Super Bowl Special for Football Fans: Listen for the Lawyers

Check out the legalese behind the plays.

As most of you know, I like to have fun with articles at times when appropriate.  At the end of this week, the Super Bowl champion for 2011-12 will be crowned. 

While you are watching Tom Brady throw for 400 yards or being sacked six times by the very aggressive defensive line of the New York Giants, listen closely to some of the terms and phrases used during the course of the game.They are remarkably similar to legalese. I wonder what attorney has the privilege of writing the National Football League Rule Book available for download? 

To enjoy the Super Bowl properly, the most important thing you can do is invite me or your attorney to your Super Bowl party.  Without us, you will lose out on critical aspects of the game such as indisputable visual evidence, the necessity of keeping a player’s hand clean, and the subordinate/superior/subordinate spotting issues.  

Don’t believe me, consider the following in a very particular order:


Every football game I watch, I am very interested on the commentary during an instant replay while the referee is watching the previous play under that super-secret camera hood thing. I think that super secret hood could also give the referee access to satellite pictures of Ybor City on a Friday night. 

The television commentator starts by analyzing the play and says something like, “Yes, you can see the ball come out right before his knee hit the ground on that view.” Then comes the footballese: “But remember Phil Simms, there has to be indisputable visual evidence to overturn the call.”

What does “indisputable visual evidence” mean? 

Reviews by Referee. All Replay Reviews will be conducted by the Referee on a field-level monitor after consultation with the other covering official(s), prior to review. A decision will be reversed only when the Referee has indisputable visual evidence available to him that warrants the change.

I think we should do online polls rather than force that poor referee to look at a screen smaller than a true fan’s 72 inch 3D HD 1080IP with voice recognition that can also cook the chicken wings. 

No one really knows what indisputable visual evidence means because it isn’t defined. Isn’t the very fact that an official made one call and a coach disagrees a dispute? Both have visual evidence.

I am not sure what lawyer decided to try to create a new burden of proof system in the NFL similar to what is used in Courts, but it certainly makes broadcasts interesting.


Football fans all know what a hold is…it is that foul that occurs on every single play from scrimmage by the offensive line and only gets called when the running back actually breaks through and rushes for a long touchdown. But I bet you did not know there is a rule that requires a team to have clean hands to get possession? I’ll let you read it:


If there is a double foul (3-11-2-c) during a down in which there is a change of possession, the team gaining possession must keep the ball after enforcement for its foul, provided its foul occurred after the change of possession (clean hands).



If the team gaining possession fouls prior to the change of possession (not clean hands), the penalties offset and the down is replayed at the previous spot.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this provision was written by an attorney. The legal concept of clean hands is well established in common law and roughly means that a court will not assist someone in recovering damages when that person is at fault or the contract is illegal.

I would like the television commentators to start using this language more. I can see how this would go: “John Lynch, why won’t Tampa Bay get the ball back? There was a double foul.” Lynch: “Well, his hands were not clean…he had unclean hands.” “But its 30 degrees out and raining…everyone’s hands are dirty.”

By way of note, I love John Lynch and have since he was with Tampa, during his time in Denver, and his post-football career. If anyone knows him, ask him to analyze this rule just one time in an interview.


I will just give you the rule and let you ponder it for five minutes.

Article 1 The general provisions of Rule 14 govern all spots of enforcement.

Note: The spot of enforcement for fouls by players or the actual distance penalty or both, when not specific, are subordinate to the specific rules governing a foul during a fumble, pass or kick. These in turn are both subordinate to Rule 14.

What? Let me get this straight: Rule 14 governs (11 pages long).  However, Rule 14 is subordinate to other specific rules. However, the specific rules are in turn somehow subordinate to the general rule that is already subordinate Rule 14?  Yes, that was definitely written by an attorney.


If my schedule will not allow me to appear at your Super Bowl party (I promise to bring the rulebook) or your attorney cannot appear, make sure to read the 244 pages of the rules beforehand so you can properly follow the game.  I can tell you have a lot more sympathy for those players that break a rule that they didn’t understand.  Steve Young is the only player I can recall that had a legal degree while he was an active player.

I have this game being won by the Patriots 35-27 with Grankowski catching two touchdowns assuming that he plays. If Grankowski cannot play, I have New York winning 24-23.  

It would also be rude of me to fail to welcome Greg Schiano from Rutgers as our new head coach. If you need someone to go over the NFL Rulebook with you, my contact information is below. 


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