On a Monday night (Nov. 30) in the fourth quarter of a Ravens-Browns football thriller, Kamar Aiken, the Ravens’ stone-crisp wideout, caught a pass from quarterback Matt Schaub and made for the end zone. The defense caught up with Aiken, and as he was forced out of bounds near the two-yard line, Aiken leaped, lunged in mid-air, his right arm outstretched, passing the football above a corner pylon at the goal line; all of Aiken but his right hand, holding the football, was clearly out of bounds – but the ruling was, of course, Touchdown.
The fantasy touchdown is now a matter of routine in football. Ball carriers are allowed to wave the football above an end zone pylon, or a yard marker, no matter where the rest
of them happens to be, and count it as a score, a first down, whatever. In most cases the ball carrier is headed out of bounds, or is airborne and already out of bounds, but manages to wave the ball favorably just before he lands in the bleachers above the photographers’ pen or under the cheerleaders’ coat rack.
THE FANTASY touchdown is an outgrowth of that ubiquitous “imaginary plane” of the goal line which, when imaginarily penetrated by the football, counts for an imaginary
score. There was once a time when ball carriers, at least part of them, actually had to make it into the end zone – with the ball – for a score to count. End zone, schmend zone. Now we leave scoring to the cameras, the playback, and imaginary planes – unless it is a real touchdown, the kind we can actually see.
But wait. Did the ball move? While fleeing that thundering posse of vigilantes, a player may have allowed the ball to move in his hands as he crossed the imaginary plane and
therefore could not have complete, total, swear-on-a-Bible possession of the ball at the time of the imaginary touchdown; this leads us to the official review of the fantasy score.
A digital recording of the event is cyber-mailed to a team of forensic anthropologists in Nepal. These experts will determine whether there is incontrovertible, conclusive evidence that the score is tarnished – or not – incontrovertible, clear, plain-as-day evidence that would overturn or sustain the referees’
ruling, fantasy or otherwise.
Get the picture? The suspense is terrible. The network’s crack broadcast crew examine the replay again and again. They have enlarged a stop-action sequence of the ball carrier’s
upper lip, protruding over his mouth-guard but quivering in the breeze as the player goes airborne. Is that an errant
nose hair tickling the player’s lip? Is he waving the football or stifling a sneeze?
Only time, and the forensic team in Nepal, will tell. That much is incontrovertible.
– JOHN MARSHALL