Saints TE Jimmy Graham can’t get around NFL dunk ban with finger-rolls, layups, ref says

Associated Press photo by Chris TilleySaints tight end Jimmy Graham dunks the ball over the goal post after scoring a touchdown during Saturday's scrimmage.
Associated Press photo by Chris TilleySaints tight end Jimmy Graham dunks the ball over the goal post after scoring a touchdown during Saturday's scrimmage.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va — All-Pro Saints tight end Jimmy Graham won’t be able to get around the NFL’s ban on dunking this upcoming season by finger-rolling or shooting the ball over the field goal’s crossbar.

It will all constitute using the ball as a prop illegally and draw a flag for a 15-yard penalty, NFL referee Gene Steratore said Saturday morning during a media briefing at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.

“That was the question I had yesterday — look, if it’s a clean dunk or a finger roll, I mean, come on,” Steratore said. “But no — (that’s a) prop. We just have to go prop.”

Steratore joked that he’d rather not penalize a player who could dunk the ball over the crossbar without touching it while wearing full football equipment.

“I’d have to cheer you for that,” Steratore said. “But we can’t. We have to start drawing the line.”

Word that the NFL was banning the post-touchdown dunk over the crossbar by making it a point of emphasis to penalize that under existing unsportsmanlike regulations was reviled in New Orleans. Graham — who played basketball in college — made it a tradition to perform the celebration after each of his 44 career TD grabs, including the playoffs.

The initial reasoning the NFL touted involved this season’s approval of taller uprights, which would supposedly be more easily knocked askew if the goal was dunked on and could cause drawn-out delays. Even with the shorter uprights, Graham had caused a minimal delay by dunking the ball over the crossbar after a touchdown in a win at Atlanta in November and knocking the goal off frame.

However, in an official NFL presentation of rules changes on Saturday, that justification was not cited. The video instead said the emphasis of penalizing post-touchdown dunks was to minimize the potential of ill will that could create between opponents.

“It’s a little two-folded,” Steratore said when asked about the omission of the original justification. “If there’s any actions that are provoking or feel like they are demeaning to an opponent, then that’s our obligation I think to the (NFL) shield to keep it out.”

Preparing to officate the Saints’ intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, Steratore said he teased New Orleans’ star tight end that it one day may mean something special to him that he inspired the dunk ban that will go down in history as “the Jimmy Graham rule.”

Graham later caught a touchdown pass in the scrimmage. He couldn’t resist charging the field goal and dunking the ball over the crossbar.

Amidst raucous cheers and applause, he was flagged.