The NFL has encountered controversy over its catch rule and the implications of instant replay since the early 1980s.
It wasn't until Calvin Johnson's game-winning touchdown was overturned in 2010, however, that the league's "process of the catch" mechanism began to sew chaos and confusion among fans, players, coaches and even game officials.
Johnson became Patient Zero for a precedent that faced increased scrutiny when the Cowboys' Dez Bryant and the Steelers' Jesse James -- among others -- had big plays overturned in high-profile, nationally televised games. In an effort to simplify a rule that had grown downright labyrinthine, league owners voted unanimously this offseason to remove the "going to the ground" portion of the process.
"It just took them seven years to figure out what we knew on Day 1," Johnson said last weekend, via the Detroit Free Press.
Technological advances have provided networks with high-definition, frame-by-frame replays dissected Zapruder-style and interpreted for the viewing audience in complicated legalese. A replay system initially installed to correct obvious mistakes is now intruding on all major U.S. sports with time-consuming, multi-angle investigations beyond the capabilities of the naked eye.
"I think you (have to take the human element) into account," Johnson added. "Yeah, slow motion can show every bitty frame, but you have to also take into account what actually happened in real time, I feel like. You take it slow mo and that easy catch can turn into, 'Dang, he bobbled it a little bit.'"
The "process of the catch" proviso failed on two major fronts. For starters, it took one of the fundamental acts of the sport and turned it into a burlesque farce. Members of the viewing audience can't be convinced that they witnessed a drop when the player possessed the ball and took multiple steps before it was jarred loose. Secondarily, it's the responsibility of a professional sports league's competition committee to foster rather than eliminate spectacular athletic maneuvers on the field of play.
The acts performed by Johnson and Bryant, in particular, should have been memorialized as historically great, season-shifting moments worthy of a highlight reel. Even casual football fans understood that their actions constituted a catch on any patch of grass outside of an NFL stadium.
Now that the league is recognizing a catch as such, Johnson has a reasonable request:
"They ought to add it to my stat sheet. We knew it was a catch from Day 1."