Officials should have stopped play Monday when a snowball thrown from the stands in Denver disrupted a San Francisco field goal attempt, according to Tex Schramm, chairman of the NFL rule-making competition committee. Denver won, 17-16.
"We don't believe in penalizing the crowd because we have no control over the crowd," he said in a telephone interview. "But to me, the referee should have killed the play right at that instant, regardless of what happened to the kick."
In the last seconds of the first half, with Denver leading San Francisco, 14-3, the 49ers' Ray Wersching was poised to try a 19-yard field goal. As the ball was snapped, a snowball landed in front of holder Matt Cavanaugh, who bobbled the ball, then threw an incomplete pass.
"Yes, I was distracted," said Cavanaugh. "I saw the snowball. It landed right about the time the ball was snapped. It took my mind off the ball, and I dropped it. It's not the snowball's fault -- I dropped it."
Referee Jim Tunney said that although the officials called for more security, they were powerless to penalize the crowd for unsportsmanlike conduct: "There's nothing in the rule book that allows us to do that."
Schramm, the Dallas Cowboys president, said: "It should be like baseball. If a balloon or a piece of paper or something that can distract a player comes on the field, they immediately signal time out. We stop games for dogs. You can't have something like that. Next time, it'll be a beer bottle or a whiskey bottle."
Not surprisingly, 49ers Coach Bill Walsh agreed. "I think the way to stop that would be to replay the play," he said. "Then there would be no more snowballs -- ever."
By allowing the play to stand, "and then saying their hands are tied," Walsh said the officials were inviting "the riotous actions of fans."
Five spectators, among the crowd of 73,173, were ejected for throwing snowballs.