive that Tomlin meant to interfere with the return. Never mind the fact it also does nothing to disprove Tomlin’s claim of “losing his placement” while watching the return on the big screen.
You can clearly see Tomlin’s back is to the play. It’s also obvious he’s watching the Jumbotron. As anybody who has ever accidentally photobombed a friend will tell you, it’s not always easy to keep your orientation when being watched through a view finder. Tomlin was watching the return, not himself. There’s no way for him to know how close Jones was in relation to his position.
Tomlin definitely shouldn’t have been anywhere near that close to the field. If there’s any one area where he’s surely at fault, it’s there. At the same time, NFL head coaches frequently wander into the field of play. How many times have we seen a coach nearly get bowled over by a player getting knocked out of bounds because they’re standing on the white? Bill Belichick himself has said it could happen to any of them.
In an effort to keep the controversy swirling, PFT’s (among others) most recent attempt to keep discussion going involves posting of a third video. This one, taken by a drunken Ratbird fan who evidently spent a whopping $5 for nose bleed seats, purportedly shows Tomlin intentionally stepping towards the field. I don’t know how anybody can say it proves anything when the field looks like it was shot from the blimp and the players are roughly the size of a grain of salt.
The NFL is currently reviewing the incident and punishment will be forthcoming. Reports are it could range from a hefty fine to a suspension for Tomlin to even a possible forfeiting of a draft pick by the Steelers. The latter two, I believe, are utterly ridiculous. Yes, the NFL must protect the integrity of the game and, yes, nothing gives the Ginger Dictator more orgasmic pleasure than screwing the Steelers but let’s be realistic. It wasn’t a purposeful act.
As dirty as I feel for saying this, thankfully Baltimore won the game. The Blunder has already taken hold of NFL fandom in a way not unlike The Tuck Rule did back in the day. The controversy would only be a hundred times more intense if Tomlin’s actions wound up affecting the outcome of the game. So in that regard, we can, regretfully, be thankful.
Although I have to say, between the Blunder and the Coin Toss Fiasco, the next time the NFL invites the Black and Gold to play on Thanksgiving, can’t we politely decline?