Friday Flashback: Phantom Mel Gray Catch Resulted in Lawsuits, Senators Questioning Pete Rozelle


The furor over the ending of the New Orleans-Los Angeles game is continuing five days later. There have been threats of lawsuits. There have been calls for a replay of the game. And yes, even with a government shutdown, priorities still dictate that the politicians will get involved.

It is clear that the call was missed. The NFL just today fined Nickell Robey-Coleman for the helmet-to-helmet hit that was also uncalled.

But lest you think that this outcry, and politicians getting involved, is a modern occurrence, let’s flashback to 1975, when a controversial call in a key game involving Washington led to a huge outcry.

Here’s the play, from November 16, 1975, in a game involving the St. Louis Cardinals. Both the Cardinals and Washington entered at 6-2, with the winner taking the lead in the division. The Cardinals faced a fourth down with a few seconds remaining, down by 7, when this happened:

Here’s the New York Times’ explanation of what was ruled that day, where Mel Gray was awarded a touchdown and the Cardinals won in overtime.

By the end of the week, Senators Warren Magnuson (D-Washington) and Glenn Beall (R-Maryland) had called a hearing making Commissioner Pete Rozelle appear and answer for the “Great Robbery.”

Now, it should be noted that this hearing happened during an era when the NFL was being challenged on its blackout policy by politicians, a stance the NFL maintained until forced to abandon. I recapped some of the history of the Blackout Rule here. Senator Magnuson was a frequent thorn in the side of Rozelle and was certainly eager to bring him to task for a bad call here.

Not only did it draw politicians, but it drew lawyers (who happened to be fans). Here’s a recap of a lawsuit filed (it was dismissed) seeking to delay the NFL from scheduling the playoffs (as it turned out, St. Louis won the division, Dallas finished as the wildcard, and Washington missed the playoffs).

And yes, I had to include an image of the ad on that newspaper. Some things have changed, but others–namely, that there will be lawyers and politicians involved in controversial outcomes–have not.