During the 1979 AFC championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Oilers, there was an infamous play. The moment — known as the ”Mike Renfro No Touchdown Catch,” — ended up becoming a strong symbol of a problem that had been plaguing the NFL for years.
With a minute and a half left in the third quarter, the Oilers were six yards away from paydirt and a chance to tie the game. Quarterback Dan Pastorini lobbed a fade into the right corner of the end zone that wide receiver Mike Renfro caught for the touchdown. However, rather than call the touchdown, the referees gathered at the back of the end zone to discuss what they had seen. After a few minutes of discussion, the play was ruled an incomplete pass.
Renfro started jumping around and yelling in frustration.
As soon as the network showed the first slow-motion replay, it was clear that Renfro had caught the ball and gotten both feet down in bounds. In the words of the late great color commentator Merlin Olsen, there was, “no question about it.”
Play-by-play man Dick Enberg when on to say, “It is a touchdown. It was not called one, but there is no doubt. That was a Houston touchdown.”
The Oilers settled for a field goal. Pittsburgh would go on to win the game, and then Super Bowl XIV — their fourth in six years.
Eventually, the play ended up becoming one of the reasons cited reasons for the NFL to eventually adopt the use of instant replay technology that is so much a part of the game today.
Probably the most frustrating part of any such play is this: There is no way to know what might have happened had the play been called correctly — and therein lies the heart of the matter. In a perfect world, plays would be called correctly and there would never be the “what if” wondering that inevitably comes after an egregiously missed call.
Is it time for an expansion?
Obviously Chris Jones must magically levitate into another galaxy here. Good God. pic.twitter.com/fO0hMtcaeh— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) October 11, 2022
We all witnessed Chris Jones’ roughing-the-passer call in the game last night. What do you think?
After the game, referee Carl Cheffers tried to explain the rule, which states that a defender cannot land on the quarterback with his full body weight.
Of course, Jones had a different take.
“What am I going to go up to them and say, ‘How should I tackle? How should I not roll on them?’” said Jones on Monday night. “I am trying my best. I am 325 pounds, OK…I’m running full speed trying to get the quarterback. I hit the ball, what do you want me to do? I brace my hands, so I think it’s taking initiative to extend to look at roughing the passers now as a league. You know like they did pass interference a couple years back where we can view the pass interference. I think that’s now the next level we’re going to have to take as a league for all these roughing the passers.”
Jones went on to make the case that such calls should be reviewable by instant replay.
So what happens next?
Is Jones right? Should the league during next year's offseason consider expanding replay to include calls such as we saw last night?
Last night’s call ultimately did not cost the Chiefs the game — but at some point, whether it is later in the season, during the playoffs or maybe even in the Super Bowl, another similar play may cost a team a victory. The NFL would be forced into adopting an expansion of replay to include the review of certain high-impact controversial calls.
At the very least, we can hope that high-level discussions are already underway.