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Eatman: Too Late To Challenge Deion/Irvin PI?


One of the most annoying things in all of sports – regardless of whether it was the right call or not – is the late whistle, or in this case, the late flag that gets thrown into the mix a few seconds after the play is over.

No one likes a basketball foul to be called after the fact, either.

However, we're not even 25 years removed from one of the worst non-calls in Cowboys history. So I'm seeing now where the NFL is allowing teams to challenge pass interference calls – both the ones that were not called and the ones that were flagged but maybe shouldn't have been.

Yeah, I know this comes on the heels of the Saints-Rams playoff game. That was a bad no-call for sure there because it wasn't just pass interference, but clearly targeting as well.

But I'm sure every team in the NFL has a few pass interference calls that still don't sit well.

For me, and I've said it many times and I'll say it again, if you could give me back one moment in sports history where I could change a play, give me that NFC Championship Game in the 1994 season.

After being down 21-0 in the first five minutes of the game, the Cowboys rallied back against the 49ers and trailed by 10 in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. The whole world saw Deion Sanders, playing his one season with San Francisco, completely arm-bar Michael Irvin, which prevented him from getting his hands up to make the catch. But no call was made – except for the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Barry Switzer, who went off the rails on the sideline.

But I've always said, if the Cowboys get that penalty, they're definitely scoring a touchdown and with the way the momentum was going and how the Dallas defense was shutting down the 49ers in the second half, I think things would've been different. Who knows, but I wanted to see the 49ers up 38-35 with less than five minutes to play. I'm not sure the Cowboys would've won, but if they had, I can guarantee you the Chargers weren't beating them in the Super Bowl and we might be talking about the greatest dynasty in the history of football.

All because of a missed pass interference penalty?

I say all of this to point out that what the Saints are going through right now is not uncommon. And I'm sure you could ask a die-hard fan of every team and he or she will point out a missed call, whether it was P.I. or not, that might've changed history.

But what makes this rule change so interesting is just how much pass interference affects the game. There are no 50-yard penalties anywhere else in football other than pass interference. These calls can absolutely flip field position, or in some cases, place the ball at the 1-yard line with a first down.

I'm sure there will be some times throughout the game where it will be a no-brainer when to challenge a call that was made or should've been. But the tricky part to me is how these coaches handle challenges throughout the game.

Because I can only tell you a handful of plays, if that, over the last 20 years of Cowboys football where a pass interference penalty was missed or called incorrectly.

But I'm not a wide receiver. Ask one of them how many times in a single game they were held and I'm sure it'll probably be the same amount of routes they ran.

Receivers get held on every single play. Every incomplete pass has a receiver making the "throw the flag" motion, only now they'll be directing it to the coaches, who will have a shot to do something about it.

I do like the fact that the NFL didn't change the challenge rule policy, so maybe this whole thing won't get out of hand. But what I worry about is the last two minutes of a half or a game. If the booth has a shot to review everything – the calls that were made or calls that weren't – then we really might be looking at every single pass in those closing seconds.

I know it's starting to get pretty frustrating in college basketball. It seems like the referees are always going to the monitor to either check the time to add a half-second here or there, or even to review a possible flagrant foul or elbow.

It definitely slows the game down on that end. I just can't imagine a fourth quarter in which a team is driving for the win and having to pass every time. They're going to want to review every single play.

Again, not to be negative here because I think the overall spirit of this rule change is a good one. But I just know that receivers have been lobbying for pass interference penalties for years.

I'm sure you could feasibly call one on every play.

So since we're trying to correct the problem, can we start with the one about 25 years ago? That's the one I remember the most.