LAS VEGAS — The Pittsburgh Steelers walked off the field Sunday just happy they had won.
A lot of bettors in this gambling city were more concerned by how many points they ended up winning by.
Winners turned into losers and losers ended up winning when a game that should have ended up 17-10 or 18-10 instead went into the record books as the first 11-10 final in NFL history. Though the score made no difference in the win and loss column, it did in the wallets of a lot of bettors on the Las Vegas Strip.
"Anyone who had a bet on the Pittsburgh side and thought they had won weren’t too happy," said John Avello, director of the race and sports book at the Wynn resort.
A mistake by the officials on the final play of the game between the Steelers and San Diego Chargers didn’t alter the outcome. But it did mean bettors who thought they had won money on the game actually lost, while those who thought they had lost ended up winning.
The Steelers were favoured by 4 points, meaning the apparent touchdown scored by the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu on the last play of the game made the difference between Pittsburgh covering the point spread or not. When the touchdown was disallowed, Pittsburgh bettors who thought they had won on a fluke on the last play were left holding worthless tickets.
"On the final play of Sunday’s game between the Chargers and Steelers, Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu returned a loose ball 12 yards for a defensive touchdown," the league said in a statement Monday. "After an instant replay review and crew conference, the on-field ruling of touchdown was incorrectly reversed to no touchdown due to an illegal forward pass by San Diego.
"The incorrect reversal of the on-field ruling of touchdown was acknowledged immediately following the game by referee Scott Green in the pool report interview with a representative of the media."
The NFL said it is discussing with the rule-making competition committee "potential administrative improvements for replay that would help to prevent this type of mistake in the future."
That presumably could include allowing officials to take a second look at controversial plays, something not now permitted under the current rules.
.Avello said there might have been US$10 million bet on the game statewide, and many times more than that in illegal bets around the country and in offshore Internet betting sites. There was more money bet on Pittsburgh, he said, especially in parlay bets.
Though the officials later said they made a mistake in calling back the touchdown, the official score remains 11-10, and Nevada sports books paid off on the final score from Sunday.
Here is the full statement released by the NFL on Monday explaining what happened from a rules perspective:
On the final play of Sunday’s game between the Chargers and Steelers, Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu returned a loose ball 12 yards for a defensive touchdown.
After an instant replay review and crew conference, the on-field ruling of touchdown was incorrectly reversed to no touchdown due to an illegal forward pass by San Diego.
There were three passes on the play. The first was a completed forward pass from San Diego’s Philip Rivers to LaDainian Tomlinson. The second, from Tomlinson to Chris Chambers, was initially ruled a legal backward pass but then reversed in replay to an illegal forward pass. The third, from Chambers, was a legal backward pass that hit the ground and was returned for the touchdown by Pittsburgh’s Polamalu.
The incorrect reversal of the on-field ruling of touchdown was acknowledged immediately following the game by referee Scott Green in the pool report interview with a representative of the media.
If any forward pass, legal or illegal, hits the ground, the play is dead immediately. The officiating crew mistakenly determined that the backward pass that Polamalu legally recovered and returned for the touchdown was the pass that was reversed in replay to being forward and illegal. Therefore, the crew ruled that the ball was dead when it hit the ground and the play was over. (The actual illegal forward pass – Tomlinson to Chambers – did not hit the ground and therefore the play is allowed to continue.)
If the situation had been handled properly, the defense (Pittsburgh) would have declined the penalty for an illegal forward pass from Tomlinson to Chambers and taken the touchdown.
The rules relevant to this particular play are as follows…
Rule 8, Section 1, Article 1 (b) states "When any illegal forward pass is caught or intercepted, the ball may be advanced and the penalty declined." (page 49 of 2008 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League)
Rule 8, Section 1, Article 5 states "Any forward pass (legal or illegal) becomes incomplete and the ball is dead immediately if the pass strikes the ground or goes out of bounds." (page 50 of 2008 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League)
Rule 8, Section 4, Article 1 (b) states "A defensive player may catch a backward pass or recover it after the pass touches the ground and advance." (page 58 of 2008 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League)
The final score will remain Steelers 11, Chargers 10.