Explain This College Football Play

I don’t really follow football, so I don’t know the finer points. Please bear with me: As seen on CBS Morning Show, some college game this past weekend had a surprise when a kick off was returned for a 90 yard TD after a fair catch. The offense did not down the ball; however, the defense did not tackle either. I am wondering: Once a motion is made for a fair catch, I presume the defense cannot tackle because it would be a penalty for unnecessary roughness. Is this correct? If so, then why is it fair for the offense to STILL run with the ball? You can’t have it both ways! If I can’t instantly tackle you, then you can’t run with the ball either! (WTF?)

OTOH, if the offense failed to down the ball, then the defense shouldn’t just don’t stand there looking stupid…tackle the guy!

Set me straight. What’s the story here?

He didn’t actually motion for a fair catch.

  1. It wasn’t a kickoff, it was a punt.

  2. The returner never actually signaled for a fair catch. Had he made the signal, the whistle would have been blown by an official once he’d caught the ball, and the play would have been over. What he did was stand there, rather casually, for a second or two after catching the punt, which led several members of the opposing team, standing near him, to assume that it had been a fair catch. Once they had walked past him, he took off. As the whistle never blew, the play wasn’t over, and the coverage men were fooled by the returner.

  3. Yes, if a returner actually signals for a fair catch, members of the other team will be penalized for unnecessary roughness if they hit him. (However, if the returner then fails to cleanly field the punt, he’s no longer protected under the rules.)

There’s already a discussion about this play on the board here, including links to video of the return:
https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=862325

Also, an article on SI.com about the play:

Generally players at all levels need to pay attention to whether a whistle was blown and whether the play is now dead. I watched a game a couple years back where the team I root for (Seahawks) assumed a guy was down but nobody touched him; he got up and ran in untouched for a TD because nobody ever tagged him after he went down to the ground initially.

Bullshit trick play.

With all the focus on safety and protecting defensless players, this kind of shit should not fly. If the punt team had lit that fucker up (as they should have), they surely would have been penalized.

Bullshit trick play.

I feel the officials blew the call. In order to circumvent any trickery or confusion, there is a rule:

An invalid fair catch signal is when the player signaling for a fair catch does not fully extend his arm above his head. If the players arm is flexed, an invalid fair catch penalty will be called and the ball will be marked down at the spot of the invalid fair catch and then assessed a five yard penalty.

Do not confuse an invalid fair catch signal with a player legally signaling his teammates to keep away from him, which appears to be what he did. In fact, the receiver had a conversation with the officials telling them that it was going to happen, so they would be aware of it and not inadvertently blow the whistle thinking that it was a fair catch.

Nor have any of the opponents come out and said that they didn’t hit him because they thought they saw a fair catch signal. Indeed, one of the kicking team, the guy who got right in his face, acted confused, asking the return guy if the whistle had blown.

Thanks all for the explanation!