As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2004 season was drawing to a close a few weeks ago, a bit sooner than we all hoped, a fan named Joe from here in Tampa asked the Answer Man if his gig on Buccaneers.com was going to continue into the offseason.
At the time, I assured Joe that I would still have my little editorial corner on the site, but that the frequency of my columns would depend on how many – or how few – questions trickled in during the non-football months.
Well, that hasn't proven to be much of a problem. What I thought might be a trickle has been more like a torrent. The exciting and sometimes odd moments of the NFL playoffs so far may have something to do with that, but the volume of questions has, if anything, increased.
I mean, if I only read the questions about who we're going to take with the fifth pick in the draft I'd still have a busy afternoon most days. (Consider that message, from Series 2, Volume 1 NOT received.) Fortunately, those questions have alternated with a seemingly endless wellspring of queries about rules interpretations, unusual plays and minute details of the game of football...in other words, the lifeblood of this column.
So we're alive and kicking here in the Answer Man's corner, illuminating the more confusing aspects of Buccaneer history, the game and the people and places involved in both. Just this week, for instance, I received questions about referee gear, safeties in overtime, conference domination in the Super Bowl and much more.
So let's get to this week's questions, shall we?
- Ron Farr of Fort Myers, Florida asks:
On the sidelines there are guys in black vests with big orange letters (either K or X). Seems like they handle the footballs. Is that all they do, and what is the difference between the K and X?
Answer Man: Last week, I got a question from a fan asking me to run down all the people on the sidelines during an NFL game, and what their jobs are. I thought about printing it, then I figured, why knock off so many potential questions in one fell swoop. We've already examined the Orange Sleeve, the Green Hat, the chronic football-tossing guy on the Bucs' sideline, the X-ray technicians, the video printout guys and probably a few others I'm not thinking of. Now we're going to discuss the K and X guys, and we'll probably eventually get to every last soul on that popular patch of grass.
Anyway, you are right, Ron, those are Ball Boys – and yes, that is their technical term on page 2 of the Rulebook, even though they are usually grown men and could technically be women.
The vests, which are actually navy blue, not black, bear the big orange X so that they can be easily spotted by the referees. When the league introduced a specific ball for kickers a few years back – ending the long-time practice of NFL kickers spending hours massaging the footballs into the shape they would want – they added the Ball Boy with a K vest to differentiate between those balls and the regular game balls.
The vest has a pocket right in front to hold a ball. These Ball Boys always stand near the chain gang and are always ready to toss a new ball into play. The balls for the game are supplied by the home team but are turned over, brand new and in their boxes, to the officials before the game. The officials then give the kickers 30 minutes to work on the game balls before locking them back up in their locker room.
One thing the rest of the readers should know about this particular questioner: Unless there are two Buccaneer fans in Ft. Myers named Ron Farr, this is the same man who won the overall, season-long prize in the Buccaneers.com Home Team Challenge game. While Ron didn't win any of the 17 single-week prizes (two tickets to a Buccaneer home game) during the season, his fantasy football acumen over the course of the full season won him the Grand Prize: Two season tickets for the Buccaneers in 2005.
Nice going, Ron. The rest of you may want to check out the Home Team Challenge in 2006, as there will be valuable prizes at stake again next season.
- Fred of Tampa, Florida asks:
Dear Esteemed Answer Man, My mother asked a question that I could not answer. Referees can be seen during the game wearing a strap that runs around their wrists and is looped around one of their fingers. I thought perhaps it might aid in spotting the football, but could not be sure. Only a man of true wisdom can tackle this question, and thus I have turned to you. What is that thing?
Answer Man: Your mother watches football with you and asks observant, relevant questions? You'd better pony up something good on Mother's Day, Fred.
As to the referee's hand gear, have you ever seen an umpire's clicker, used to keep track of balls and strikes. This is a similar thing, only the strings you see are not holding the device in place but are themselves the key parts of the device.
The referee uses this set of straps across his hand to keep track of what down it is. As the downs progress from first through fourth, the referee adjusts the strings so that they loop over different fingers. A ref can look at his hand, see where he has the strings and know immediately what down it is. Admittedly, that's not too hard to remember, but it's good to have a backup plan. As any Missouri Tiger fan can tell you, when a referee does lose track of the downs, what ensues is most certainly not hilarity. (If you do not know the incident to which I refer, ask a Colorado fan.)
- Patrick Murphy of Lakeland, Florida asks:
**Dear Rejoinder Chap,
Could you tell me if any NFL game that has gone to overtime has finished with a safety? I would basically like to know what the smallest spread on a game that goes to OT is possible? Thank you for your time.**
Answer Man: Rejoinder Chap? Been using the thesaurus function on our Microsoft Word, have we?
In answering this question, I want to give a (very carefully pronounced) shout out to Chicago Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. If Ogunleye hadn't tackled Tennessee tackle Fred Miller in the end zone last November 14, the Answer Man would have had to spend a long time researching this question.
Fortunately, I remembered that outcome, a 19-17 Chicago win over Tennessee this past season that ended on a safety in overtime. Defensive end Alex Brown actually deserves a lot of credit, too, because he started the play by sacking quarterback Billy Volek and forcing a fumble in the end zone three minutes into overtime. Miller recovered the fumble by Ogunleye tackled him in the end zone for the game-winning two points.
Before that play, only one other game in NFL history had been decided by a safety in overtime. On November 5, 1989, the Vikings beat the Rams, 23-21, in overtime when Mike Merriweather blocked a punt by Dale Hatcher, sending the ball out of the back of the end zone.
(Coincidentally, a Buccaneer game nearly ended the same way three seasons ago. In the 2002 opener against New Orleans, which went to overtime after a big Buccaneer rally in the fourth quarter, P Tom Tupa tried to punt from out of the end zone but had a rusher on him before he could kick. Had Tupa held onto the ball or had it blocked out of the end zone, it would have been a safety. Instead, he tried a desperation pass and it was intercepted for the game-winning points.)
- Rick of Fort Collins, Colorado asks:
Answer Man, Love the column! Here is a question for the rare-but-not-unbelievable-football-situations logbook: Say the QB takes the snap from a shotgun formation, he then drops back a few feet, and thrown the ball forward to the RB off in the flat. If the RB is still behind the Line of Scrimmage at this point, can he legally throw it forward?
Answer Man: Thanks for the kind words, Rick.
Your proposed play is very rare, mainly because it is illegal. No play can contain more than one forward pass under any circumstances. Even if a quarterback were to throw the ball forward, have it ricochet back over his head off a defender and race back to catch it behind where he threw the original pass, he still could not legally throw another pass forward.
The key is always the direction of the pass. You can toss the ball backward as many times as you like and, as long as you're still behind the line of scrimmage, you can still make that one throw forward. Picture a flea-flicker or a toss to a running back followed by a halfback pass. Any ball thrown forward, no matter if you do it over the top, sidearm or underhanded, is a forward pass, no exceptions. A shovel pass, for instance, often hits the running back or receiver behind the line of scrimmage, but it is still a pass.
This, in fact, might be the most important rule regarding the forward pass. It is definitely the first rule in the Rulebook under that category. Rule 8, Section 1, Article 1 states:
The offensive team may make *one forward pass from behind the line of scrimmage provided the ball does not cross the line and return behind line prior to the pass. (a) Any other forward pass by either team is illegal and is a foul by the passing team.*
The penalty, by the way, is five yards (and it would be a safety it originated in the end zone).
I should point out that multiple forward passes from behind the line of scrimmage are legal in the Answer Man's flag football league (but we've covered that ground quite enough, haven't we?).
- Benny of Hampstead, New Hampshire asks:
Answer man, have teams from the same division represented their conference in the Super Bowl in 3 straight years? (Bucs, Panthers, possibly Falcons)
Answer Man: I don't mean to be flip about this, Benny, but how about the AFC East from 1990-93? That would be just Buffalo four times in a row, but I think that satisfies your question as asked.
However, the Answer Man will assume you meant three different teams from the same division in three consecutive years. Right? Okay, let's take a look.
The only time this happened was the 1990-92 seasons, or Super Bowls XXXV-XXXVII. That was a three-year run for the NFC East, which sent the New York Giants in '90, Washington in '91 and Dallas in '92. All three of those teams then beat the Bills. As you note, the NFC South could match the feat if Atlanta beats Philadelphia on Sunday. That would be pretty impressive, since the NFC South has only been around for three years. It would also be awfully tough on Eagles fans, as both the Bucs and the Panthers won at Philly, which Atlanta now has to try to do, to get their Super Bowl tickets punched.
- Dewey H. of Ross, California asks:
Who has won more Super Bowls, the NFC or the AFC?
Answer Man: Though only the Bucs' win in Super Bowl XXXVII has interrupted the AFC's hold on the game over the last four years – and whichever AFC team wins on Sunday will probably be favored in number XXXIX – the NFC still has the overall lead.
NFC teams won 21 of the first 38 Super Bowls, thanks in large part to the five wins each for San Francisco and Dallas. Still, 21-17 is pretty close, and things could even up if the AFC stays on a run.
Interestingly, there have been three obvious shifts of power. Though Green Bay won the first two Super Bowls, the AFC took control after the Jets' landmark win in the third one. Including that game, which Joe Namath famously guaranteed in the face of the general belief that the former AFL was still the weaker sister to the NFC, the AFC won 11 times in 13 years. Pittsburgh and Miami both had their dynasties in that stretch, which was broken up by only two Dallas victories.
Beginning with Super Bowl XVI, however, the NFC took over again. The 49ers and Redskins won one each, followed by a Raider victory and then 13 straight NFC wins. San Fran and Dallas were the driving forces behind that streak.
Denver finally broke the NFC's stranglehold in Super Bowl XXXII, after the 1997 season. Including that game, the AFC has won five of the last seven.
- James Darcy of Medford, Oregon asks:
Dear Answer Man, I just read your answer to someone who was interested in tours of Raymond James Stadium. I cannot go to a game in the fall, being that I am a student and I live on the other side of the country. But I am a huge fan, I drove to watch the Oakland game this year, and I will never step foot in that stadium again. My question to you is, is there anything else touristy that I can include in my vacation to celebrate my team when I visit Florida this June other than touring the stadium? Will training camp be going on, and if so is that something I can go see? I need your help to include the Bucs the best way possible in my vacation. Thank you.
Answer Man: Any chance you could swing through Tampa in August instead of June? If so, you could drive about an hour up I-4 to the Bucs' training camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex, where all practices are free and open to the public.
The exact opening and closing dates for training camp haven't been announced yet, but the process usually starts near the end of July and lasts about three weeks.
The Bucs will likely have a mini-camp in June at our own team headquarters, but those practices are not open to the public. However, there will be one fun Buccaneer event in early June: FanFest. Held at the stadium on one Saturday every June, FanFest features autograph sessions with virtually every player on the team, question-and-answer periods with the coaches and many other enjoyable diversions. If you're here in early June, check it out. It's free.
- James Williams of Largo, Florida asks:
During the Eagles-Vikes game, someone for the Eagles had fumbled and the ball rolled into the end zone and then out of bounds before anyone else touched it. This play was ruled a touchback and the Vikings got the ball. I am confused about why the ball was turned over. I figured that the Eagles would have gotten the ball back on the one yard line. Can you help me oh wise one of football?
…and Gatom of Atlanta, Georgia asks:
I thought you could not advance a fumble, what is the rule on that? I thought if an offensive player fumbled and the ball advanced and another offensive player recovered it, the ball goes back to where it was fumbled. This started because of the Stabler fumble years ago. Seems like when the Philly guy lost the ball, the ball should have been placed on the 6 instead of a TD. Thanks!
Answer Man: We answered this question just last week, actually, after which it turned from a hypothetical discussion into an actual occurrence in front of a national audience.
As I stated last week, a fumble forward into and out of the end zone results in a touchback for the defending team. It is a turnover. For a more detailed discussion, please check out last week’s column.
However, there are a few more things we need to clear up in these two questions. One, it is the end zone that makes the difference in this play. If a ball is fumbled forward by the offensive team and it goes out of bounds from the field of play without the defensive team ever gaining control of it, it remains in possession of the first team, though the ball is moved back to the spot of the fumble.
If the ball is fumbled through the end zone and then out of bounds (which includes hitting the pylon, by the way, because that accomplishes both things at once), then it is considered a turnover and is thus a touchback.
Two, any player can advance a fumble by any other player as long as it is not fourth down or after the two-minute warning. In those cases, only the player who fumbled the ball can recover and advance it for the offense. If Player A1 fumbles the ball forward on fourth down and Player A2 recovers it five yards downfield, Team A still gets the ball but it comes back to the spot of the fumble (which, since it's fourth down, could result in the ball being turned over on downs).
Three, James and Gatom are referring to two different plays. Gatom is describing the fumble by Philadelphia TE L.J. Smith that was recovered in the air in the end zone by WR Freddie Mitchell for a touchdown. That score stood because it was not fourth down nor the final two minutes of the half (it was a first down five minutes into the second quarter). Had it been either of those situations, the ball would have come back to the spot of the fumble. James is referring to the play late in the third quarter in which Mitchell took a reception down to the one and was originally ruled to have scored before a replay challenge overturned that ruling, noting that Mitchell had fumbled at the one, into and out of the end zone. Eventful day for Mitchell.
And four, the play to which Gatom refers is the infamous Holy Roller play. As we previously discussed months ago in Volume 10 that play did indeed lead to the rule change that made it illegal for a desperate offensive player to advance the ball by fumbling it forward on what would be the last play of the game. That is spelled out in Rule 8, Section 4, Article 2, A.R. 8.63:
Second-and-10 on B14. On last play of game Team A is behind by 4 points, Quarterback A1 falls back to pass, fumbles and ball eventually winds up in B's end zone. A2 falls on it. Ruling: No score. Game over.
- Kathryn of Tampa, Florida asks:
Oh wise Answer Man, please please please help me win an argument with my boss. I thought for sure that during the Jets vs. Chargers Wild Card game, the commentators said that San Diego should have let their rookie field goal kicker try to kick on 3rd down, so that if he missed, he would have a second try on 4th down. My boss says that while you can kick a field goal on any down, if you miss, you turn the ball over. I say that you can keep kicking field goals until you make it or you turn the ball over on downs. Who's right??? Thanks so much!!
Answer Man: It's amazing how often the topic of third-down field goals comes up every time the playoffs roll around. Announcers love to point out that a team might decide to line up for a game-winning field goal on third down so that they would have a second chance if something got fouled up.
We actually covered this very topic in Volume 21, and I'm sorry to say that your boss is right on this one, Kathryn. A missed field goal turns the ball over to the other team. Check out the link above for a full discussion of this.
When announcers talk about to a second chance if the first attempt goes wrong on third down, they are referring to mistakes that might occur before the ball is kicked. For example, if a team lined up for a 35-yard game-winning field goal (line of scrimmage at the 17, ball being held for the kick at the 25), and the snap was so bad that the holder could barely catch it but not get it down in time, the holder could just fall on the ball. That would be the same as a run for a loss of eight yards and the team could then try the field goal again from eight yards farther back. Once you kick it, though, that's the end of the drive.
I originally intended to include these next two in the "Quickies" section with which I always finish a column, but I got to rambling on in both cases and the final result is too long to reasonably be called a quickie.
- First, Dub of Seminole Florida asks:
Oh great Answer Oracle: I have a simple but important question. When are compensatory picks announced, and who decides what teams get in terms of what round pick? Is their some sort of formula they use, or is it kind of arbitrary? Looking at players who were drafted with compensatory picks like Brian Dawkins, and Tom Brady, it definitely seems like an important resource for teams, and something that needs to be fairly appropriated without the possibility of a league officials prejudice for one team or another becoming involved. I would think the Bucs should be due some good picks for the loss of Sapp, and especially Lynch because he went to the pro-bowl, but I haven't hear any mention about what picks the Bucs may be able to hope for from any media. What picks do you think they may get?
Answer Man: And, Dub, I have a simple answer. Read last week’s column. As I told Kenny Spindola of Wellington, (Florida I now know…thank you Donna Spindola), compensatory picks are always announced near the end of March/beginning of April. Kenny also focused on Sapp and Lynch and I cautioned him in two ways: 1) Lynch won't count, as he was released and then signed by another team, not signed away as a free agent; and 2) It's based on a team's overall gains and losses in free agency, not just who you lost.
Still, I thought I would rehash the topic because I like your additional information about Brady and Dawkins. That's good stuff. Brady was a sixth-round compensatory pick in 2000 and Dawkins was a second-round pick in 1996 described in the Eagles' media guide as 'compensation for the departure of Seth Joyner.'
So you make a good point, Dub, compensatory picks are not throwaways. Here's a good one for you from the Bucs' draft annals: linebacker Alshermond Singleton. A starter during at strongside linebacker during Tampa Bay's 2002 Super Bowl season and a special teams stud for six years, Singleton was a compensatory pick in 1997. That turned out well.
But to reiterate what I said last week, Dub, I wouldn't hold my breath for compensatory picks this year. There is, you will be happy to know given your worries about league-office prejudice, a very specific formula that determines compensatory picks. As I said, it factors in both free agents lost and gained, and some of the elements included are salary, playing time and postseason honors for the players involved. A team can receive no more than four compensatory picks in a single draft, and teams that had a net gain in free agency are not penalized picks.
- And then Drew of Washington, D.C. asks:
Hey Answer Man, last week you wrote: "a 45-yard field goal (the ball is snapped from the 37 but held and kicked from the 45)." However, if the ball is snapped at the 37 and kicked at the 45, isn't it a 55 yard field goal since the goal posts are located at the end of the end zone -- 10 yards past the goal line, making it 45 10? I am sure the Answer Man knows this and simply overlooked this calculation in his attempt to answer as many questions as possible.
Answer Man: Oh, the shame! Would you believe the Answer Man actually got up to Vector Calculus in college before giving up math. And then to forget the 10 yards of the end zone.
Drew, you got me. Your e-mail address makes me believe you are either a student or professor, so I am doubly shamed to have failed in the face of academia. I do know that a field goal tried from a line-of-scrimmage of the 37, spotted at the 45, would be a 55-yarder, but I certainly didn't remember that at the crucial moment last weekend. Honestly, I have to thank you for the correction, and I have to say that I'm surprised that I only got one e-mail to this effect. You have a good eye for detail, Drew. (You might also notice I took great pains to get it right in Kathryn's question above.)
In an effort to deflect a little attention from my crimson super-cheeks, let me ask this: Has anyone else noticed that the snap for a field goal seems to have increased from seven yards to eight over the last five or six years? When the Answer Man was but an NFL pup, one always added 17 yards to the line of scrimmage to figure out a field goal's distance. Now it's routinely 18 yards. Why? Are teams backing up to get a better angle over taller, better-jumping defensive linemen? Were the rushers off the edges getting to the seven-yard spot too quick?
(Alert. This is the point where one of you sends me an e-mail asking me to talk to Special Teams Coach Rich Bisaccia about why the snap is now eight yards. I can see these things coming now.)
Now the real quickies, which include questions that we've either answered before or don't need a significant amount of explanation.
- Ed Gunn of Powell, Ohio asks:
What were the results of the voting that was done for all time Bucs at each position?
We have touched on this before, but not in quite some time. "The Greatest Bucs" a team of the fans' choices for the best players at each position in team history, was unveiled on September 8 and discussed again in my column, Volume 8. Among the highlights of the team, chosen completely by fan voting over the period of four months, were Simeon Rice and Lee Roy Selmon as the defensive ends, Derrick Brooks and Hardy Nickerson at linebacker and Mike Alstott and James Wilder at running back.
- Jonathan Beard of San Antonio, Texas asks:
Hey answer man, I have a salary cap question, if a player under contract for several years goes down with a career ending injury how does it effect the cap. I suspect the money is going to be paid out for the duration, but does it come out all at once, negotiated or what? I'm confused. And does it depend on being able to pass the team physical?
Answer Man: Fielded this question in Volume 23 three weeks ago. The main gist of it is, the cap hit would come all at once only if the player were released from the roster. A team might keep him on injured reserve for years to spread out the hit.
- George Bayza of Los Angeles, California asks:
Could you please give the order of the draft choices that the Buccaneers currently hold? (i.e. #1, #2, #3... etc.)
Answer Man: I'm not exactly sure what you're asking, George, so I'll run down what I think might be the answer.
The Bucs currently have their own picks in rounds 1-7, plus one extra pick each in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. We got the extra third, fifth and sixth-round picks from San Diego, though the fifth-rounder originated with the Giants. We got the extra seventh-rounder from the Giants.
The Bucs will pick fifth in the first round and then begin cycling through picks 4-7 in the subsequent rounds. Tied with Chicago, Tennessee and Oakland at 5-11, the Bucs will start with the fifth pick, then move up to the fourth pick in Round Two, then down to the seventh pick in Round Three, then on back up.
Hope that's what you were looking for.
- Michael Martin of San Gabriel, California asks:
When do individual game tickets go on sale for next season?
Answer Man: No date has been announced yet, Michael, but it almost always falls near the end of July or the beginning of August. Last year, a limited number of single-game tickets went on sale on July 27; the year before, it was August 10 and the year before that it was August 9. They are sold through TicketMaster via telephone and the internet and they generally sell out very quickly.
And finally, we have not a question but a public service announcement from a frequent Answer Man contributor, Richard Schilling of Breinigsville, Pennsylvania:
This time I have no question; instead I have a tip. With the many questions regarding rules, fans may find the "Digest of Rules" at http://www.nfl.com/fans/rules useful. It is an unofficial summary of rules that answers some questions that have been asked here. Of course, your skills will still be required for the really tough ones.
Answer Man: Good idea. Thanks, Rich. (And I dig your new e-mail address.)
That's it for this week, folks. I'm sure there will be no shortage of good questions in the e-mailbox next week; however, the Answer Man is going with the team to the Senior Bowl next week (college players need their cleats polished, too), so there won't be another column until after we all return.
I have a head start, however, on interesting letters. There is still the matter of W.C.'s question about kickers with prosthetic limbs, and I'm also interested in taking a crack at this one from Sara Tomalesky of Dunedin, Florida:
Hey Answer Man! I don't know too much about the draft, but I was curious... Do teams often (or ever) get excellent players from the later rounds in the draft, like, say, the 6th or 7th rounds? Could you tell me some famed, amazing players who came from one of those rounds?
Answer Man: That's a great question, Sara, but it deserves more time than I've got at the moment. There are plenty of great players from the lower rounds of the draft, for the Bucs and around the league, and we'll take a closer look in my next column.