The Play- that changed the NFL

<i>The Play-</i> October 2002, was on the Raiders' opening drive of the first quarter on an incomplete pass on third-and-four at the San Diego Chargers' nine-yard line. The play was ruled an incomplete pass to Jerry Rice, the ball had simply fallen to the ground, and no foul was called. Rodney Harrison had delivered a punishing hit as the ball arrived simultaneously. This was a legal hit by the NFL rule book, and that was why no foul was called.

The young Chargers out-lasted, out-foxed and most importantly out-scored a much more experienced Oakland team, that day, on their way to taking sole possession of first place in the AFC West during a tough and gutsy 27-21 overtime win over the Raiders at Network Associates Coliseum on that Sunday, and the win improved the Chargers' to 6-1, and sole first place in the division one game ahead of Denver.

Rodney Harrison who set the tone early for the Chargers' defense with a couple of punishing hits on Raiders receivers gave credit to LT for the win, "LaDainian's the best back in the league, particularly in this situation. I'm very proud of the guy and the offensive line."

Following the game the San Diego Chargers were officially informed by the National Football League that Rodney Harrison would be fined and suspended for one game because of a punishing hit to Jerry Rice, regardless of no foul assessed. Later Harrison's appeal of his one-game suspension was denied, meaning that the Pro Bowl strong safety would be forced to sit out the coming Sunday's game against the New York Jets at Qualcomm Stadium.

Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer said, "The National Football League has ruled against Rodney Harrison and have indicated that Rodney will be suspended for the New York Jets game. There was a rather lengthy correspondence from the league in regard to the factors. Essentially, they felt like Rodney committed a foul. We continue to contend that he did not."

Schottenheimer who was clearly displeased continued by saying, "We all learn when we come into this business that the people in New York don't always have to agree with you. They are the league, my concern is that the process is flawed. The process is flawed because they call you and tell you that you're guilty. And they say now on the basis of being guilty you can appeal. What is the likelihood that after you are deemed guilty, that you're going to win on appeal? I don't know. Maybe there have been some suspensions that have been overturned on appeal. But I think they need to look at the process."

This one "Play" has now changed the Chargers, the NFL, and the Game itself. If the NFL is going to now act as the sole judge and jury, of what is a legal hit defensively, regardless of the rule book or referees, the Chargers and other teams would have to adjust their defensive schemes accordingly. No longer could teams rely on the power from the safety to hit the receiver as he catches the ball to knock it free. The Chargers, who were clearly in a run for the playoffs before the "Play" lost seven of the next nine games to miss the playoffs. The Chargers defense relied on those big hits to control the backfield, for the receiver to be hit simultaneously as the ball arrives is allowed in the rule book, but no longer by the league, without this intimidation the Chargers defense was clearly in trouble.

That one "Play" has caused the Chargers to change their defensive schemes, for the future, and draft new players that would fit this new scheme. Harrison and other top defensive players would be cut or traded. In the 2003 draft the Chargers drafted four Defensive Backs that could play a new scheme "man-to-man, bump-and-run", with plenty of speed and size to chase down receivers if they catch the ball and tackle them, rather than deliver the "Big Hit" simultaneously from a soft zone defense. The future for the Chargers defensive scheme was summed up by Schottenheimer, when he said, "In my perfect scenario, we would have two corners that could go line up and play man-to-man, bump-and-run all over the field; a safety that could go cover the tight end, or another guy who could go cover the third wide receiver; and then it'd be, ‘Let's go play ball, that's what I like to do."

This new defensive back that can play the "man-to-man, bump-and-run" defense requires a big, fast, quick athlete that can play in front of the receiver rather than behind the receiver from a zone. This unofficial no "Big hit" rule sets up the middle of the field to be the most desirable spot to throw the ball, because the receiver will no longer have to take that "Big hit", it is the shortest and highest percentage throw by the Quarterback. The Defensive backs will now have trouble with "Big receivers" over the middle of the field that can jump up high to catch the ball and out muscle the defensive back. So this one "Play" that has changed the game, also changes the defensive schemes a team can play within the league, and changes the type of athlete that will play in the NFL at both defensive back and wide receiver. The new "Big Reciever" will require bigger, faster defensive backs. One unofficial rule change, has changed a lot in the NFL.

By T. S. Heers

T.S. Heers can be reached at or via the following link: T.S. Heers

Got something to say? Talk about it on the Chargers Message Boards

SD Super Chargers Top Stories