Week In Sports Reviewed
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
The National Football League issued an unusual ruling today. It's meant to remedy a problem that Vince Lombardi could never have imagined. The NFL proclaimed that if a punt strikes a giant video screen above the field, it's a do-over. The decision was necessitated by an unusual turn of events at the Dallas Cowboys' new billion-dollar stadium last weekend.
And here to talk about that and other football news is our regular sports commentator and sometime placekicker Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: First, tell us about what happened during that pre-season game in Dallas.
FATSIS: Well, it was the first game in the Cowboys' new, over-the-top stadium. They've got a wine bar, art installations and the world's biggest HDTV, which stretches from one 20-yard line to the other, and it's suspended 30 yards above the playing field. The thing cost $40 million.
Now, punters were pegging the thing in practice, and then Tennessee Titans rookie A.J. Trepasso did it during the game. And after some confusion, the Titans were told to kick again. Now, there were 12 other punts, none of which reached the screen, but Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones called Trepasso's actions deliberate. He said there was no need to raise the TV screen after the fact, and the league's competition committee investigated this and ruled that if a kick hits the board, it'll simply be re-taken. The league did say, however, that the rule applies only for this season.
SIEGEL: But apart from whether it was deliberate or not, 30 yards, 90 feet in the air, is that a height that only an NFL punter could reach? Could a high school kicker - when you were being a place-kicker for your book - could you have kicked the ball 90 feet high?
FATSIS: I could not have kicked the ball 90 feet high, but every NFL punter has the leg strength to kick it that high. And every NFL punter also has the accuracy to avoid kicking the screen, but that's not the point. Teams shouldn't have to adjust their kicking strategy to accommodate an obstacle hovering over the field. I mean, this isn't miniature golf, Robert.
SIEGEL: Well, the alternative would've been for the NFL to say, we have to raise this gigantic television in the middle of the stadium a few yards higher. Would that have been the big dig of football stadium renovation, or could it have been done?
FATSIS: I think it would've cost Jerry Jones some money, reportedly upwards of $2 million to do that. And I'm sure that neither Jones nor the NFL wanted to pay it. And Jones, who has sued the NFL in the past, probably noted more than once this week, in talking to league officials, that the league approved a height of 85 feet for this TV, and he put it at 90 feet. In this economy, Jones hasn't even sold naming rights for the building for this new stadium. He certainly doesn't need or want any additional costs.
The larger question is should this thing ever be there at all? And I think Jerry sweet-talked the league into allowing technology to trump the sport. They did have punters kick the ball up high and see how high it could get, but apparently, they didn't believe it when they were kicking them 100 feet in the air.
SIEGEL: Why did Jerry Jones put that enormous television in there? Is it to guarantee that there's some virtue in going to the game instead of watching it on your own 80-inch screen at home?
(Soundbite of laughter)
FATSIS: Because Jerry Jones is all about the biggest and the most expensive. This is a revenue stream for him. I mean, they're spending upwards of $1.2 billion to build this stadium. He needs every last dollar he can generate from it, and you can put a lot of ads on that screen, and that's important to the future functioning of the stadium.
SIEGEL: Okay, from owners and stadiums to players. Last night, quarterback Michael Vick played in his first NFL game, a pre-season game, since he served 18 months in prison for his role in a dog-fighting operation. How did it go?
FATSIS: It was pretty quiet. Vick was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. His first game was at home. There were just a few protesters and a few supporters outside Lincoln Financial Field. Vick went on the field for the Eagles' second offensive play of the game. He participated in six plays altogether. He completed all four of his passes, rushed for one yard and then sat down on the bench.
Now, he can play in the team's final pre-season game, which is next Thursday, against the New York Jets up in New Jersey, where his reception should be a little bit more vocal, and then we'll have to wait for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to decide when Michael Vick can play in the regular season.
SIEGEL: Okay, Stefan, thanks. Have a great weekend.
FATSIS: You, too, Robert.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis, who's the author, by the way, of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL." He joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.