Ref was powerless on Giants’ fake injuries, but NFL is not
Two New York Giants blatantly faked injuries on Monday night to give their defense time to change personnel while the St. Louis Rams were in the red zone, pretending to be hurt to gain an advantage in a violation of all the basic principles of good sportsmanship and fair play.
And there’s not a thing the referee could do about it.
It was obvious to everyone watching that Giants defensive back Deon Grant and linebacker Jacquian Williams were faking when they flopped to the ground during the first quarter of Monday’s game (video here). The Rams had marched inside the Giants’ 10-yard line and were lining up for another play, and the Giants wanted to get their goal-line package on the field, so they took a free timeout by pretending to be hurt.
This is an unfortunate situation where the referee can see obvious cheating, but he can’t do anything. Referees aren’t doctors, so the NFL doesn’t want them to assess whether a player is really hurt or not. So referees always stop the clock if there’s a player claiming to be hurt, regardless of whether that claim is legitimate.
It’s been a problem at all levels of football. As the coordinator of officials for the Pac-10 Conference said last year when opposing teams faked injuries to slow down Oregon’s offense, “We’re stuck. The only thing an official can do - and this is at every level - is if they see what looks like an injury, they have to stop the clock. We can’t get in the business of deciding whether it’s valid or not.”
Players faking injuries to get the clock to stop is nothing new: It goes back at least as far as 1953, when a Notre Dame player named Frank Varrichione pretended to faint in order to give his team (dubbed “the Fainting Irish”) enough time to run an extra play to tie the score against Iowa.
“I faint dead to the world,” Varrichione admitted years later. “Naturally, everybody gets suspicious. But what other choice does the ref really have? So he blows his whistle.”
We’ve seen it in the NFL, too. When Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest went down with an alleged injury late in the fourth quarter of a 2003 game against the Colts, only to “recover” a minute later to get back on the field and make the game-saving tackle, Peyton Manning fumed, “That was an amazing recovery. I thought they should have been penalized for having to stop the clock with no timeouts.” Former Bengals coach Sam Wyche got so angry when opponents faked injuries to slow down his no-huddle offense that he said he thought the referees should award his team a touchdown as a penalty for a “palpably unfair act.”
But while there is a catchall rule on the books that allows the referee to enforce “palpably unfair acts,” the NFL would never tell referees to try to figure out whether a player is faking or not. The last thing the NFL -- with its emphasis on player safety -- wants to do is have referees forcing players to stay on the field when they’re saying they’re hurt. As unfair as it is, faking an injury isn’t something that referees should penalize in the heat of the moment, without time to adequately assess a player’s condition.
After the game, however, it’s another story. The league office has time to review the game tape and assess what happened. And then the NFL should issue steep fines to both Grant and Williams, and to the Giants as a team, because this appeared to be a coordinated effort. That’s the best way to send a message that faking injuries won’t be tolerated.