LOS ANGELES – The controversial non-call in the NFC championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints last season has been omnipresent on television, computer and phone screens for eight months.
Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, the man in the middle of the play, was asked Wednesday how many times he had seen it.
"Four thousand to five thousand times, easy," he told reporters.
Robey-Coleman might – or perhaps might not – have overestimated. But the clip of his fourth-quarter play that sent the entire state of Louisiana into shock is once again running on endless loop this week for NFL fans as the Rams prepare to play the Saints on Sunday at the Coliseum.
Robey-Coleman's helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis in the final two minutes of regulation at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was obvious pass interference. But officials did not call a penalty. Instead of continuing to run the clock, the Saints were forced to kick a field goal that put them ahead, 23-20, but left time for the Rams to tie the score and eventually win in overtime, 26-23. The Bayou State subsequently went bonkers, with complaints and outrage expressed in a spate of billboards and lawsuits among other avenues.
Robey-Coleman had entered the season with a recognition factor far below those of fellow Rams cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. In the aftermath of the play, he became a household name and face for NFL fans.
"By default," Robey-Coleman said, chuckling.
Robey-Coleman has grown accustomed to large groups of reporters asking him questions about controversial situations. At Super Bowl media night in Atlanta, he was not on a podium, but he was surrounded by waves of cameras for a full hour, answering questions about the non-call and comments he had made about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in a published report.
Robey-Coleman deflected the Brady drama by claiming his comments were taken out of context. But he has never shied from the non-call. In the locker room after the NFC championship game, he said, "it probably was interference." Days later, after he was fined $26,739 for the helmet-to-helmet contact on the play, Robey-Coleman said he would pay the fine and was moving on.
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton apparently has done the same, at least publicly. After the game, Payton said, "I don't know if there was ever a more obvious pass-interference call than that."
On Wednesday, when asked if he had gotten over it, Payton did not offer a yes or no.
"It feels like it was a long time ago," he said during a teleconference with Los Angeles reporters.
The play, however, spurred a rule change, which should probably be known as "The Nickell Robey-Coleman" rule. This season, coaches can challenge calls and non-calls on pass plays.
"Nobody's going to sit here and say that wasn't pass interference," Rams coach Sean McVay said Wednesday. "Even though that play benefited our team, nobody wants anything but a fair game."
Said Payton: "I think it's going to have to be something egregious to be overturned."
Robey-Coleman and Lewis will not get a chance to match up Sunday. After the season, the Saints did not tender Lewis a contract. He signed with the Detroit Lions but was released after the preseason.
But Robey-Coleman knows the Saints are "hungry" to play the Rams again.
"You can feel it," he said. "And so I'm just trying to come out there Sunday and make sure I'm prepared and be with my team and have my boys carry me."
Safety Eric Weddle was listed as a limited participant in practice, but remains in concussion protocol. "I anticipate him being ready to go" against the Saints, McVay said. Defensive lineman Michael Brockers (shoulder) and linebacker Clay Matthews (back) did not practice. ... Cornerback Aqib Talib said Rams defensive backs watched together Monday night as quarterback Drew Brees led the Saints to a last-second victory over the Houston Texans. After the Texans scored with 37 seconds left, Talib said Weddle pointed at the television and said, "Too ... much ... time!" Talib agreed. Thirty-seven seconds was too much time for a future Hall of Famer such as Brees. "If we could have put some bets down right then, that whole room probably would have bet with Drew Brees. I ain't going to lie to you."