The Deuce Spann Thing
I didn't go to journalism school. I'm not gonna lie - having a journalism degree would be really helpful right now. I don't know the rules. I'm confused about this whole thing, and I keep asking questions, and it probably doesn't matter, but I really want to know what happened.
I don't even know how I'm supposed to chase down this story. I know I'm supposed to get people on the record. But the only opportunity to get people on the record are these Zoom calls, and as soon as I ask a question and the coach gives an answer, that answer is broadcast on Twitter by others on the call and it becomes their story. It's like feeling good about a stock pick but you have to go on a call with every investor in the world and broadcast your stock tip before you yourself can invest. I'm onto something here - I believe my greatest value in the pressbox is my ability to notice things that others don't - but what good is that when your question at a presser becomes someone else's tweet?
(Remember, my degree is Landscape Architecture, so my professional mind always places things in that context. Seeing the stories I'm obviously chasing down being tweeted by others feels like having a really good design idea for a trailhead at a park but then the municipality puts your preliminary drawings on their website for public comment - happens all the time - and another firm takes your design idea and puts it into an active project before your drawings are complete. I mean, hey, it's right there in public view for everyone to see. Fair game, right?)
I mean, I get it. If there's a presser at the White House, and the Press Secretary is asked about something by the Washington Post reporter, and that answer gives away some news, that news can be tweeted by everyone. It's a public press conference. Maybe the Washington Post reporter's editor would tell her to not ask the question in public because they were angling for an exclusive. But what if it needs to be on the record first before it's a story? I don't know how any of this works.
That's not even the point of this article. I'm stalling because I don't know if I've done this right. But here's what I've chased down.
A warning before you read: there's no real story here. There's not some big cover-up. It's basically meaningless. But because it's so meaningless, I just can't figure out why I didn't get a straight answer.
With 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter and Purdue leading 31-10, Deuce Spann came out on the field for the next drive. Right as he's calling for the shotgun snap, Illinois takes a timeout. He comes off, they huddle during the timeout, and Coran Taylor heads back out on the field. Spann never enters the game again.
On the TV broadcast, it's suggested that it was because his mouthpiece was not in, but that was never confirmed anywhere else. All we really know is that Spann came in the game, did not take a snap, and came out of the game.
What I Saw
I am, as you may know, a Deuce Spann fan. Love him for this offense, think he's the future, am so ready to see what he can do. It's the second game of his true freshman season, and we're down three quarterbacks, and we're losing 31-10 - let's see what he can do.
So when Coran Taylor fumbled the ball at the two and Purdue scooped it up for an easy touchdown - Taylor's fourth turnover of the game - I started to wonder if my guy might get a chance in the fourth quarter. Very specifically, it was near the end of that TV timeout, while looking for Taylor's stats to see if I did remember correctly that all four turnovers were his, I thought "Deuce time?". I look down on the sideline and there's #6, behind all the benches, practicing receiving snaps.
I then see him walk back onto the orange (the main sideline area is all orange turf) and a few players encourage him and slap hands. I'm pretty sure he's coming in, so I type out the tweet I had prepared for a moment such as this: I Stan Spann.
But I'm not certain that I'm certain that he's coming in (I've seen quarterbacks warm up before and not come in), so I don't want to tweet it yet. He might just be warming on his own or whatever (but I figure if he's working on snaps with the center and not just soft-tossing with someone, that's a sure sign he's coming in). So I type out the tweet and wait for him to run on the field. The moment this media timeout is over and I see he's coming trotting out on the field, I'm hitting send.
The offense headed out there but he didn't (at first). He was standing with a coach on the sideline. I'm hovering over the send button, and as soon as he trots out, I hit send:
I STAN SPANN— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) October 31, 2020
We then call timeout (I figured it was a play clock thing - I didn't really know) so I went about my pressbox business. When we came back from the timeout, Taylor is on the field. What?
I'm on our private Slack channel during games as well as Twitter, so I asked there (in case they had covered on the TV broadcast). I'll go make a screencap of that:
So now I'm confused, but the game is going on, so I'm right back to watching and evaluating. There was some discussion in the slack thread about what was said on TV (that Deuce forgot to put his mouthpiece in and that's why he was taken off the field), A little later I tweeted something about hoping that wasn't Deuce Spann's only time on the field as an Illini, but I dropped it until after the game.
I got to the postgame Zoom presser late (I was recording From The Stands) so I wasn't sure what to ask. I leaned over to Jim Cotter (socially distanced eight feet away) and asked him if anyone had asked about Spann yet. Jim said no. So I put my name in the queue and asked Lovie that question:
"We needed to get Coran out there and Coran wasn't out there" was interesting to me. I had watched Spann getting ready so if the head coach is saying "we needed to get Coran out there", then was this "Rod put Spann in and Lovie called a timeout to over-rule him"? That's why I asked that follow-up question. And Lovie said that no, it was just a mix-up.
I still didn't feel like my questions were answered, and the first chance to ask Rod Smith was today on the Zoom call, so that's what I asked.
One note before watching this: I asked the first question and he responded. Then I asked another question (whether he had to quarantine after being in the QB room with Brandon Peters - he did), and then I took some time going back through the timeline to make sure I had everything right because what he was saying didn't match with what I saw. I asked for another question at the end of the presser, and that's the second question in this clip:
At this point I hopped off the Zoom call (the players were up next) and went back to watch the clip from the game. I had been watching all of this from the pressbox, and "Deuce just jumped in there" didn't match at all what I remembered, but was I remembering it wrong?
I also felt kind of silly. In the end, who cares? Signals got crossed, they had to take a timeout, Taylor came back in. I'm not exactly stumbling onto evidence of a second shooter on the grassy knoll here. But every time I had that thought, I had an immediate counter-thought of "I don't need to explain why I'm tracking down something meaningless - I feel like Rod Smith should have to explain why something so meaningless is being danced around".
My brain at times like this goes into overdrive (see, maybe I was meant to go to journalism school). I know what Rod Smith is saying there does not match up with what I saw, and there's video evidence, and I need to watch it and then write about it.
So here's the full clip. I'll start from when they come back from commercial. To set the scene, Coran Taylor had just fumbled, Purdue returned it two yards for a touchdown, and it was now 31-10. The Illinois offense will go right back on the field (defensive TD), so TV comes back from the timeout and here's what we see:
First, a timeline. Then, some questions.
- When we come back from commercial we see Coran Taylor chatting with Daniel Barker. Josh Beetham, the walkon QB who wears the headset on the sideline and helps signal plays, walks over and hands Coran his headset. We see Coran put it on and talk to the coaches in the booth.
- The last moment we see Taylor on screen is at the 0:24 mark. That's important because Rod's statement is that Coran said "Coach I apologize for making us take a timeout - I was trying to pump the defense up." So the pumping up of the defense had to happen after the 24-second mark of the video above.
- Purdue kicks off, Khmari Thompson lets it sail over his head for a touchback, and the camera follows Thompson as he runs off the field while BTN goes to a studio update.
- While at the studio update, the picture-in-picture focuses in on Spann at the 0:50 mark. This is the thing I can't figure out. I knew in the pressbox that Spann was coming in and I was hovering over the "send" button. BTN knew Spann was coming in so the director asked a camera guy to spot shadow Spann on the sideline. The offense is getting ready to come out, Spann is out there with them, Taylor is not.
- We then get a full screen of Spann standing with running backs coach Mike Bellamy. I remember this because I was waiting to hit send. The offense runs out but Spann is still standing with the coach (in my observation, getting final instructions). At the 1:07 mark of the video, Spann runs out on the field. So the BTN cameras were on him for 17 seconds before he came into the game.
- Just as Spann puts his hands out to call for the snap with :04 on the play clock, Lovie calls timeout. Watching it again, I personally don't see this as a "play clock is gonna run out and they don't realize it" kind of timeout, but it's hard to say. I can see a coach worried about 1st and 15 when the play clock is at :05 even though the QB is putting his hands out. Maybe it was even the mouthguard thing.
- BTN takes a break, and when we come back, Taylor is back in the game. I played the rest so you could hear Rick Pizzo's report from the sideline. What he reports is what I remember seeing: it wasn't that Taylor was running around and couldn't find his helmet (or, say, "pumping up the defense") - he was on the sideline and then after the timeout he was in the game.
I should write out that full Pizzo sideline report from the broadcast because it's important.
"Guys I don't think it was an injury or a helmet situation. Taylor came off, had the headset on, the helmet was ready. Spann went into the game and when he forgot to put in his mouthpiece Illinois called a timeout. Taylor hopped right up to go back out on the field. Players and coaches turned around with their hands up, shrugging as if to say 'what's going on?'. I think Spann simply just missed his chance because Illinois had to take the timeout."
OK, so the mouthpiece thing. Maybe that's the answer to all of this? Maybe that's why Lovie called the timeout? You can see Spann put it in right when the timeout whistle is blown (and then take it out two seconds later). That seems to be the easiest answer here. There's a "mandatory equipment" rule, and here's what the rule book says about it:
Mandatory and Illegal Equipment Enforcement
ARTICLE 8 Approved Ruling 1-4-8
I. After the ball is ready for play, an official identifies a player(s) who is obviously not wearing a mouthpiece. RULING: The player(s) must leave the game for at least one down and may not return until properly equipped with a mouthpiece. The player(s) may remain in the game by spending an available team timeout, but they may not play until properly equipped.
That seems like the easiest answer here. Doesn't answer why Spann was in, but it might answer why he came back out. TV talked about the mouthpiece, people on Slack told me about the mouthpiece, you could see it dangling (some quarterbacks put it in right before each snap but Spann reached his hands out for the snap while it was still dangling).
So the easiest way to close this issue, I think, would have been Lovie on Saturday or Rod today saying "Deuce didn't have his mouthpiece in, so we took a timeout, and that scared us about his readiness, so we put Coran back in and Coran played great the rest of the game".
But that's not the answer when I asked "what happened with the Deuce Spann situation". Lovie answered "We needed to get Coran out there and Coran wasn't out there" and then, when I asked Lovie if it was him calling him back to the sideline he said "no plan, alright, it was a mistake. We didn't have the guy who should have been out there in. Deuce went out there when Coran wasn't ready to go. Mistake on our part."
Rod Smith didn't address the mouthpiece either. His statement (full clip is above, I'll summarize) was that Coran wasn't ready, Deuce was, so he jumped in there to prevent the team from having to take a timeout. I tried to push further with Rod, telling him that during the timeout (after the Purdue touchdown, before the kickoff) I saw his teammates encouraging him before he headed into the offensive huddle, but Rod's reply was that I must have seen his teammates congratulating him for "being Johnny on the spot - he realized Coran wasn't ready and he jumped in". I can understand Rod possibly confusing the media timeout that I was referencing with the timeout where Taylor replaced Spann (I did not clarify), but still, none of this makes sense to me. Let's get to my questions. Actually, they're not really questions. More like a list of things I'm confused about.
A List Of Things I'm Confused About
- Let's just start here. On the video above from the broadcast, Deuce Spann is standing with Coach Bellamy for 11 seconds, waiting for a signal. When he gets it, he trots on the field. I don't understand anything Rod said about "Johnny On The Spot" and such. Why is this the story being told?
- I saw Spann taking snaps behind the bench, then I saw Spann walk through the players towards the offensive huddle while teammates encouraged him. There's no video of this, but that's what I saw. I've watched for this maybe 35 times at Illini games over the years because "is the backup coming in?" is one of my regular obsessions. I was watching this time because I stan Spann and was hoping he was coming in. I hovered over the send button with my Spann tweet because when he went in I wanted to be the first one to tweet about him. As it turns out, the TV producer had seen what I had seen as well (Taylor in a headset, Spann warming up and then heading out onto the field for the offensive huddle) and the TV cameras were focused on Spann. If he's just randomly running in because the play clock is going down and he's Alerty McReadytogo, you would have seen it since he was spot shadowed on the broadcast for 17 seconds, 11 of them standing next to an offensive coach.
- Coran Taylor is handed the headset by Josh Beetham and has it on until the camera cuts away at 0:24. After the kickoff, in the picture-in-picture during the timeout, you see Beetham putting it back on his head at the 0:49 mark (below), so I'm assuming Taylor just handed it back to him. Is it here where we're supposed to assume Taylor ran to the defensive huddle on the other side of the 50? But the TV cameras start showing Spann two seconds later. None of this makes sense.
- I was certain I had my answer when Lovie said "we needed to get Coran out there and Coran wasn't out there". Honestly, I shouldn't have even asked the follow-up question and just tweeted "Lovie pulled Spann because he felt Coran should be out there" and that would be that. But I wanted to know if it was his decision (since he said "we" in the quote), so I asked him to clarify if it was him who pulled Spann out, and that's when he said "no plan, alright, it was a mistake. We didn't have the guy who should have been out there in. Deuce went out there when Coran wasn't ready to go. Mistake on our part". Which is why I asked Rod to clarify today. Which is when it got even more confusing with the johnny-on-the-spot response.
Here's the craziest thing about all of this. Say it was really simple. Rod thought it was time to go to Deuce (after four turnovers) but didn't communicate that to Lovie on the headset. When Lovie sees Deuce in the game, he takes a timeout to pull him. He's vetoing the decision. Maybe he says something like "we're still in this game and putting in a true freshman is waving a white flag" or whatever.
Well then he would have been ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. Taylor didn't make another mistake, led the team to two touchdowns, and had the offense in the redzone with two minutes left trying to score the game tying touchdown after coming back from 31-10. If this was all some weird coverup for a disagreement over which QB should be in, why? If that's what it was, it was nearly a game-saving decision.
Again, none of this really matters. I'm not uncovering some big scandal. We are discussing the fact that the fifth string quarterback didn't really enter the game. The topic itself is silly. The only reason I even paid attention at all: I wanted to see one of my "guys" on the field. I had given up on a comeback as well and was ready to see what Deuce Spann could bring. So I stared him down all the way until the moment he trotted out on the field.
But because of these two answers (and maybe because I listen to too many true crime podcasts where they're play some deposition and the lawyer is all "sorry to ask a ninth question on this meaningless point but when you say you 'heard the sound right after you turned off the TV'..."), I just don't feel satisfied putting this to bed and shrugging my shoulders. It's completely meaningless... so why tell elaborate stories about Deuce realizing the play clock was running down deciding on his own to run out on the field? Especially when the game was on television?
Ha - it's 8:03 pm. I hopped off the Zoom call around 2:00 to start writing this. I never ate lunch and still haven't had dinner. Five-plus hours buried in the meaningless SPANNGATE.
Yet I know myself. I can't not write this. I just don't understand the reasons for the tales being told. Or the tales themselves.