|Michael Crabtree scores on a fake field goal after pretending to run off the field. (AP)|
All touchdowns go on the scoreboard as six points, but not all touchdowns are created equal. Basically, there are two kinds: The touchdowns you can be proud to watch again on replay ... and the others. The weenie touchdowns. Like the one scored the other day by the San Francisco 49ers.
With the 49ers lining up for a field goal against St. Louis, receiver Michael Crabtree did what he always does in that situation: He left the game. Only he never got there, jogging to the sideline and then just sort of ... stopping. Still in bounds. Unnoticed by the Rams. Uncovered. Wide open to catch kicker David Akers' 14-yard scoring toss.
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And you know it. Well, no, you don't -- which I found stunning earlier in the week when I took this discussion to Twitter. I must have been feeling lonely, needing affirmation and approval, so I said something that surely everyone could agree with. I said:
And you went nuts.
Disagreement, even disbelief came thundering back. You saw nothing wrong with the play. "A touchdown is a touchdown," you said. "No different from a fumblerooski," you said. "You're the weenie," you said.
So enough with the 140 characters. A statement as obvious as "four plus four equals eight" shouldn't need further amplification, but apparently it does. So I'll amplify here.
There is cleverness, and there is cowardice. A fumblerooski is clever. Flea flicker? Play-action pass? Mixing up coverage to confuse the quarterback? Clever.
Sending a player toward the sideline, but having him stop a foot short and then just stand there, hoping the other team doesn't notice?
Cowardice. It says, "We're not sure we can score 11-on-11. But we like our odds if you're not ready!"
And I like Jim Harbaugh. No, really. I do. That seems to matter to people -- "Guess you don't like Harbaugh," you said -- so I'll spell it out. I like the guy. I'm a Florida graduate but not a Florida homer, but had the Gators replaced Urban Meyer last season with Jim Harbaugh, I was going to give fandom a shot. That's how much I like Harbaugh. He's tough, smart, no-nonsense.
But that touchdown was weak, stupid. It was nonsense.
It was soccer.
That's what I thought when I saw the replay. I thought of soccer, a beautiful game when played the right way, but an unwatchable weenie-fest when done wrong. Players try to get an advantage by faking injury, and while almost everyone does it, that doesn't mean it's right. That means almost everyone is wrong.
The Harbaugh touchdown was wrong, though not unprecedented. Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino once beat the Jets in the final seconds of a 1994 game with a weenie touchdown pass after he ran to the line making a spiking motion and screaming, "Clock, clock, clock!" The Jets defense relaxed and Marino faked the spike -- then threw to Mark Ingram, alone in the end zone.
That was more than 17 years ago, but just last week BYU did the same thing to Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. With 11 seconds left and his sideline screaming for him to spike it, BYU quarterback Riley Nelson instead gave his team the "fake spike" call, and receiver Cody Hoffman picked up on it. Tulsa relaxed. BYU scored a weenie touchdown to win 24-21.
"We have a fake spike play," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall explained afterward. He might have been bragging.
The touchdowns counted -- for Marino, and for BYU -- but that's a cowardly move. Look, there's a saying that goes, "All's fair in love and war," and maybe that's true. I don't know. But all's not fair in sports. It's an athletic competition, not a life-or-death battle for land. There's something to be said for losing with honor.
A boxer who starts a fight by touching gloves with the other boxer, then immediately launches a haymaker, isn't trying to win with honor. It would be legal but cowardly. It would be like getting a touchdown from a receiver who faked like he was heading out of bounds for a field goal.
At their best, sports are a model for life. That's one reason so many well-meaning adults coach kids at various levels -- because sports are like life. There are lessons to be learned. Difficulties to endure.
Shortcuts to ignore.
Sunday against St. Louis, Jim Harbaugh saw a shortcut to victory. There is honorable deception and there is fraud, and that was a fraudulent touchdown. It was a soccer player flopping for a penalty kick, or A-Rod slapping at a fielder's glove. But it worked. No question, it worked.
So now I wonder about all those coaches watching that game between the 49ers-Rams. Youth coaches. They saw the shortcut Harbaugh took. Will they ignore it? The ones where I live -- they'd better.
Put it this way: If a youth football coach asked my son to make like Michael Crabtree -- saunter indifferently to the sideline as if he was coming out, then stop at the last second and stand there until it was time to run into the end zone -- my son would soon be playing for someone else.
Some lessons don't need to be learned.