It's Jan. 20, 2013. Just as it happened in 2005, the road to the Super Bowl comes through Seattle. The surprising Seahawks have shocked the football world by playing their way to the best record in the NFL and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They're hosting the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field, and a back-and-forth game that has the 12th Man in a frenzy has come down to one play.
The Seahawks trail by five points but are inside the Dallas 10-yard line. As time expires, quarterback Russell Wilson drops back to pass and can't find anyone to throw to. The clock ticks down to 3 seconds when suddenly Wilson sees a lane to the end zone and takes off running.
There's just one problem: Cowboys tackling machine Sean Lee has a bead on Wilson and will surely stop him for no gain as time expires. But suddenly wide receiver Golden Tate appears out of nowhere. He peels back off of his pass route and crashes into Lee, decleating him with a bone-crunching block that allows Wilson to score the game-winning touchdown as time expires. The Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl.
But wait, there's a flag on the field. Apparently a small portion of Tate's helmet made contact with a small portion of Lee's helmet and now the official broadcasts over the loudspeaker, "Personal foul, helmet-to-helmet contact with a defenseless player, number 81, 15-yard penalty."
Just to rub salt in the wound, two days later Tate receives a FedEx packet from the NFL commissioner informing him that he's been fined $21,000. No trip to the Super Bowl, no playoff check, no glory.
Instead, Golden Tate is the "goat" of the NFL world. Why? Because he did exactly what he was supposed to do – try as hard as he can and give his best possible effort on that play.
Of course, everyone knows by now about Tate's real block on Lee last Sunday and the NFL's real fine of $21,000.
Are you kidding me?
Does everyone understand that the scenario I described above is a very real possibility? Have commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL rules committee thought this through?
This isn't some fantasy that just exists in my mind. Perhaps it won't occur in such a drastic scenario. But if you get enough occurrences like this one, the harm it will cause the game in the long run will far outweigh the benefits that "player safety" bring the game.
I don't mean to sound cold or blood-thirsty. After all, Sean Lee plays my position. I don't want to see anyone get seriously hurt. I got hit like that once in San Francisco when Joe Montana fooled me with a fake handoff. By the time I recognized the play was a bubble screen to my right, center Jesse Sapolu blind-sided me and knocked me flat on my butt.
Of course, back then the only thing you'd think as a player is, "Oh man, he got me." Or, "That's going to be humiliating in films!" The only thing you'd hear from a coach is, "Son, you better get your head on a swivel next time!" Or, "Pay attention!"
Never at any point on that play did I feel "defenseless." But in today's flag-happy world, there are those who want that block outlawed and eliminated from the game.
Former referee Mike "When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail" Pereira threw a penalty flag from whatever television studio he was sitting in. The only thing worse than a referee throwing a flag unnecessarily is an ex-referee "tweeting" about it. Pereira parroted the NFL league office: Sean Lee, a 6-2, 245-pound fire-breathing dragon who was on his way to take Russell Wilson's head off was "defenseless."
Had Tate not brought everything that he had to the table at that particular moment, he may have been the one who got hurt. Lee outweighs him by over 40 pounds and hits people for a living, whereas Tate catches the football for a living.
Goodell likely sent Tate a letter of reprimand and an invoice for $21,000, but maybe he should include some instruction on how to avoid that in the future. It poses a great question that more players should be asking the league office: What was I supposed to do?
Let me make my position on this very clear: I don't care if that had been a Cowboys receiver hitting a Seahawks linebacker. I don't care what Pereira or Goodell think a penalty is. I care about the integrity and the popularity of this game. Big hits are what this league was built on. If you take that side of the equation out of the mix, you're changing this game in such a fundamental way that it will eventually erode its popularity in the long run.
These guys signed on for this. Sean Lee is a big boy. He has willingly put himself in harm's way by stepping on the field and gets paid handsomely to do so. He would've loved to put that same hit on Wilson and you can bet that was on his mind as he pursued him to the sidelines.
This is a travesty, ladies and gentlemen, and 65,000 voices said so on Sunday. Tate's hit ignited an entire stadium full of people just as it would have in any NFL stadium.
The people have spoken – they like the big hits.