2001 Jaguars-Browns game becomes issue in Saints-Rams lawsuit

The lawsuit regarding the Commissioner’s power to undo the result of a game or to order a do-over has dredged up a game during which the Commissioner intervened to alter the on-field outcome. Sort of.

Via Christopher Dabe of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints season-ticket holders who are arguing that Commissioner Roger Goodell should have invoked Rule 17 to order that the NFC Championship game be replayed from the moment Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman blatantly interfered with Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis contend that their position finds precedent in a decision made by Commissioner Roger Goodell more than 17 years ago.

During the 2001 season, referee Terry McAulay ended a game with 48 seconds remaining after replay review overturned a successful fourth-and-two conversion by the Browns, prompting Cleveland fans to throw bottles onto the field. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue thereafter ordered McAulay to conduct the remainder of the game, which required a pair of simple kneel-downs by the Jaguars to complete a 15-10 win.

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it demonstrates that the Commissioner indeed has the power to overrule the judgment of the referee, countering the NFL’s current insistence that referee decisions are final and cannot be reversed by the Commissioner or anyone else.

The league also has argued that Rule 17 does not apply to judgment calls, even though the plain language of the rule seems to be aimed at preventing teams from pursuing protests, not the Commissioner from acting on his own volition. Indeed, the league has argued in the alternative that Rule 17 constitutes an exclusive device for the Commissioner to determine that an extraordinarily unfair result requires him to take action.

And for good reason. The league office will never concede conclusively any limitation on the Commissioner’s power, reserving at all times the right for him to make any decision he chooses to make, unrestrained and unlimited by any authority other than his own.

As to the Rams-Saints decision, the Commissioner decided to take no action, and the league undoubtedly will fight tooth and nail to defend that position.