Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

ALBANY -- The game is over. The champagne has already been popped and sprayed. There was even a parade Monday to celebrate the Albany Panthers' 2011 SIFL Championship.

Yet there is one whopper of an issue from that game which remains unresolved.

Five days later, there's still plenty of talk about the drop-kick controversy that nearly marred an otherwise thrilling title game at the Albany Civic Center between the Panthers and Louisiana Swashbucklers on Saturday night.

And there's also still plenty of folks asking, "What if?" -- namely the Panthers.

"What if those three points taken away by the officials cost us the game? That's the one thing we dreaded. Immediately after it happened, we were like, 'Wow ... what if we end up losing by two or by three points?' " Panthers coach Lucious Davis told The Herald on Tuesday after his team's 69-48 on Saturday win to clinch the franchise's first arena league title. "That was definitely on our minds when the ruling came down. My guys were mad and the fans booed, but after that, we really started playing (harder than ever). It was almost like it motivated us even more because we weren't about to let them take the championship away from us like that.

"I just told my team, 'Don't worry about it. Go out there and play. We've got this.' "

And they did.

The Panthers outscored the Bucs, 48-21, the rest of the way and never looked back en route to the city of Albany's first professional football title in seven seasons of playing host to an indoor team (South Georgia Wildcats 2005-09 and Panthers 2010-11).

But for those still curious about what transpired shortly after halftime Saturday -- and the events that led to the bizarre incident that has since made national headlines -- Davis and Panthers GM Will Carter did their best to explain the situation, from start to finish, in the aftermath of an occurrence that both men agree they've never seen anything like in all their years in football. At any level.

For the record, neither Davis or Carter liked the ruling, but say now it was "technically" the correct one. As for the SIFL, no one from the league was available for comment after the game Saturday, and emails to the SIFL's commissioner Gary Tufford and its supervisor of officials Dan Blum garnered no response this week.

But on Thursday, Thom Hager, the president of the league and owner of the Swashbucklers, made sure the SIFL was heard.

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'WAIT ... THE OFFICIALS WANT TO DO WHAT?'

When the Panthers emerged from the locker room after halftime, they thought they trailed, 27-24, and Louisiana would be getting the ball first.

One of those two was true.

"We usually come out with about five or six minutes left before the end of halftime to warm up, but after we ran onto the field, Will walked over to me and told me the officials wanted to meet with both head coaches. Will said, 'They're talking about taking points off the board,' " Davis recalled. "And I said, 'Wait ... the officials want to do what?'"

As it turns out -- per a ruling directly from Blum, who didn't attend the league championship game, but rather made the ruling via a telephone call to head official Gregory Edwards after getting score updates from the game on the SIFL's Twitter feed -- Panthers kicker Geoff Boyer's three first-half drop-kicks he made on extra points were now being ruled to be worth only one point, rather than two.

It was a ruling that flabbergasted the Panthers for two very simple reasons:

1. Albany had been awarded two points on PAT drop-kicks in the regular-season finale against the Alabama Hammers, as well as in the semifinal round of the playoffs against the Columbus Lions.

2. In both games, neither opposing head coach objected to Albany being given two points on a PAT -- meaning the opposing coaches apparently were also aware of the rule -- plus the officiating crew for Saturday's title game was the same one that worked the playoff game against the Lions and awarded extra points on drop-kicks.

According to Davis and Carter, several minutes of objection ensued over the ruling, followed by questions to Edwards to clarify why exactly the points were being taken off.

When The Herald asked Davis what Edwards' reasoning was for the ruling, the coach explained: "(Edwards) said that at halftime, they got a call from Blum, who told them to take three points off the board because the SIFL rule book says the drop-kick is worth four points, instead of three, on a field goal, but says nothing about it being worth two points, instead of one, on a point-after attempt. So I said, 'But you guys were in Columbus last week and you gave us two points each time, and now they're being taken off?' And the official said, 'I hear ya coach, I really do. And you're right -- we did award you two points then -- but I'm being told to take them off by the head of our officials, so that's what I've got to do.' "

Hager said Thursday that the ruling never even should've had to take place, calling the whole thing a "simple misunderstanding."

"I was one of the people who helped write the rule book, and I knew we had a drop-kick rule in the book, but I didn't know it applied to the PAT -- which, of course, it didn't (after checking), according to the rules," he said. "So when Albany scored its first touchdown and drop-kicked the PAT I was like, wow, that's interesting how they did that. And I really admired Lucious for figuring something like that and using it to his advantage. So as I'm texting scores back on a group list, that included Gary Tufford and Dan Blum, I get a text back from Blum after the second Panthers touchdown and Dan's text says, 'What do you mean they're getting two points on PATs? That's not right. Tell the white hats (officials) to call me at halftime.' "

Understandably, Hager knew that whatever the ruling was would put him in an awkward position as both the owner of a team in the championship game -- that could benefit from such a call -- and president over the entire league.

"It put me in a very bad position, honestly," said Hager, who previously told The Herald for a story in Saturday's preview edition that he had sold the Swashbucklers prior to the title game and would be relinquishing control of the team August 1, calling it a "conflict of interest" to wear both hats. "But as Dan kept saying, 'We have to follow the rule book, Thom. Just because we screwed up the rule book before, we're going to continue playing that way?'

"Now as a president, I can make a decision if I want to (about a league matter), but I didn't think (it was fair to intervene) seeing as how I was stuck in the middle. So I let Dan make the call, and the call was we had to follow the rule book."

Moments later, and as the final seconds ticked off the clock to signal the start of the third quarter, the public address announcer explained on the loudspeaker why the scoreboard operator was suddenly adjusting the score of the game from a 27-24 Swashbucklers lead to 27-21.

A chorus of boos ensued.

"They heard the explanation, but they didn't like it. The fans were (upset). I was (upset). Coach Davis was (upset)," Carter said. "I mean, taking points off the board at halftime of a championship game? Really? How does that even happen?"

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SIFL COMMISSIONER SAYS POINTS STAY; SIFL HEAD OF OFFICIALS DISAGREES

Carter said he "respected" the officials for being straight forward in their explanation and he understood they were simply "carrying out an order from their boss."

But that didn't mean the second-year Panthers GM was going to take the ruling lying down. Carter said he immediately called commissioner Tufford's cell phone and asked for clarity on the ruling.

(Tufford, by the way, was also not at the game. Hager was the lone SIFL representative in Albany that night, and he was also there as the Bucs' owner.)

"The second half was just about to start when I got ahold of Gary -- and he actually agreed with us. He said the kicks should be worth two points and he said the points should be put back on the board," Carter said. "So that scene where you saw me run onto the field with the telephone? Well, that was me handing the phone to (head official Gregory Edwards) telling him I had Gary Tufford on the phone and he was saying the points should count. It might've looked really bad (me running onto the field like that), but I was just standing up for my team. If anything, they should've left the points on the board and then told us, 'Hey, you can't use the drop-kick any more for an extra point on PATs.' And we would've (complied the rest of the game).' "

But Carter said he was rebuffed once again by Edwards, who explained that it was not the commissioner's call, it was Blum's as the head of officials. And because Blum was his direct boss, the points would stay off.

"It was crazy, man. One minute they're telling us the points are off, then Will tells me the commissioner says to put them back on -- so I'm thinking we're getting them back -- and then we find out they're definitely not coming back. It was real confusing," Davis said. "I mean, all we could do from there was go back out on the field and play."

Hager agreed with Edwards that it wasn't Tufford's call to make, which is why the league stuck with Blum's decision.

"On one hand, Gary is telling me he thinks that we have to stick with the precedent that we (as the league) set and we have to continue to play as we've already ruled," Hager said. "But the fact was, it wasn't his ruling to make, it was Dan's. And Dan made the right one."

As play resumed, Carter said he returned to his section of the stands down by the field and called Blum once again to ask the one question he thought was as important as any for the league's head of officiating.

"I asked him (point blank), 'Do you watch film of every game, every week?' Carter said. "And he told me, 'Yes I watch film.'

"So then I asked, 'Then how did you miss this? We've done it two of our last three games and (The Albany Herald) even did a big story two weeks ago about it; about how it was a new weapon that our offense had and how Geoff was the first kicker in the SIFL to successfully complete the kick all year. How did you guys not see (us do this) before tonight?' "

Carter said Blum's response was direct: "He said, 'I just missed it.' "

Carter's reaction to that was: "I don't think he watched the film at all. Here we've got a guy (in our kicker Geoff Boyer) doing something you hardly ever see at any level of football anymore -- because it's really hard to do -- and you're telling me you didn't see that? You didn't realize it wasn't legal until halftime of the championship game? Come on, man."

Carter was furious, and expressed as much when he then went to speak with Hager.

"I understand Will's frustration, I do. I told him that when he asked me, 'Well, why wasn't this caught before and how can you change this in the middle of a game?'" Hager recalled. "But that was the rule, and like I said before, just because we screwed up the rule book before, we're not going to keep playing that way (once we caught the mistake)."

The Panthers' football team, meanwhile, was angry, annoyed and fired up beyond belief as the focus went off the ruling and back on the field. Albany stopped Louisiana on its first drive out of the locker room and forced the Swashbucklers to attempt a field goal, which they missed. The Panthers then charged right down the field and scored a go-ahead touchdown.

This time, however, Albany went for two -- the old fashioned way -- to go ahead, 29-27, and never look back.

"That felt good," Davis admitted. "It showed me my guys were tough and their psyche wasn't gonna be messed with."

Hager said he knew his team was in trouble at that point after seeing the veracity with which the Panthers were playing with. He said he admired Davis even more after he saw the Panthers coach shake off the ruling.

"My hat's off to Lucious Davis for just taking the ruling in stride and never losing focus. He handled it like a true professional," Hager said. "And hats off to everyone involved. Hats off to Dan Blum for catching the mistake. Hats off to the white hats for taking it on the chin (from the crowd) when they had to announce that ruling. Hats off to Lucious for how he handled it. Hats off to Will Carter for understanding the ruling and moving on, even if he didn't like it, which, again, I understand. And hats off to (Panthers owner) Rod Chappell, who actually came up to me afterward and told me it was the right call. Rod said, 'A mistake doesn't set a precedent that we should follow.'

"And he's right."

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CONTRITION, OMISSION AND NATIONAL RECOGNITION

The Herald's initial story last Saturday on the drop-kick debacle made national headlines shortly thereafter, appearing on the popular, topical sports website, Deadspin.com, among others. Deadspin is known for breaking some of sports' biggest scandals (see Brett Favre sexting) and making light of some of the more embarrassing moments in the lives and careers of athletes and the organizations they represent.

Deadspin's headline Sunday morning read: "Minor Football League Cannot Remember Its Own Quirks, Takes Away Points at Championship Halftime."

Jack Dickey, the author of the post, wrote: "Not too many people know about the drop kick rule in pro football -- it's one of those things Bill Belichick ordered Doug Flutie to do so that the Patriots might rub the league's nose in it. Essentially, one can punt the ball through the uprights for an extra point or field goal. But modern offenses now have no use for a sneak-attack field goal.

But arena football, which employs a bag of tricks to keep its game Exciting and Explosive and plenty of other adjectives you'd see on a local television commercial, gives two points for a drop-kick extra point, and four for a drop-kick field goal. Except when it doesn't, like in, oh, say, the Southern Indoor Football League's championship game."

Meanwhile, back home in Southwest Georgia, some of the 7,000-plus fans who attended Saturday night's title game at the Albany Civic Center -- and who witnessed the drop-kick debacle first hand -- are probably wondering something about Albany's offense in the second half: If the Panthers knew that a drop-kick PAT was now only worth one point, why did they try two more in the second half?

"Because, to be honest, Geoff kicks better with the drop kick than he does as a placekicker," Davis said of Boyer, a former high school soccer star from Marietta. "He told me early in the year, 'Coach, I can do the drop-kick. We can get more points. I'm telling you I can do it.' And I just told him I don't use the drop-kick -- never have, never will.

"But now that's he's proven he can do it, I'll use it every chance I get next year. I'll use it every time."

Whether Boyer ever gets the chance to do it again in the SIFL, however, is another question.

Popular opinion is that when the SIFL owners meet in August for their annual end-of-the-year get together, there may be a vote on the following when it comes to the drop-kick rule:

1. Whether to allow it on both FGs and PATs for one extra point

2. Clarify the rule as it stands now to avoid anymore confusion, or

3. Ban it altogether

Hager said the ambiguous rule is "definitely something we're going to have to vote on at the owners meetings in August. It will certainly be a topic of conversation."

Carter, for one, doesn't think the future for the drop kick is very bright.

"I doubt anyone will vote for it because -- right now -- we're the only ones who have a guy who can do it," he said.

As for the exact wording on the SIFL's drop-kick rule? It can be found in Section 3 of the rule book, under the header labeled "Scoring."

(Pay special attention to Nos. 2, 3 and 7):

SCORING:

1. Touchdown: 6 points.

2. Place kick field goal: 3 points.

3. Drop-kick field goal: 4 points.

4. Safety: 2 points.

5. PAT by running or passing: 2 points.

6. Return PAT by defense: 2 points.

7. PAT by kick: 1 point.

Upon reading it closely, Davis said he had no problem admitting the officials "technically" made the right call.

"It's the correct ruling, even though it's really unclear. But according to the rule book, they were correct," he said. "It says field goals are worth four points, instead of the three, on a drop-kick, but it doesn't specify what drop-kicks are worth on extra points. Now, it doesn't say (PATs) are worth two points on a drop-kick -- but it also doesn't say they're not. It just doesn't say."

Davis then continued: "And really ... it's my fault (in one regard) as a coach for not looking into the rule for us when we started doing it. But at the same time, we're assuming they're watching the film of our games (at the league headquarters) and that's something they would've noticed before the championship game, and would've sent an e-mail out or gotten in touch with us about it. But they didn't. And, you know, I've been in arena football for about 10 years now, in several different leagues, and I've never seen the drop-kick not be worth an extra point on either kind of kick. So in our mind, when we started doing it, we weren't doing anything wrong. We were just (utilizing) an offensive weapon that we had and other teams didn't."

Hager attributed the initial error to an official working the Panthers-Hammers game when Albany successfully completed a drop-kick for the first time June 11, saying, "Dan did some digging (to figure out where the first mistake was made) and we determined it was when one of our officials, an old-school guy who used to work in the AFL -- which allowed it in the old days of arena ball -- gave them the extra points. But he was mistaken."

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SIFL AVOIDED 'MAJOR PROBLEM'

Davis said, in hindsight, he's thought about other possible scenarios that could've wound up being disastrous for the league had either of Albany's games it successfully competed drop-kicks in were close.

"What if we beat Columbus by two points, or we go to the end of regulation tied and we win it in overtime on a field goal? What does (the league) do then?" Davis said. "We're already in the championship game preparing for Louisiana, but then would we find out we actually lost because of that rule? Because if we're going by that rule and that game had been close, we should've lost."

Hager said Thursday he's glad none of those scenarios took place, and he realizes that -- if they had -- he "would've had a major problem" on his hands.

"Everyone in that arena (associated with that game) should've known the rule book, and it's a saving grace that none of those games were decided that way," Hager said. "My hat's off to Albany. I was excited for them. They deserved to win it."

Carter said he just hopes the SIFL, which is about to enter its fourth year of existence, is able to work out the kinks in order to avoid a situation like this from happening in the future -- to his team, or anyone else's.

"This kind of thing just can't happen at halftime of the SIFL Championship game. There has to be an e-mail or memo sent out league-wide, to my coach and me, that says, 'Hey we watched the film. You're not supposed to be getting an extra point (on PATs) for a drop-kick. This is the way it's going to be (from now on).' And if it's a rule, then it's a rule. And we'll follow it.

"But don't take points off the board at halftime of the championship game. That's not the kind of controversy you want. Can you imagine if we'd lost by two or three? I don't even want to think about it."