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Remembering a controversial Seahawks win that sparked an NFL rule change

Ricky Watters #32

This week, we’re celebrating some of our favorite random plays and obscure moments in NFL history — those that WE will never forget, even if others have. Welcome to “Who Remembers?” Week at SB Nation NFL.

This upcoming NFL season will mark the first time in league history that pass interference will be reviewable by replay officials. One of the catalysts for this is obviously what happened in the NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints.

It’s hardly the first time a specific play or game (or set of plays or games) has prompted a rule change the following offseason. For example, in 1998 the Seattle Seahawks lost a critical game to the New York Jets when Vinny Testaverde was ruled to have scrambled his way for a game-winning touchdown. Television replays showed that he hadn’t actually crossed midfield, but football is a game of inches and referees are human beings. The NFL didn’t have instant replay review at the time, but did implement the system the following year, after Dennis Erickson had already been canned.

On that note, here’s a story about an incredibly unlikely Seahawks win that helped strike an obscure rule off the books forever.

In Week 16 of the 2000 season, Mike Holmgren’s team was a dismal 5-9, unable to build off of winning the AFC West title in 1999. It’s rumored (by me) that the defense was so terrible that the NFL briefly considered allowing the Seahawks to field up to 15 men without penalty. On a horrendously dreary and rainy Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium, the Seahawks were significant underdogs against the 11-3 Oakland Raiders, who were chasing the Tennessee Titans for the #1 seed in the AFC. This was a nationally televised game on CBS, with the late, great Dick Enberg almost certainly wondering which executive he pissed off to get assigned to such crap.

Despite a spirited Seahawks effort, the game had gone mostly according to script. Oakland was up 24-13 in the 4th quarter when the Seahawks made their unexpected and dramatic comeback. A Shaun Alexander touchdown cut the deficit to 24-19, and the offense would get the ball back just a few plays later.

Then shit got crazy.

Ricky Watters burst through the Raiders defense on his way to a 53-yard gain deep into Oakland territory, only to be stripped of the ball by Charles Woodson. Raiders S Marquez Pope fell on the ball at his own 1-yard line, his momentum carried him into the end zone, where he was touched by a Seahawk. Still, possession was Oakland’s with just 2:24 to go.

Until it wasn’t.

Head official Bernie Kukar and other officials huddled together, and soon after he announced to the crowd that the Seahawks had actually scored a safety. At the time, the spotting of fumble recoveries was officiated completely differently than interceptions.

From the Kitsap Sun:

Rule 11, Section 4, Article 1 of the official NFL Rule Book, according to referee Bernie Kukar, only applies to fumbles. If a defender’s momentum carries him into the end zone on an interception, it is ruled a touchback. On fumbles, the player must make an attempt to get out of the end zone if he gains possession of the ball in the field of play.

”In effect, what this amounts to is a player carrying the ball into his own end zone,” Kukar said. “We were looking (at the replay) to see if (Pope) was touched down by contact, which he was not. And he made no attempt to get out of the end zone. Therefore, it is a safety. That’s the only thing we can do with it.”

“What in the Spider 2 Y Banana is going on?” Jon Gruden may or may not have exclaimed to the officials.

So instead of the Raiders leading 24-19 and needing just a couple of first-downs to escape with a road win, the Seahawks got the ball back down just 24-21. In what was his final win as a Seahawk, Jon Kitna marched down the field for the go-ahead touchdown pass, finding a wide open Darrell Jackson with :28 to go.

Even with all the empty seats and miserable weather, you could hear how loud the crowd sounded when Seattle took the lead, which is astonishing considering the Seahawks apparently didn’t have any fans until 2012. Must have been pumped in audio from the future.

Anyway, Seattle proceeded to botch the extra point, boot the kickoff out of bounds, and commit a personal foul penalty on the second play of Oakland’s drive. The Raiders were in Seahawks territory with hardly any time burned off the clock, but they failed to take advantage of Seattle’s self-destruction.

Rich Gannon’s pass was tipped and intercepted by Willie Williams, preserving a stunning upset for a Seahawks team that had been waxed 31-3 in the previous meeting in Oakland. Fittingly, there were only 12 seconds left when Williams was down by contact.

Thanks to this game and a similar incident in another game earlier in the season, the NFL did away with the “fumble momentum” rule in the 2001-02 season. Hey, it’s hardly the first time the Raiders have been involved in a crazy fumble play that caused the league to amend the rules.

...And while the Raiders’ loss to the Seahawks ultimately didn’t affect their final seeding, they dealt with something a hell of a lot worse the ensuing year. The Tuck Rule didn’t even get repealed until 2013.

On that note, Seahawks storytime is over. If you have any memories — the more obscure or lost in the history books, the better! — of Seahawks football that you’d like to share, reminisce in the comments section.