As an Alabama fan, it’s almost hard to remember how the college football landscape looked on November 7, 2009. Nick Saban was in his third year on campus and had brought Alabama back to the forefront, and Alabama fans really thought that he might just win a national title in the next few seasons. Ranked #3 in the nation behind Tim Tebow’s defending champion Florida Gators and a Texas team led by the virtually indestructible Colt McCoy, the Tide had to get past a tough #9 LSU squad at home in order to keep title hopes alive.
There was some controversy early in the second half. With Alabama nursing a slim 10-7 lead, Tide LB Nico Johnson put his facemask in the sternum of LSU fan favorite QB Jordan Jefferson for a sack, knocking Jefferson out of the game. Jarrett Lee, two years before watching a Jefferson-led offense cross midfield exactly once in the national title game, couldn’t get anything done through the air. With six minutes to play, the Tide led 21-15 and had the football in LSU territory.
That’s when it happened.
The play that went down in LSU infamy, the play that always comes up when those lovably crazy bastards start ranting about Steve Shaw and Birmingham, blue bloods, leaving the SEC out of protest, Steve Emmert’s relationship with Nick Saban, and the REC controlling the college football illuminati, happened.
On 2nd and 7, Alabama QB Greg McElroy didn’t like what he saw and rolled right in an apparent effort to throw the ball away. Greg was usually very, very good at this. Unfortunately, this time he left the ball too near the field of play, allowing LSU superstar Patrick Peterson to step in front of Alabama legend Julio Jones and snag it with both feet in bounds. It was a superhuman effort by Peterson, as nobody in the stadium including the game officials thought that he could have possibly closed on the ball so quickly while controlling his feet in such a manner. Thus, it was called incomplete on the field:
Watching the replay, the game announcers focused on Peterson’s feet and possession of the ball, and concluded that the play would likely be overturned. For all the world, it looked like an interception. Alas, the officials determined evidence to be inconclusive and the play stood as called.
None of us really knows why the officials saw it the way that they did, but I do have a theory. Check out this definition of a loose ball, from the NCAA rulebook:
ARTICLE 3. a. A loose ball is a live ball not in player possession during:
1. A running play.
2. A scrimmage or free kick before possession is gained or regained or the ball is dead by rule.
3. The interval after a legal forward pass is touched and before it becomes complete, incomplete or intercepted. This interval is during a forward pass play, and any player eligible to touch the ball may bat it in any direction.
So, a forward pass that is not yet completed or intercepted is considered a loose ball. Now, let’s have a look at the definition of a loose ball out of bounds:
Loose Ball Out of Bounds
ARTICLE 3. a. A ball not in player control, other than a kick that scores a field goal, is out of bounds when it touches the ground, a player, a game official or anything else that is out of bounds, or that is on or outside a boundary line
So, if a ball touches a player who is out of bounds before it’s fully possessed, the ball is declared out of bounds. Let’s break down the tape a bit.
First, it appears that Jones stepped out of bounds with his left foot, well before the ball arrived.
It’s impossible to tell definitively, but from the angles we have, it appears that his foot is on the chalk there. If Julio is out of bounds there, then the ball will be out of bounds if he so much as touches it while in flight. Let’s have a look at a couple of those stills.
If you can state definitively that Julio did or did not touch that football, you are either clairvoyant or a liar. Had it been called an interception on the field it would have stood just the same. This is as inconclusive as it gets, and it didn’t matter how many steps Patrick Peterson took in bounds at that point. The ball he was carrying was a dead one. As we all know, the TIde went on to kick a field goal and run out the clock for a 24-15 victory en route to Saban’s first national title at Alabama.
Hopefully it will make LSU fans feel much better to know that the college football and SEC powers that be really weren’t out to get them. They did their jobs to the best of their abilities and determined the replay to be inconclusive. Ten years and five national titles later, we thank them for their service.