The Story of the Bert Emanuel Rule

A Guest Post by /u/Thehoodthebadtheugly

The infamous Bert Emmanuel catch. Photo Source: http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2013/1023/nfl_controversialcalls_05.jpg

When you think of great moments from the Super Bowls of the past, you think of historical moments that will forever be ingrained in our memories: The David Tyree catch, Marcus Allen reversing the field on the Skins, Lynn Swann’s juggling catch against the cowboys, and hell, maybe even that time not too long ago where the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25 point lead against the Patriots (one of my personal favorites). Another was Kevin Dyson trying his hardest to channel Mr. Fantastic in SB XXXIV but was stopped just short of the goal line as time expired, allowing the Rams to turn a 23-16 lead into their first, and only Lombardi trophy.

But that’s not what I remember about that season.

The date is January 23rd 2000. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are taking their #1 ranked defense into the Schiano temperature'd, carpeted, blue and yellow shack of a stadium that was the Trans World Dome. Back home in Virginia, my mother is in town, so I am perched on a wooden stool with my elbows on the counter of my great-grandmother’s kitchen watching the NFC Championship game all by myself on an 8 ½” black and white TV with rabbit ears. If that doesn’t date me enough, I am also rocking my Starter brand Mike Alstott jersey and more than likely a pair of completely unlaced, tongue hanging out, floppy Timberland boots (that my father rightfully took away from me for looking like “a damn fool”). I could cap it off by saying I also had the kitchen door open to the living room just enough so that I could see the other TV my mom and great-grandma were watching Titanic on. I may have just turned 12 but I’ll be damned if I was going to miss a chance to see Leo DiCaprio paint Kate Winslett like one of his French girls. But I digress. The Bucs were rolling on what was one of their best seasons to date.

An NFC CENTRAL Division title, an 11-5 record, and the unanimously touted best defense in the league. Brooks, Lynch, Sapp, and the oft forgotten Hardy Nickerson were all in top form that year, each earning an All-Pro and Pro Bowl nod. Much like the Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers 2 years later, this iteration of the team was not sporting the most high-powered offense (Statistically the 5th worst in the league).

Tampa was coming off a 14-13 win in the divisional round against the Redskins where Tampa rallied from a 13-0 first half deficit behind some great defense and 2 Mike Alstott TDs. In the final seconds the Bucs gave Washington a chance to steal the game, allowing them in range of a 52 yard, game-winning field goal. Thankfully, we had a man on the inside. Buccaneers legend, (future) Super Bowl winning QB, and double agent: Brad Johnson. He managed to muff the snap and the field goal was no good, allowing Shaun King to record the first rookie QB led playoff win in over 25 years.

The events that unfolded next are among the most painful to many Bucs fans my age. Some may think of Bo Jackson or the winless season. But for many, the Bert Emanuel catch will forever be the one that got away.”

In the St. Louis Rams, the Buccaneers faced a similarly tough opponent with an even more high powered offense. Kurt Warner, of Amsterdam Admirals and Iowa Barnstormers fame, was taking the “Greatest Show on Turf” around the country and decimating opposing defenses with pin-point passing. At the same time, Marshall Faulk had just racked up a ridiculous 1300 yard rushing/ 1000 yard receiving season. Even so, the Bucs and Rams slugged it out for the first 3 quarters of the game with each team notching a FG in the 1st quarter, followed by Tampa Bay giving up a costly safety in the 2nd, making it a very Bucs-y 3-5 game. After the half, the Bucs came out with their signature move: a promising opening drive capped off by a Martin Gramatica FG...a scenario that was all too familiar for Bucs fans at the time.  

Now in command with a 6-5 lead, the Buccaneers proceed to pick off Warner a total of 3 times, swelling the hopes of all the Bucs faithful, only to let it out like your fat uncle Jeff’s waistband after Thanksgiving dinner when Shaun King threw a pick to Rams CB Dre Bly. This would then set up Kurt Warner to throw a 30 yard bomb in the corner of the end zone to “The Original Gym Rat” Ricky Proehl, leaving the Bucs down 6-11 with 4:44 on the clock.

The events that unfolded next are among the most painful to many Bucs fans my age. Some may think of Bo Jackson or the winless season.

But for many, the Bert Emanuel catch will forever be the one that got away. Or rather, didn’t get away but was taken away, much like my unlaced Timberlands that looked so awesome with my middle-parted Devon Sawa hair, Mike Alstott jersey, and gold chain. 

Despite being sacked multiple times, Shaun King managed to lead Tampa into Rams territory. With under a minute remaining, King threw a 13 yard pass to Bert Emanuel that was caught at the 22 yard line, followed by a quick Dungy timeout, setting up a 3rd & 10. Then, play stopped. Pat Summerall, the play-by-play half of the best booth duo ever, then said “I’m not sure what’s going on, it looks like they might be reviewing something.” Words I will never forget.

In the 1999-2000 season, the rule was such that if the ball touched the ground during a catch, it would be deemed incomplete. Bert Emanuel dove forward, caught the ball with both hands, and brought it to his body. However, when he hit the ground, the nose of the ball was sticking out between his hands and made contact with the turf. The pass was ruled incomplete, the Bucs would lose their chance at a comeback, and their season was over. The Rams would then go to the Super Bowl and again narrowly manage a victory as Titans WR Kevin Dyson lay on the 2 yard line staring at the end zone inches from his outstretched hand.

Then, play stopped. Pat Summerall, the play-by-play half of the best booth duo ever, then said “I’m not sure what’s going on, it looks like they might be reviewing something.” Words I will never forget.”

The rule was changed a few months later before the start of the 2000-2001 season so that had Bert Emanuel made that same catch just a season later, it would have been ruled complete. The “Bert Emanuel Rule” is still the basis of what an NFL catch is today. The Rams went on to make another Super Bowl 2 years later but would fall to a Patriots team lead by some 2nd year back-up named Tom Brady. Of course, The Bucs went on to the Super Bowl the year after that as Cannons were fired across the globe and order was restored to the universe. Although, one cannot help but wonder, what would have happened had Bert Emanuel’s great reception been deemed a catch?

Tony Dungy was fired 2 seasons after that game after consecutive losses to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs. Certainly, one could assume that Dungy would’ve been retained had he just made it to the Super Bowl against the Titans (a team that Tampa Bay matched up very favorably with on paper), let alone if he’d won. The Bucs held the high powered Rams to a mere 11 points while playing on the road. One could assume there would be a similar result in a neutral site game, against a less effective offense, and a statistically worse defense (STL 4th Overall, TEN 15th). After the Super Bowl loss to New England, the Rams would have only one winning season (2 seasons later) in the next 15 years. The Buccaneers, after their Super Bowl victory in San Diego, would go on to have marginally more success (5 winning seasons in the next 15 years). The Rams have won 1 playoff game (2004) in that time span, while the Buccaneers have won none.

The Rams have won 1 playoff game (2004) in that time span, while the Buccaneers have won none.Tampa brought in Jon Gruden in 2002 but jettisoned him after a 2008 season in which he led the team to a 9-7 record. The Glazers then brought in an even younger regime in Raheem Morris, who would go on to coddle our players to 1 good season sandwiched between 2 bad ones, whilst letting Kellen Winslow & Co eat cheeseburgers at practice. Dungy went on to lead the Colts to 9 straight playoff appearances and a Championship. Clearly, Tony Dungy was still in the prime of his career. One could make the argument that Gruden inherited Dungy’s team the year he took them to the Super Bowl and that given the chance, Dungy would’ve done the same. A lot of speculation but definitely some interesting food for thought.

I am fairly certain that if Tampa had played Tennessee in Super Bowl XXVII, they would have won.”

In closing, here is what I do know for sure. I know for a fact that Bert Emanuel caught that mother*cking ball, even by the standards of what a catch was in 2000. I don’t know that Shaun King would’ve gotten us in the end zone after that catch to win the game but I know Tampa deserved the opportunity. I am fairly certain that if Tampa had played Tennessee in Super Bowl XXVII, they would have won. And I know that if they had won or even gone to that game, they wouldn’t have fired Dungy, especially after 2 more winning seasons. What happens after that isn’t clear to anyone.

Does Dungy beat the Eagles and Raiders in amazing fashion? Does the team draft Josh Freeman and then let Greg Schiano eviscerate his career like a scorned 7th grade girlfriend? Does Greg Schiano ever step foot in 1 Buc Place???? We will never know the answers to these questions but I do know that all roads have lead us here. I know that we have a franchise Quarterback for the first time ever. I know that we have a top tier WR, a rapidly improving young defense, and the right front office and coaching staff to set this team up for success for years to come. And by God I know that I looked awesome in those unlaced floppy Timberlands.