CATEGORY: FOC College Football

AUTHOR: PHELPS

AVERY CLAIMS HIS DIVE WASN'T A TAUNT

OXFORD Ole Miss' John Avery could see the end zone getting closer and closer. He could also feel the presence of the Alabama defenders getting closer and closer.

Avery, who was nearing the end of a scintillating 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 6 minutes, 4 seconds remaining that would bring the Rebels to within nine points of the Crimson Tide, did what he had been taught in practice.

He lunged for the end zone.

"I just took off. I was trying to get into the end zone, Avery said.

"I was tired. My legs felt like Jello. The last time I had cut back I felt a hand on my shoulder. I knew he (an Alabama player) was still there, running. I wasn't going to turn around and look."

An official who was trailing the play saw Avery's dive and interpreted it as taunting. Doing what he had been instructed to do by the SEC office earlier in the week, he tossed his yellow flag.

"That wasn't taunting," Avery said. "That was desperation."

Avery never got a chance to plead his case. The penalty stood and the 15-yard walk off all but ended any hopes the Rebels had of rallying for a victory. Because instead of going for a 2-point conversion from the 3-yard line, the Rebels had to attempt a 35-yard extra point. And, it was blocked.

Ole Miss, ranked No. 25 this week by the Associated Press after its stunning win over LSU last week, ended up a 29-20 loser to the struggling Crimson Tide at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

"I thought the penalty was on them (Alabama)," Avery said. "I thought it was a facemask. Their guy grabbed me. I was jumping up and down. The next thing I know, they're telling me they got you for taunting a player."

Worst call in history

A miffed Ole Miss head coach Tommy Tuberville called it "the worst call in the history of football," but he didn't blame the official who made the call.

"He told me they were told to call that play," Tuberville said. "I saw that called in the LSU-Auburn game and it's not a good call. They started calling that when they started the celebration rule a couple of years ago, throwing a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"Trying to dive into the end zone with people trying to tackle you is not unsportsmanlike conduct. If it is, then we need to quit football."

Tuberville says he'll be in touch with the conference office this week concerning the rule. Plus, he said, Ole Miss players will continue to be instructed to dive for the end zone if it means avoiding a touchdown-saving tackle.

"That didn't beat us. I think it put us out of the game ... to have a chance to come back," he said. "It's not fair to the kids to blame some kind of celebration against somebody running a 100 yards, trying to get into the end zone after breaking about five tackles, and throwing a flag like that.

"That's not college football. If it is, then I'm in the wrong business."

No, coach, you're not in the wrong business. But, you need to make it your "business" to spearhead a movement to get the taunting rule changed to hammer the Neon Deion-like offenders and not penalize great efforts like that of John Avery's.

Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal

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