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NFL might pass rules change after Chargers' 'Golden Spike' Mark Whicker

The Baltimore Sun


--The Holy Roller, like all trinkets of history, will live forever.

But after 28 years it has a companion: The Golden Spike.

The San Diego Chargers' Vincent Jackson, straining to knock out a suddenly enraged poodle known as the Oakland Raiders, made a tough, low, 8-yard catch on fourth-and-two. He leaped up and gave the ball a triumphant little spin on the turf.

One problem: No Raider had yet touched Jackson.

As he watched white shirts scramble for the ball like ants on a Triscuit, Jackson realized he had done something horribly wrong. Fabian Washington recovered the ball and the Raiders, already leading 14-7 with 11:53 left, sensed victory over the NFL's new Godzilla.

This is where the officials came in, like a smelly tide.

The Chargers' defense came onto the field, then the offense, then the defense. And, finally, the offense, after referee Mike Carey lamely explained that Jackson had not arrogantly fumbled, but instead had thrown an "illegal forward pass." That is only a 5-yard penalty.

The Chargers retained possession and, five plays later, LaDainian Tomlinson flipped a 19-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates.

They got the ball back, and Tomlinson jab-stepped left and cut back right -- nobody does it quicker -- for 44 yards. Then he stomped the final 10 yards for his 21st touchdown in San Diego's past seven games.

The Chargers won, 21-14.

Now we await the next rules change.

The call brought out the Alabama in quarterback Philip Rivers, not that it's ever far away. "Goodness, I've never seen such," he said.

In 1978, on the same field, the Raiders and Chargers edited the rule book in vaudeville fashion. With 10 seconds left, Ken Stabler deliberately fumbled a ball forward, Pete Banaszak batted it and Dave Casper kicked it into the end zone and fell on it as time expired. The Holy Roller gave Oakland a 21-20 victory.

The NFL then ruled that fumbles in the final two minutes cannot be advanced except by the fumbler himself.

The Golden Spike probably will inspire an interpretation like this: Any player who drops the ball while acting like a self-promoting jerk will lose it to the team that recovered it.

And Jackson, an NFL sophomore from Northern Colorado who has a chance to be remembered for his ability, seemed to grasp this.

"First he started yelling, 'God is good' at the Raiders," Tomlinson said. "But then he got in the huddle and said, 'My fault, guys.' "

"I learned my lesson from this," Jackson said. "It was an emotional thing. It was a tough catch, and I thought somebody had hit me. But then I realized nobody did. I saw them fighting for the ball and I wondered what was going on."

Plus, the "incompletion" hurts Jackson's passer rating.

"I'm 0-for-1 now," he said. "Although I did complete a 44-yard touchdown in high school."

Said Tomlinson: "I'm just glad they got the call right, although I still don't know exactly what it was."

Rivers said: "If we'd lost the game he [Jackson] probably would have heard about it. Since we didn't, we'll probably leave him alone."

So the Chargers are 9-2 with a two-game lead in the AFC West, and in their past three games they have outscored their opponents in the second half by a combined 84-33.

Someone asked Tomlinson if magic is involved in this.

"I think so," he said, "and I hope so, because I'm about to have a heart attack."

Indeed, their mistakes seem to carry no consequence. Last week, coach Marty Schottenheimer went slightly nuts when Igor Olshansky got penalized for punching Denver center Tom Nalen on the Broncos' final drive.

What did he tell Jackson on Sunday?

"That's how you develop young players," Schottenheimer said, "but unfortunately they have to do things that make you say, 'What in the world are you thinking about?' "

The upside is that the next player who throws away a ball, and a game, with The Golden Spike probably will not be Jackson.

"It's Thanksgiving weekend, right?" he said, grinning. "You win a game like that, you give thanks."

Mark Whicker writes for The Orange County (Calif.) Register.

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