The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved three football rules changes Thursday, including one that had me thinking of 1991 and Lamar Thomas and Heath Bray and Gino Torretta and Dick Tomey.
Starting in the 2011 season, the rules will be different for a player who is penalized for taunting on his way to the end zone — stuff like high-stepping, diving when no defender is around or pointing at the other team.
As it is, those penalties are worth 15 yards on the extra point attempt, the 2-point conversion or the ensuing kickoff.
In 2011, the penalty will be enforced at the spot of the foul, which means the touchdown will be wiped out.
Anyway, that had me thinking of the most egregious taunting moment I can remember seeing in person, which happened in the 1991 Arizona-Miami game in Arizona Stadium. It involved Thomas, a Hurricanes receiver, and here is the story I wrote about it in October 2006 for the Tucson Citizen:
Arizona fans with long memories were not surprised by the announcing antics of Lamar Thomas.
Thomas was the TV analyst last week for the Miami-Florida International game, carrying on like a fool as players brawled on the field, swinging helmets, stomping on legs and — in the case of injured players — using crutches as clubs.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” Thomas, a Miami alum, boasted on air.
“You come into our house, you should get your behind kicked. You don’t come into the OB (Orange Bowl) playing that stuff. . . . I say, why don’t they just meet outside in the tunnel after the ballgame and get it on some more.”
His employer, Comcast Sports SouthEast, dealt with Thomas. He was fired.
In the Phoenix area, former Wildcat Heath Bray watched with interest.
Lamar Thomas is one player he can never forget.
“It’s been 15 years, and it’s like yesterday,” Bray said. “As soon as I heard that audio, I turned to my fiancée and told her the story.”
The story goes like this:
It was 1991, and Arizona was in the midst of a tough 4-7 season that wouldn’t get any better when unbeaten Miami visited Tucson on Oct. 26.
Early in the second quarter, quarterback Gino Torretta caught UA in a blitz, lofting a pass to Thomas, a speedy receiver who beat cornerback Darryl Morrison in one-on-one coverage. Thomas was off to the races down the east sideline of Arizona Stadium.
Thomas, all alone as he approached the end zone, slowed down and, curiously, stopped completely.
In a brazen look-at-me moment, full of the lack of sportsmanship he would display on the air 15 years later, Thomas put a toe over the goal line and gently placed the ball in the end zone.
“I had blitzed from the right side, and hit Gino in the mouth as he was throwing the ball,” Bray said. “We’re both on the ground on our backs . . . and we see him running down the field and just place the ball in the end zone. Gino turns to me and says something to the effect of, ‘What a (expletive).’ ”
The crowd booed, but what were the young, injured Wildcats to do? They lost 36-9, and coach Dick Tomey, still outraged a day later, called Thomas’ play “the height of showboating, the height of taunting.”
“That was certainly premeditated,” Tomey said. “I couldn’t believe he wasn’t called for a penalty.”
Bray, a vice president in a Scottsdale financial advising firm, was not surprised when Thomas said of Saturday’s melee, “I was about to go down the elevator to get in that thing.”
In 1992, Arizona was almost involved in one of those brawls with Thomas and the Hurricanes in a game at the Orange Bowl.
As Bray and punter Josh Miller went out for the coin toss, they attempted to shake hands with Miami’s Kevin Williams and Jessie Armstead.
“They put their hands behind their backs and looked at the ground,” Bray said. “(Linebacker) Charlie Camp saw that and started going ape crazy. The whole team came out into the middle of the field.”
Miami was already there.
After the near-skirmish, the fired-up Wildcats transformed into Desert Swarm that day, losing 8-7 to the top-ranked Hurricanes.
Arizona had entered that game coming off a tie at Oregon State, basically on life support. Perhaps in part because of guys such as Thomas and the over-the-top swagger of Miami, that group of Wildcats left the Orange Bowl knowing it found the emotional level it took to be successful.
In a strange way, perhaps a thank-you is in order.
That’s probably not the way Bray will see it. He and Torretta actually became friends after college — “he’s one of the nicest, most sincere guys I know,” Bray said — but he still does a slow burn if you mention Lamar Thomas and the 1991 game.
“That play colored the way I have thought about Miami for 15 years,” Bray said. “It will take something monumental to change it.”