So, I've escaped again to SEC country for a long-weekend on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I watched Saturday's action from a patio overlooking the Atlantic ocean with a cold draft beer and a bucket of peel and eat shrimp. Somehow in the midst of my gluttony, life provided a "teachable" moment.
It started when Georgia took the ball late in the fourth quarter down 12 to 7 against LSU. The Bulldogs moved through the Tiger secondary like a hot knife through butter, ultimately reaching the endzone on a 16 yard pass from Joe Cox to A.J. Green. I reveled at the sheer awesomeness of the comeback, standing up from my table and gallivanting on the patio. Sadly, the rapture was short lived. A penalty for excessive celebration killed the mood. The Tigers would have a short field to work with on a drive that, ultimately, carried the day.
The truth is I'm not here to talk to you about SEC football. The guys from Team Speed Kills do a damn fine job of that. I'm also not here to point out the inherent ridiculousness of a penalty that changes the outcome of a game premised on energy, intensity, and spirit, because a player showed energy, intensity, and spirit. I'm here to send a message to coaches everywhere: when you teach your team to run the 2:00 minute drill, teach them -- if they get the job done -- to drop the other shoe. Exit the field with order, grace, and composure, and pin the competition back against their own goalposts.
Sure it's obvious. But apparently it's not being taught, because time and time again we see it. Team A takes the ball down 5 points to Team B with 1:41 left in the game. They move the football down the field, and (gasp!) hit the endzone on a miracle throw. But they've made a mistake. They've left a little time on the clock. It's not the end of the world, just 35 seconds. All they need to do is give Team B a long field. But wait. What's this? Team A's players have been penalized for excessive celebration. Now, instead of kicking off from their own 30-yard line, they'll have to start from their own 15.
It's only the difference of starting a drive from the 40 instead of the 20. And Team B capitalizes. Like LSU they're a short field away from a winning field goal, or touchdown.
Now I know what you're thinking. It's easier said than done. As NCAA Coordinator of Officals Dave Parry says, "[Excessive Celebration Penalties] are always difficult because there is so much emotion involved."
I say, the intensity of the moment is no excuse. After all, players somehow manage of curtail their excitement after getting a crucial first down. They know they need to get back to the line, so they do. Finishing a drive is no different. Teach the players to keep their heads bowed and their excitement at bay, because whether or not the rule is a good one, it exists.
And way too often it's the difference between an epic win and an insufferable loss.