The rule, in the words of the NFL rule book, reads:
“If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete. “
It seems relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things, maybe even a little bit over-explained, but there is nothing simple about this rule.
If a player catches the ball with two feet inbound, then falls out of bounds and the ball is jarred free after he falls down out of bounds, it’s not a catch. A receiver literally has to hold onto the ball until he stands up for there to be no question of a reception.
And yet, another rule states that the ground cannot cause a fumble. So if a receiver has possession of the ball and falls, and the ground jars it free, it’s not a fumble.
These rules seem slightly contradictory, and add to the idiocy of the possession rule.
The most notable occurrence where this rule was spotlighted as dumb and unnecessary was when Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson seemingly caught a touchdown pass to secure a victory against rival Chicago Bears. Johnson made the catch, was contacted, hit the ground in the end zone, then gave up possession of the ball.
It was originally ruled a touchdown. Then, from the corner, a whistle-blowing zebra came galloping in, blowing it incomplete. He clearly studied the rule down the the last punctuation mark.
There are many questionable rules in the NFL and many more questionable calls, but the aptly named ‘Calvin Johnson Rule’ is the worst rule in any sport known to man. It is contradictory to other rules, and is senseless in and of itself. There is no benefit to the rule, and there is no foreseeable situation where someone may think “Gee, I’m so glad that the NFL implemented the Calvin Johnson rule,” unless it unfairly benefits their team.
In all likelihood, the rule is here to stay, but we can only hope the NFL begs to differ and does away with it before more silly situations are played out.