Proper etiquette when a team lines up in the “victory formation” is being debated nationally following Sunday's Giants-Buccaneers game.
New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Tampa Bay's defensive line charging full steam with the game's outcome decided crossed the line of what's proper. Bucs coach Greg Schiano said he's always coached players to work hard until the final whistle. So tempers flared when the Bucs fired off as Giants quarterback Eli Manning took the snap and was knocked on his backside.
Who is right? Who is wrong?
Consider, though, New York only led 41-34 in the waning seconds. What if Manning fumbled the ball ... the Bucs recovered ... and ran it back for a touchdown?
Former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson knows the situation all too well. As a Lawton High School junior, the Wolverines lost a playoff gut-wrencher to Moore.
The Wolverines lined up in a “victory formation,” which usually has the quarterback hunched under center, two split backs just behind the QB and another back about 10 yards behind those players as extra, extra insurance in case the football is fumbled.
“I was taking a knee. The game was over with,” Thompson said. “But I ended up fumbling the snap and we ended up losing. You play the game until the final seconds are off the clock. That's the way you've been taught since Little League.”
Thompson hasn't seen the Giants-Bucs play from Sunday, but he experienced first hand how the “victory formation” doesn't always assure victory.
In a 1985 second-round playoff game, Lawton led Moore 25-20. Thompson twice took the snap and dropped to a knee to force Moore to use its final two timeouts. When Thompson reached down to take the third down snap, Moore's defensive front forced a fumble. Moore recovered.
“They did the same thing on the previous play,” Thompson said. “Our center wanted to retaliate. He wanted to snap it and leak out on the defender. I didn't have my hands fully set. I ended up fumbling. It's a good example why you play until the last second.”
When Moore's offense took the field, quarterback Jackie Stafford fired a pass out of bounds to stop the clock with three seconds remaining. On the game's final play, Stafford threw a touchdown pass to Terry Pritchard to produce an improbable 26-25 win.
“If a team has a chance to force a fumble, then come out and throw a ‘Hail Mary.' You can't really blame them,” Thompson said. “We lost that playoff game under that same scenario.”
Two years ago, Oklahoma State owned a three-point lead with one minute left against Troy (Ala.). Quarterback Brandon Weeden, nursing a bruised thumb, fumbled the snap. Troy recovered. The Cowboys only survived when Troy fumbled the ensuing play.
During the Big 12 teleconference on Monday, coaches were asked proper etiquette when a team lines up in the “victory formation.”
“What is the etiquette? I don't know?” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “In the end, you're showing being decent, just finishing the game. But in the end, it is fair if you're within a score. It's happened before where someone has muffed the ball. You still have to play it out. There is no good answer there.”
Another Oklahoma high school playoff game represents a different kind of worst-case scenario.
In 2005, Shawnee led Tulsa Washington, 14-10. With less than a minute left in the game, Shawnee quarterback Tucker Brown took a knee to run out the clock. But Tulsa Washington defensive lineman Jermaine Holmes appeared to throw a punch at a Shawnee offensive lineman. Officials warned Holmes.
On the next play, Holmes leapt over the line of scrimmage, grabbed Brown by the back of the helmet and tried to pull him to the ground. Brown retaliated by kicking Holmes.
“I've been in places — I'm not going to mention when or where — the offense would do the same thing and would take out the defensive linemen's legs,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “If people viewed that as a cheap shot, I would assume those same people would view this is a cheap shot as well.”
Texas coach Mack Brown, who hasn't seen the Giants-Buccaneers play, said it might be another example where rules officials will investigate to promote player safety.
“It probably goes in the category of the defenseless player,” Brown said. “Coaches and players want to protect each other. No one wants to see a young man get hurt, especially get hurt seriously.
“At the same time, we're all trying to teach. Where is that line? How low can you hit a guy without taking his knee out? It's a very good question.”
But the Bucs were still trying to win.
“If the quarterback just steps back and takes a knee, then everybody is somewhat relaxed,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “If he's moving around, at times you have defensive players that may be frustrated they're losing and take extra shots.
“I've seen it happen both ways. We always tell our quarterback to do the best they can to just get down to try and eliminate any of those issues.”