Last night was an embarrassment to the game of football. No, it was worse than embarrassing.
It was chaotic. It was appalling. It was dishonest. It was disgusting.
For the first (and I hope last) time in NFL history, the offense won a game by throwing an interception in the endzone. Unfortunately, that’s not something that’s going to show up in the stat sheet, but it should. The only thing that Russell Wilson should be proud of regarding his Hail Mary pass attempt is that he is the only NFL quarterback to toss a game-winning interception that results in his team scoring a touchdown. Not even John Elway, Steve Young, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning can compare notes with young Mr. Wilson on that prestigious accomplishment.
But why did it happen at all? Why did the NFL world go to bed enraged and wake up still enraged?
Because of the poor officiating by the replacement officials. Yes, it’s time to be honest and come clean…the officiating decided last night’s winner just as we feared it would when we found out that the replacement referees were here to stay until the NFL could work out a new deal with the regular refs. At the end of last night’s game, the Packers were 12-7 victors, but the officials gave the Seahawks a bountiful 7-point gift, despite the actual results of the play on the field.
An interception by the defense was ruled an offensive touchdown.
As a result of last night’s abhorrent officiating, the Seattle Seahawks and their most blindly loyal fans have spent Tuesday celebrating their misbegotten victory over the Green Bay Packers. The Seahawks head coach, Pete Carroll, even went so far today as to say that “it was cool” that the refs awarded the touchdown to Golden Tate even though every angle of replay shows Packers’ defensive back, M.D. Jennings, clearly gaining possession of the ball for an interception. And Golden Tate blatantly lied when he was asked by a report if he pushed off of Green Bay defensive back, Sam Shields, when he jumped for the ball.
Meanwhile, the rest of the NFL world erupted at the injustice of what took place. It didn’t matter if you were a Packers fan or a Seahawks fan (indeed, many level-headed Seahawk fans have expressed remorse over the call as well). As a football fan, what happened was blatantly and unquestionably wrong.
Adding insult to injury, today, all the NFL could do was muster a pathetic tow-the-line statement that confirmed the ruling on the field, despite the ruling’s blatant inaccuracy. Roger Goodell could (would) not even issue a formal apology to Green Bay and the entire NFL.
So where do we go from here? How does the NFL move on after this mess?
I’ve got a quick and easy solution. It’s imperfect, but it needs to happen–and it needs to happen very soon.
Bring the real referees back.
That’s it. No ifs ands or buts about it. Just get it done. And if there are any doubters who want to start talking about poor officiating by the regular officials as a justification for being ok with their prolonged absence, then I have five reasons why you’re dead wrong.
1. Replacement refs have cost the NFL its integrity.
Let’s admit one thing up front: no officiating crew will ever be 100% perfect. It’s just impossible.
However, there is no question that the last three weeks (culminating in Monday night’s debacle) has dramatically hobbled the image of the NFL compared to what it was when we had the regular referees. When you get to the point that games are decided incorrectly on the very last play by officials, as we did last night, what concept of “integrity” is left in the sport?
Quite frankly, there isn’t any from my vantage point today. The integrity of the game had come under question during the first three weeks of the season, but it was completely blown away by last night’s call. There’s not much respect to be had for the NFL today outside of Seattle. The unified uproar by NFL fans everywhere should be a telling sign.
Were there problems with “integrity” when the old refs would make dumb calls or have weird interpretations of the rules? Yes, there were, but none so severe nor systemic. Take the infamous Ed Hochuli call from the 2008 Broncos-Chargers matchup as an example. In that game, Ed Hochuli immediately admitted that he made a mistake and quickly explained the rules for why the ball had to stay in Denver’s possession–despite his initially poor decision to blow the ball dead when it was fumbled. Was it a terrible call? Absolutely. Should the Chargers have been given the ball? Most definitely. But Hochuli’s immediate and subsequent admissions of error showed that he understood the rules, and that according the rules, he was fully aware of the fact that he made a major mistake. We have absolutely no assurance that these refs will learn their lesson, and thus, we cannot have respect for the integrity of the NFL product in the coming weeks so long as the replacement officials are on the field.
2. Players are getting hurt.
This is both serious and damning to the legacy of Roger Goodell, a self-proclaimed champion of “player safety.” Defenseless receivers are getting jacked up on a weekly basis and the replacement refs are not cracking down by consistently enforcing personal foul penalties. As a result, defenders are getting away with the kind of head-hunting that is liable to result in a receiver lying on the ground with a snapped spine.
The most egregious example of this (so far) happened on Sunday during the Raiders-Steelers game when a Pittsburgh defender launched himself at a defenseless Darius Heyward-Bey as Heyward-Bey tried to reel in a pass in the endzone. Heyward-Bey’s body flopped to the ground where he lay motionless as trainers immediately rushed onto the field. Yet, no flag was thrown, despite a blatant helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless receiver and the horrifying aftermath.
You can be sure that these kinds of hits would not be flourishing under the authority of the real refs. Admittedly, sometimes they may be too overprotective, resulting in penalties on perfectly clean hits, but the trade-off is that the hits don’t happen as much and the field of play is relatively safer for players.
The NFL, despite its alleged devotion to player safety, is setting up more and more players to follow Darius Heyward-Bey’s unconscious flop in the coming weeks as long as the replacement officials are on the field. Of all the concerns with the replacement refs (who we understand are trying to do their best), this has to be one of the worst for the NFL.
3. Replacement refs have lost control of the game.
Games are taking much longer. Fights break out after every other play. Every time a flag is thrown, the replacement officials have to huddle together to discuss what toppings they like on their pizza. Their horrible calls don’t help garner respect from the players and coaches that are supposed to heed their rulings.
As a result, the game has gotten out of hand. The ending to last night’s game was sheer chaos as Green Bay’s players and staff angrily stormed into the locker room as the Seahawks gloated in their gift-wrapped victory. Nobody knew what was happening, not even the referees. After the touchdown ruling was made, the refs ran into the tunnel themselves, probably eager to escape attention, despite the fact that NFL rules dictate that after a touchdown at the end of regulation, a field goal is required. Players from both teams literally had to be corralled by their coaching staffs in order to run a meaningless and embarrassing extra-point attempt.
And then, Twitter erupted with players from all across the league tweeting their frustration, including Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Robert Griffin III, and a host of angry Packers players. Nobody in the league respects these referees. If they are still on the field on Week 4, that level of disrespect will continue to show and games will get even further out of hand than we’ve already seen.
4. Fans are rightfully irritated, if not enraged.
The inadequacy of the replacement officials has been common knowledge since the preseason among fans (except for Roger Goodell apparently). However, I think I speak for most fans when we say that we tried to give the NFL the benefit of the doubt. We hoped that the product on the field would continue to be high-quality and equitable.
However, it just hasn’t been so. Yes, we have seen fans get upset over blown calls by the regular refs before. We watched as Walt Coleman came up with the “Tuck rule.” We remember the Hochuli call against San Diego. We’ve seen really messed up stuff from the regulars.
But those crazy and wacky calls have been the exception, not the rule, especially when compared to the sheer ugliness of the calls we’ve seen from the replacement officials over the past three weeks.
The NFL will probably continue to attract high ratings in Week 4 even if the replacement refs are still on the field unfortunately. But how long can this last if the NFL continues to see such horrible officiating and potentially, more game-deciding calls? For our sake’s, I hope it is not long.
5. The old refs are just better than the replacement refs.
The regular referees understand the rules. They can count off yards on a penalty correctly. They are able to manage the flow of the game. They enforce rules that are designed to protect player safety. They don’t huddle up for five minutes after every penalty. They don’t constantly run to a full-time official on the sideline to ask for help. When highly controversial, game-ending calls have to be made, they don’t immediately rush to contradictory rulings. They have a deep and profound knowledge of the game that far surpasses what most fans can ever hope to attain.
They are certainly not perfect, but they are far better than the motley officiating crews that we’ve been subjected to for three weeks. On that point, there can be absolutely no debate.
Just Bring the Real Refs Back Already
My faith in the NFL has been lost for now. My respect for commissioner Goodell hovers between 0 and negative infinity. Someday, I hope it can be restored for myself and die-hard NFL fans all over the country. To me, that day will come when I see Ed Hochuli’s biceps bulging as he declares a holding penalty. It will come when I hear Jeff Triplette’s thick southern accent announcing pass interference. It will come when I see Mike Carey’s arm slashing through the air to signal a first down.
It will come when the real refs are back.