NFL

Two Panthers took off their helmets during the late touchdown celebration

Two Panthers took off their helmets during the late touchdown celebration

USA TODAY Sports

The rule was established in 1997. It’s one thing to make sense. (Possibly it doesn’t.) Whether it is applied consistently is another. (It’s not.) As applied Sunday against the Panthers after a late, unlikely touchdown pass that tied the game against the Falcons at 34, it was the right call.

First approved in 1997, the rule identifies the following as a “prohibited act” in the category of unsportsmanlike conduct: “Removal of helmet by a player on the field of play or in the end zone during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation. with a game official or any other player.”

Yesterday was not the first time it affected the outcome of a game. In 2002, it happened to the Browns and linebacker Dwayne Rudd, who he took off his helmet and threw it while celebrating what he believed to be the punt. The flag gave the Chiefs 15 yards and a down with no time. They attempted, and made, a game-winning field goal.

It has been suggested that because Panthers receiver DJ Moore he didn’t actually take his helmet off on the field of play, he wasn’t in the “field of play or end zone” within the language of the rule. As a source with knowledge of the rule’s implementation explained to PFT, the rule is meant to prevent a player from taking off his helmet, throwing it and running without it as part of a demonstration anywhere on the field of playing, whether within the boundaries of the grid or beyond.

There’s another issue that hasn’t gotten much, if any, attention. Look at the work. Watch it till the end. After Moore takes off his helmet, he jumps into the stands and back down, tight end Stephen Sullivan, no. 84, enters the celebration without a helmet. He was on the field during the play — and took his helmet off while on the field — or joined the celebration from the sidelines. Either way, there has been a violation of the rules.

So, either way, it was a proper application of the rules. Whether the helmet removal rule is consistently enforced, and it isn’t, is a different matter. Whether the rule makes sense, and possibly not, is another matter.

The rule is a close cousin to the recent emphasis on taunting, as it expects players who play an emotional port to instantly turn into bots. This is simply not realistic and ignores the fundamental humanity of the men who play the game.

That said, it’s still a rule. It has been a norm for 25 years. And the training point is easy. Always keep your helmet off until you return to the bank area, after the play and celebration are over.





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