These days, the controversy over what is and is not a catch seems to flare up every other week. The NFL simply can't seem to get it right, with every new iteration of rules seemingly making things worse. That's been the case for far longer than most people think, though. Back in 2000, in the NFC Championship, the rules as to what was and was not a catch arguably cost the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a place in the Super Bowl.
Sam Gardner talked to then St. Louis Rams receiver Ricky Proehl about the NFC Championship game between the Bucs and Rams. Proehl scored the only touchdown in the entire game, giving the Rams a 11-6 lead with just 4:50 remaining. Shaun King then seemed to set the Bucs up for a good shot at the end zone, but receiver Bert Emanuel let the ball hit the ground while securing the catch. On review, the pass was ruled incomplete, and the Bucs couldn't find a way to get the ball into the end zone.
To this day, there's still doubt as to whether the catch should have counted, and even Proehl admits the call was iffy. The following season, the NFL changed the rule to allow for apparent catches like Emanuel's. But that was of no use to Tampa Bay that night in St. Louis.
"Probably in today's game it probably would have been a catch, but I don't know," Proehl said. "It's so hard to go back and say what-if. It's like Tom Brady -- that's a fumble against the Raiders (in January 2002's "Tuck Rule" game). ... Sometimes I hate the fact that it's even a question. It's like, ‘Hey, just give him the catch and then go from there.' They still had to score a touchdown."
Ah yes. What could have been, way back when the Buccaneers still had a good team. Perhaps Tony Dungy would have stayed in Tampa had it been ruled a catch. Perhaps the Bucs would have beaten the Titans in the Super Bowl. Perhaps they would have started a dynasty.
Okay, that may be a bit much given the Bucs' inability to put together a competent offense for years on end. But that decision was unfortunately one of the biggest moments in Tampa Bay history.