CHICAGO – The Chicago Bears were hung out to dry by their own towel during their season opener against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Trenton Gill was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct after the rookie holder used a towel to dry off a small area of the field ahead of a potential field goal try late in the second quarter. The 15-yard penalty moved Chicago out of Cairo Santos' range, leading to Gill's punt.
“No one told me, but I know now. I know never to do it now,” Gill said after the Bears' 19-10 victory.
It rained for much of Sunday morning in Chicago, soaking Soldier Field. There were splashes of water almost every time a player went to the turf.
Facing fourth-and-6 at the San Francisco 29 in the final minute of the first half, first-year Bears coach Matt Eberflus sent Santos and Gill out for the field goal.
Gill used a towel to pat down the area where the kick would be attempted, and Santos also stepped on the towel and used it to dry a different spot. Gill then cast the towel aside.
That's when the flag hit the field.
“I honestly didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” Santos said. “I think now I know not to use that. It wasn’t to dry because it was raining. I didn’t expect it was going to dry the field. It was just to flatten the spot and I didn’t want to do it with my foot in the water because I was just about to kick the ball. So I just did it with my hand and got called that. So I just want to take responsibility. Trent didn’t know.”
Making a wiping motion with his left arm, referee Clay Martin announced the penalty on Gill.
“You cannot bring what we consider a foreign object — this was not a towel that would go on a uniform — out to alter the playing surface," Martin told a pool reporter after the game. "We felt that provided an unfair advantage, using the towel to wipe down the area where the ball was going to be placed.”
Martin said it would have been fine if Gill had just used the towel to wipe his hands.
"To put it on the ground and alter the playing surface where we were going to spot the ball, that’s why we called a penalty,” he said.
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