The safety: Fumble turns Seattle savior

  • SCOTT M. JOHNSON / Herald Writer
  • Saturday, December 16, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By SCOTT M. JOHNSON

Herald Writer

SEATTLE — The fans were left scratching their heads. The Seattle Seahawks were celebrating, although many did not know why.

And the Oakland Raiders were downright angry.

It was one of the strangest calls ever witnessed at a Seahawks game, so much so that many left Saturday’s 27-24 Seattle win without a clue of what exactly happened.

"If that is a rule, they need to change it," Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown said. "That’s ridiculous. … They definitely need to take a look at that this offseason."

Teammate Lance Johnstone was even more furious.

"There should be something like where you can discipline a referee," Johnstone said. "It’s not just this game, it’s this whole thing. It’s ridiculous. I don’t know what in the hell is going on."

The play in question came during the final minutes of Saturday’s game, when a fumble by Seattle running back Ricky Watters sent both sidelines into a tizzy of conflicting emotions.

The ball was jarred loose by Oakland’s Charles Woodson at the Raiders’ 20-yard line, and it continued to bounce until teammate Marquez Pope fell on it inside the 1. Pope gained possession of the ball, then rolled into the end zone and made no attempt to run it out.

Originally, the officials ruled it a touchback, with Oakland set to take possession at its own 20-yard line with just 2:24 remaining. But after a brief meeting and an instant replay, the officials awarded Seattle two points for a safety because Pope went from the field of play into the end zone.

By rule, the Raiders had to kick the ball to the Seahawks, who then drove down the field for the game-winning score.

The rule, according to referee Bernie Kukar, only applies to fumbles. If a defender’s momentum carries him into the end zone on an interception, it is ruled a touchback. On fumbles, the player must make an attempt to get out of the end zone if he gains possession of the ball in the field of play.

"In effect, what this amounts to is a player carrying the ball into his own end zone," Kukar said. "We were looking (at the replay) to see if (Pope) was touched down by contact, which he was not. And he made no attempt to get out of the end zone. Therefore, it is a safety. That’s the only thing we can do with it."

Among others, Pope was incensed.

"That call changed the whole game," he said. "(Woodson) caused the fumble, I recovered it. Either you down me where I recovered the ball or it’s a touchback and you bring our team out to the 20-yard line. It’s a call I’ve never seen before."

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren contends that it wasn’t a first-time instance. In fact, he pointed toward a game between the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons earlier this season when a similar call was made.

Holmgren said after watching a replay of that game that he then gathered his coaching staff together and explained the rule.

"Immediately, your reaction is, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not the rule,’ " Holmgren said. "Well, it is the rule. Don’t ask me why it’s different for an interception than a fumble. It just is."

Seattle’s defensive players were thankful that they weren’t in a similar situation. Perhaps less than objective, some Seahawks said the rule isn’t as obscure as it may appear.

"It’s the rule," Seattle linebacker Chad Brown said. "This is not the first time it’s come up this season. If you watch (ESPN’s) NFL Prime Time, you should know the rule. It’s pretty clear."

So if he had been in the same situation?

"I wouldn’t have stayed in the end zone," Brown said. "But I knew the rule. I watched NFL Prime Time."

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