DENVER — It used to be the domain of soccer players, NBA forwards and the occasional punter.
Now, NFL quarterbacks are getting into the act. They are sports’ newest floppers, putting their own tightly spiraled spin on the art of hamming it up to draw the ref’s attention and a possible 15-yard penalty.
Over the last two weeks, two of the NFL’s up-and-coming poster boys at the league’s glamour position, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, found themselves mired in did-they-or-didn’t-they flopping controversies. It has led to the prickly question — should players at a position that already gets extra protection be milking the drama for even more?
“All the quarterbacks in the world are the chosen ones,” Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said, still stinging a few days after his 15-yarder against Luck hurt Denver’s chances against the Colts on Oct. 20. “The NFL should have the same rules they have in the NBA about flopping.”
Vickerson is the normally mild-mannered, 328-pound lineman who has been flagged for barely more than grazing both Luck and Griffin in back-to-back weeks.
“I tried to avoid him and I went like this,” Vickerson said, lightly brushing up against a reporter to re-enact the contact he made with Luck. “Nobody else is able or worthy of being protected. That’s what it’s all about.”
With 2:55 left against Indianapolis, Denver was trailing by nine and trying to get the ball back. Luck threw an incomplete pass and Vickerson appeared to be looking at the ball, not the quarterback, when he bumped into Luck’s back. The quarterback went tumbling to the ground, his arms flailing — a scene, some might say, that could have come straight out of a Hollywood studio lot.
Luck, who quickly bounced up and started gesturing toward the referee, insisted he learned his lessons elsewhere.
“I guess I watched a lot of soccer growing up,” he said with a smile. “But it’s not something you’re conscious of or something that you do.”
Regardless, the move drew a flag and 15 yards, which made Denver’s uphill climb that much steeper.
“One of those things that I really can’t comment on,” Broncos coach John Fox said when asked what he thought about the call. “On the other side of that, we have to do our best to stay away from the quarterback once the ball is thrown.”
That has always been one of the basics for a pass rusher, though the sight of a quarterback actually flopping for a penalty isn’t an all-that-common occurrence.
They’re a different story.
You could fill up entire reels of punters pinwheeling through the air and to the ground at the mere whiff of a defender in their bubble.
“The key is to not look like you’re acting, but it seems like most guys look like they’re acting,” said Broncos punter Britton Colquitt, who can proudly claim to have never tried drawing a penalty in that manner over his five-year NFL career.
To Vickerson’s point, there is no penalty for flopping in the NFL, though league officials have discussed exactly how demonstrative they’ll tolerate players to get about trying to draw the foul.
“We officiate, does the contact violate a rule?” said NFL director of officiating Dean Blandino. “But not if a player is trying to buy a foul. We know basketball has a foul for flopping. We don’t.”
Though it’s not overly common, soccer refs do have the latitude to blow the whistle or give out yellow cards for flopping, and it’s very much needed given some players’ affinity — see, Cristiano Ronaldo — for turning a slight nudge into the final act of a Shakespeare tragedy.
Back on the gridiron, Griffin got caught in a pickle earlier this month when he seemed to admit that there are times he tries to draw penalties by hesitating ever so slightly when he’s heading out of bounds.
“The sideline is your friend and you can get out of bounds, but a lot of defensive players, they just really don’t care. Sometimes they’re going to still get that hit on you,” Griffin said.
Later, though, he said his original comments were misconstrued and that he didn’t mean to say he tried to draw penalties.
“I can’t answer for all position players or for any other team,” Griffin said. “I can only answer for myself, and that’s not something I want to do.”
The whole scene came full circle last Sunday when it was Griffin — in this instance clearly not trying to draw a penalty — who happened to be in the way of Vickerson, who made shoulder-to-shoulder contact after the throw and knocked the quarterback, a C-note lighter, flat on his back.
No harm intended. But the flag flew and Vickerson had another 15-yard penalty. It marked the fourth major infraction he’s been flagged for in the last two weeks — a spate that began when he reacted to things going on in the pile against the Colts offensive line. Vickerson received a $10,000 fine for one of the penalties against Indy.
“I’m a marked man,” he said. “They’re looking for me, looking for anything I do.”
By now, of course, any smart quarterback knows that.