After dunk ban, NFL approves taller field-goal uprights

ORLANDO, Fla. — After it was revealed the NFL would outlaw dunking a football over the crossbar of a field goal, the league on Wednesday announced it approved a proposal to increase the height of the uprights by five feet.

The higher uprights are meant to make good/no good rulings easier on field goal attempts that previously would have sailed right over the uprights. The New England Patriots were the team that formally suggested making them taller, and that was green-lighted at the annual league owners meeting in Orlando.

It seemed things were headed toward such a rule change a day earlier when the NFL’s vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, told “The Dan Patrick Show” that the league would penalize any players who dunk the ball over the crossbar.

Conventional thinking around the hotel hosting the owners meetings was that taller uprights would be heavier and easier to knock askew with a dunk, resulting in delays to fix them.

Rich McKay, the NFL’s competition committee chairman and president of the Atlanta Falcons, touted that justification at a news conference where the extended uprights and the dunk ban were discussed.

“The reasoning behind it is disruption to the game and the inability to, in some stadiums, even be able to correct the goalposts themselves because of the way they’re put in the sleeves — that if you get them off angle, they’re not coming back during that time,” McKay said. “It creates a little bit of a problem where the kicker is going to kick.”

Whatever the NFL’s reasoning is, it will be widely rejected in New Orleans.

Saints All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham famously made it a tradition to perform dunks over the crossbar on virtually all of his 44 career touchdown grabs (including the playoffs). Fans have even been known to call the former college basketball player’s dunk maneuver “the Graham Slam.”

However, after one score, Graham knocked the crossbar and goal-posts askew and caused a slight delay during a Saints win at Atlanta on Nov. 21. McKay was in attendance.

Even at the time, before taller uprights became a known possibility, it felt that the inevitable conclusion would be Tuesday’s revelation that the celebration would be illegal in future NFL seasons.

It was the second time Graham had made the crossbar in that end zone lean to one side after a dunk. He did the same thing on a two-handed jam following a TD in 2011.

Graham nonetheless didn’t care too much for the rule. He reacted defiantly to the news, saying via Twitter on Tuesday: “I guess I’ll have to lead the @nfl in penalties next year! #funpolice.”

He also attached an action picture of himself elevating to dunk the ball over a crossbar at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — a superimposed image of a referee was positioned in front of him as if to block it.

More than 2,000 people retweeted Graham’s message and photo within 20 minutes of his posting them. He later deleted the tweet but subsequently reposted it.

Graham wasn’t the only one perturbed at what Blandino said. Former Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who recently retired but also used to punctuate scores by dunking the ball over the crossbar, wasn’t too impressed either with what he heard about the league’s stance on his old celebration.

“This one I don’t understand,” Gonzalez wrote on Twitter. “Looks like I got out just in time.”

Banning dunks will not be a new rule, Blandino explained Tuesday. Officials will just make it a point to enforce an existing regulation prohibiting the use of the ball as a prop for celebrations.

“Using the ball as a prop or any object as a prop, whether that’s the goal post, the crossbar, that ... will be a foul next season,” Blandino told the Patrick show, according to NFL.com.

There are exceptions to the prop celebration rule, such as the Lambeau Leap, which was “grandfathered in,” Blandino said.

But the dunk is not one of those exceptions any more.

“When we (adopted) the rules about props ... we had some issues with some things that were going on on the field when it comes to sportsmanship,” McKay said Wednesday. “We said the Lambeau Leap, ‘Hey, you could do this,’ because they were traditional things. I don’t think we ever contemplated the goalposts would be thrown off kilter and there would be a 20-minute delay of the game as they try to right them.”

McKay continued, “When you add five feet to the top and make them even heavier, I think we were concerned about how it would impact the game from a competitive standpoint.”

Saints fans will remember that another New Orleans player was responsible for one of the incidents that preceded the rule prohibiting props in TD celebrations: ex-receiver Joe Horn, who carried out an infamous celebration involving a cell phone in 2003.

A note on another change

In other rules-related news on Wednesday, the NFL announced it would experiment with pushing the line of scrimmage back to the 20 on extra points for the first two games of the 2014 preseason. That modification was also pitched by New England ahead of the owners meeting, and it was conceived as a way to make extra points more challenging.