EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — John Hussey had an idea. Turned out to be a good one.
The referee and his field judge, Rick Patterson, called over Odell Beckham Jr., then Josh Norman, to warn them that anything close to the shenanigans the receiver and cornerback were involved in last December simply won’t be allowed Sunday. Hussey wasn’t prompted by the NFL to deliver his lectures to the Giants’ and Redskins’ stars before the game.
“John understood the magnitude of the game,” Troy Vincent, who is in charge of football operations for the league, told The Associated Press. “Coaches and players were addressed in a professional manner to play within the whistles.”
They generally did, though Norman did draw a personal foul for a hit not on Beckham but on rookie Sterling Shepard. And Beckham had a sideline meltdown that turned comical when he threw his helmet at the kicking net, only to have the net ricochet off his head.
There was even an ejection, the first under the new rule hastened by Beckham-Norman I last December when Norman was in the midst of an All-Pro season for Carolina. But the player with that dubious honor was Giants center Weston Richburg for getting two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties — including one while addressing Norman.
It’s crucial for officials to lay down the parameters for a game, and to remind players, particularly those who have egregiously broken the rules before, that they are being watched closely. If other referees follow Hussey’s lead, Richburg’s expulsion under the new rule that was backed by Commissioner Roger Goodell might stand alone.
Neither Norman nor Beckham appreciated the words of wisdom from Hussey, but with a clearer view of the potential for more problems that their matchup presented, perhaps they wouldn’t have been so upset.
And they sure were upset.
“They pulled me off to the side and said, ‘We are not going to make a mockery of the game,'” Norman said. “I don’t know if that was from the top, or (Hussey) saying that directly to me.
“Wow. What am I doing? I’m just playing a sport that God has blessed us with and being as physical as I can be within the rules and the confines of what they ask us to do. That (mockery) was a big word. I kind of felt bad.
“At the same time, I appreciate the officials. They really did a good job of controlling the game. It didn’t get out of hand.”
Moments earlier, Hussey and Patterson laid down the law to Beckham, who last week was fined $36,000 for a crack-back block on Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro.
That was two incidents fewer than he had against Norman last December. There were plenty of nasty words aimed at each other back then, and some excuses for the near-brawling.
Beckham subsequently was suspended for a game, and when Norman signed as a free agent with Washington, it meant two meetings per season for the foes.
“They implemented a new rule this year. It’s basically the Odell Beckham Jr. rule,” said Beckham, whose boss, Giants owner John Mara, championed the rule. “I had three personal fouls last year, so they said if you come out and get one personal foul and another one for the same thing (you are ejected). Today, they came up before the game and said, if you do anything, we’re throwing you out of the game. That was before the game.
“There was no you get a warning. There was not any of that. You just have to be on your best behavior. Unfortunately, that’s what it’s come to. It’s not really football anymore as much as it is all the other things that play into it.”
Beckham has no interest in playing what he sees as a gridiron political game. One of the characteristics that makes him so dynamic is his ability to perform on the edge. He is a playmaker and sometimes a game breaker, and toning down his style could diminish his contributions.
But toning down his act when it comes to, well, acting out is a big difference. Hussey, and by extension the league, did not tell Beckham or Norman to turn into nerds. The intent was to inspire them to play clean, but energetic football.
Despite a few missteps, they general did. And that’s a good thing.