Detroit had 12 men on the field when Eddie Murray kicked a game-winning 47-yard field goal as time ran out in the Lions' 27-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday.
The illegal extra player was not detected by game officials and the final score will stand, a spokesman for the National Football League said yesterday.
If the illegal procedure violation had been called, the ensuing penalty would have nullified the 47-yard field goal. If the penalty had been called, Detroit could have attempted a 52-yard field goal.
"I'd like to congratulate all 12 or 13 who participated in the winning field goal. It was certainly a dramatic ending to one of the great games I've seen," joked NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle yesterday at a Detroit news conference concerning the Super Bowl, scheduled this year at the Pontiac Superdome.
NFL officials confirmed yesterday that Entertainment Sports Programming Network films of the game showed the Lions with 12 men on the field just as the ball was snapped for the game-winning field goal.
In Detroit yesterday, Lion Coach Monte Clark was asked on a radio show if he knew how many Detroit players were on the field at the time of the final kick.
"I sure do," he answered. "Only 12."
An NFL resolution passed last June empowers the commissioner to set aside a final score, but only in an extraordinarily unusual situation.
Jim Heffernan, an NFL spokesman, said the resolution specifically excluded "complaints of judgment errors or routine errors of omission by officials," from intervention by the commissioner's office. "That seems to be what we have here," Heffernan said.
For the commissioner to invervene, Heffernan said, there would have to be extremely unusual or purposefully unfair tactics, such as a player coming off the bench to make a tackle or catch a pass.
In Dallas yesterday, Tex Schramm, president of the Cowboys, said Rozelle could order a replay of the game "if he wished to be bold."
Noting that Cowboy films of the game also picked up the 12th Detroit player, Schramm said Rozelle had three options: do nothing, declare a tie or order a replay. Suggesting a replay, he observed that both the Cowboys and the Lions have games scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, followed by 10 days off before their next game. A sudden death 15-minute overtime could easily be scheduled in that period, he said.
But after rereading NFL bylaws, Schramm agreed that action by the commissioner's office was unlikely. Last June's resolution states that games involving routine errors by officials "would continue to stand completed as they have under traditional league procedures."
Bobby Beathard, Redskin general manager, when asked for his reaction, said, "I don't think there is anything you can do about it. Anytime you get a call that goes against you and the league agrees it was a bad call, the most you can expect is an apology."
At his Detroit news conference yesterday, Rozelle said, "There are going to be mistakes with six people watching 22 run all over a big field. They don't have an ideal view of the play. Frequently they're screened. With the potential number of calls they make, they do a very good job. Like all of us, they're going to make mistakes, and they're mistakes of judgment based on what they see at ground level."
Two officials, the umpire and the side judge, are responsible for monitoring the number of players on the field. The crew working Sunday's game was headed by referee Fred Silva. The umpire was Ralph Marcroft and the side judge was Merrill Douglas.
Murray's winning kick occurred during a moment of confusion with players running on and off the field following reserve end Ulysses Norris' catch of an Eric Hipple pass at the Dallas 30-yard line with no timeouts remaining.
Murray kicked the ball with only two seconds remaining on the clock. Videotapes of the game showed three Lions split to the left and seven massed at the line of scrimmage in addition to Murray and the holder.
The kick barely cleared the crossbar.
The defeat knocked the Cowboys (8-3) out of a first-place tie with the Philadelphia Eagles (9-2) in the NFC East.