Irreplaceable Referees

25 Sep

If the NFL was not already feeling the pressure to make a deal with its locked-out officials, it sure is now.

On this week’s Monday Night Football matchup, Green Bay led 12-7 with less than a minute remaining, but Seattle quickly made its way down the field and threatened to score. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary as time expired, and a cluster of five Packers and two Seahawks leaped up for the football.

Seattle receiver Golden Tate shoved one defender out of the way (also known as offensive pass interference, maybe the most blatant example you will see) and tried to rip the ball out of the hands of Packers safety M.D. Jennings, who caught the pass and had possession (commonly referred to as an interception) as he and the other players collapsed in a heap in the end zone, still fighting over the ball.

One referee called a touchdown. Another signaled a touchback. On replay, it was overwhelmingly apparent that Jennings came down with the ball, and the closest Tate got to possession was having an arm in the mix and then refusing to let go of the ball once the play was over and everyone was on the ground. He came away with the football, but in no way did he have possession of it in the air.

“Simultaneous possession” may go to the offensive player, but that is irrelevant in this case.

Long story short, a bad call gave one team a win it would not otherwise have gotten … on Monday Night Football … with everyone watching.

The replacement referees have done the best they can. Working in a much faster-paced environment, with much more pressure and scrutiny, with no veterans around to guide them and help pick up the slack, these guys are in an unenviable position. None of them have been at this level before, and yet they are expected to acclimate automatically and make all the correct calls, something even their hallowed predecessors never could achieve.

I’m sure the NFL owners would like to think that anyone can do what the officials do, that one group is not that different from the next one down the line, that their expertise and experience is not so valuable that it cannot be replicated by others. However, it appears that is simply not the situation.

Reporter Rick Reilly, who was in the Packers locker room after the game, said on ESPN that he saw the team watch the replay and consequently start throwing towels at the TV. Can you imagine the frustration? How aggravating it would be to have a game nearly wrapped up and then lose because of an incredibly poor call? I’m surprised head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers were as restrained as they were in their comments. McCarthy said in all his years in football he had never been part of such a game, and Rodgers decried the call as awful.

The players cannot bring back the referees, but at this point, they sure would like to, at least Green Bay guard T.J. Lang. Here is a censored version of one of his postgame tweets.

“—- it NFL.. Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs.”

Maybe Lang should not say that too loudly. With as tight as the NFL looks right now for not paying its referees, the league might actually consider Lang’s idea.

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