There were a number of bizarre moments that took place during Sunday night's Cowboys-Raiders game, including a 50+–yard pass interference that almost sunk Dallas's season, followed by a fumble out of the end zone that did end Oakland's season. But the event that still seems to have some buzz (however slight) is when referee Gene Steratore busted out a folded up piece of paper to measure for, and eventually give, a key first down to Dallas:
Steratore's decision drew notable responses from Raiders coach Jack Del Rio (who said he could see air between the down marker and the pole), as well as ex-NFL official and supervisor of officials Jim Daopoulos (who told PFT that refs are "never allowed to use anything other than their eyes to make that decision").
Afterward Steratore explained the rationale behind his decision, which should be the norm with irregular stuff like this. "The ball was touching the pole," the 12-year NFL veteran ref said. "I put the card in there and as soon as it touched, it was nothing more than a reaffirmation. The decision was made based on my visual from the top looking down and the ball touching the front of the pole." Steratore also told a pool reporter that this method was perhaps done at some point in someone else's career, which checks out since a similar measuring technique was also used in a 2013 Ravens-Browns game.
On Monday, an NFL spokesman came out and made it clear that using the card didn't violate any league rules, though he also added that it was "highly unusual." The "incident" (if that's what you want to call it) has rekindled debate over just exactly where the hell refs decide to place the ball. Though I would argue that using a card isn't that big of a deal (at all, really), nobody wants to live in a world where they verify placement on every down.