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The Rules They Are A-Changin’

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When you find yourself agreeing with Roger Goodell, something must be up!

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always nice to hear good news. It’s especially nice when that news takes the form of one of your long-time concerns finally being addressed. That’s why it was great to see that Roger Goodell publicly expressed his concern (not “somewhat concerned” but actually concerned) about the current state of the catch rule in the NFL. That state could charitably be described as “WTF?!”

So it’s good to hear that addressing the rule this off-season is a priority for him, even if it is a little bizarre -- agreeing with Goodell, that is. Like, “Wait, I thought I was right, but Roger Goodell is now agreeing with me, which makes me question whether I really am or not.” But upon further review, it turns out I am indeed right. Which also makes Goodell right. (I know, I know, but it all checks out.)

And even if it makes me question the very nature of my being, it is a very good thing Goodell sees it this way. I think most NFL fans would agree. Mainly because I think the current catch rule is the most unpopular rule in sports. It certainly seems like the most convoluted rule in sports. And I’ll give it my vote for the most annoying rule in sports.

It certainly is the most disruptive. It comes into play so frequently, and its results so often defy logic and instinct, that it’s not just bad, it’s in-your-face bad. It’s bad that won’t leave you a alone -- like a fart in an elevator, you’re just stuck marinating in it.

Sure, every once in a while, its indefensible stupidity works in your favor and gets the Dallas Cowboys eliminated from the playoffs -- because Dez Bryant’s oh-my-heavens-that-is-clearly-a-catch in Lambeau is ruled incomplete — but we can’t defend a rule just because it makes Cowboys fans sad. As tempting as that may be. Because it’s only a matter of time until it’s a team you’re rooting for which gets screwed by the rule. And, I guess for fairness too. But I’ve found over time that fairness to Cowboys fans is overrated.

Also good to see this among Goodell’s comments:

An operating theory, Goodell said, will be the idea that “fans want catches.”

It’s true, you know. Fans do want catches. I know, because I’m a fan and I want catches. Small sample size, I know, but don’t you feel the same way? Wouldn’t you prefer to see referees err that way, rather than “in super slo-mo you can see that the ball rotated ever so slightly as the receiver slid 10 feet out of bounds two full seconds after they first possessed the ball, so incomplete?”

For decades, “two feet down and a football move” worked just fine. Yes, there were some controversial calls now and then, but there always will be no matter what the rule, and it happened far more infrequently than the almost-weekly catch controversies we have now. The Jesse James non-game-winning-TD in Week 15 was enough to generate multiple calls for an overhaul of the rule. Nothing incites calls for change quite like the Patriots winning a big game -- kind of like my reaction to the Dez play in reverse.

And while they’re at it, maybe the NFL should look at the one rule which might actually make less sense than the catch rule -- the fumble-into-the-end zone-and-it’s-a-touchback rule. This rule has been the same as long as I can remember, but it always seemed odd to me. I remember the first time I learned of it when I was a kid — Eric Dickerson fumbled into the end zone, and I just assumed it would come back to the spot where he fumbled. Once I heard it was being moved back to the 20, I was a bit puzzled, but figured the offense would keep the ball. When I realized the defense would actually get the ball, I was completely confused. What? Why? How?

Over the years, I’ve never understood the rule any better, but came to accept it as a fact of life. I suspect many fans feel the same way. But this year, the overall desire to see this rule changed seemed to reach critical mass, as the usually-rare play occurred far more frequently than I can ever remember, and played a major role in the outcome of multiple games -- and inspired maybe the most bizarre and quite possibly the worst challenge of all time.

In this piece from November, Rodger Sherman of The Ringer campaigned for the rule to be changed and offered several creative solutions. I am partial to The Reverse Touchback, but your results may vary.

So, what say you, Niners Nation — do you think the catch rule should be overhauled or are a fan of bureaucracy and controversy? If you’d like it changed, how exactly? And what about the fumble-touchback rule -- does it need tweaking, or is it fine as is? If the former, what is your preferred solution? Are there any other rules in need of changing that I forgot?