When Vince Dooley says he feels your pain, he really feels your pain. He didn’t just sit in Sanford Stadium — by the way, isn’t it high time the thing became Sanford-Dooley Stadium? — and watch Georgia lose to LSU in excruciating fashion Saturday; he sat there knowing a rule he championed helped make it so.
Then Georgia’s athletics director, Vincent J. Dooley was chairman of the NCAA rules committee when it moved in 1995 to make “excessive celebration” a 15-yard penalty. Let the record reflect that Mr. Dooley wasn’t a disinterested party: He lobbied for the rule and defends it to this day. Yes, even after Saturday.
“Sportsmanship had gotten so bad [in the '90s] that we spent one whole year without passing a rule [pertaining to anything else],” Dooley said Monday. “There’s no question it’s a good rule. Guys were watching [NFL players] on Sunday, and the whole thing had gotten choreographed. And everybody was trying to one-up somebody. The whole thing was turning into a circus.”
Brief review: Georgia’s A.J. Green made an outrageous touchdown catch with 1:09 remaining Saturday to give Georgia a 13-12 lead over the nation’s No. 4 team. In his glee, Green was determined by officials to have made a gesture to call attention to himself, which isn’t allowed. (Celebrating with one’s teammates is permitted.)
The resulting 15-yard penalty forced Georgia to kick off from its 15, and LSU’s Trindon Holliday returned the kickoff 40 yards. Coupled with a five-yard penalty on the Bulldogs for illegal procedure — they were misaligned on the kickoff — LSU took possession at the Georgia 38. Two plays later, Charles Scott broke three tackles to put LSU ahead, whereupon Scott was penalized for excessive celebration.
Dooley hasn’t seen the tape of the final minutes. Watching it live, he saw Green do nothing untoward. “I’ve heard CBS [which aired the game] didn’t have anything, either,” he said. “I’ve also heard that WSB had a better shot of it.”
After reviewing the CBS tape, SEC director of officiating Rogers Redding said Monday: “We concluded the video did not support the call.”
Speaking before Redding’s admission, Dooley said: “It was unfortunate. All these rules are judgment calls, and there needs to be constant vigilance to try to get consistency between the conferences. Holding is a classic example, and so is pass interference. But the rules are good … Occasionally there comes a case where there’s controversy over a rule, but what are you going to do, throw out the rule? Are you going to say, ‘OK, we’ll just let everybody hold.’ ”
There was a third penalty for excessive celebration in the game: Georgia tight end Orson Charles waved his hand after a catch. Said Dooley, who had seen the tape of that play: “That was absolutely the right call. He broke away [from his teammates] and did what he did … You can have celebration, but it has to be a team celebration.”
Let the record also reflect that Mr. Dooley has felt the sting himself. On Labor Day night in 1985, Terrie Webster blocked an Alabama punt and Calvin Ruff recovered it for the go-ahead touchdown with 50 seconds to play at Sanford Stadium. Vince Dooley’s team was penalized 15 yards for spilling onto the field — there was no such parlance as “excessive celebration” then — and had to kick off from its 25. (Kickoffs were normally from the 40.)
Alabama took possession at its 29. Mike Shula moved the Tide 71 yards to the winning touchdown, completing four passes in 35 seconds.
Dooley: “It made me mad. Not because we were penalized; because I didn’t keep our guys off the field. And then Shula defied the odds. And [a similar penalty] almost cost us against Florida [in 1980] after Lindsay Scott scored. But we held on.”
Vince’s verdict on the attempt to curtail celebration: “It’s good for college football, even though there were times when it hurt me … But I can defend it when people say, ‘It’s a stupid rule.’ “