NEW ORLEANS, September 29, 2012 — The following is in defense of the replacement referees and includes a NFL 2012 Week 4 Prequel:
Week 3 of the NFL 2012 season was the last one using replacement referees. The regular referees are back at work, as the fans did everything but serenade them to Cinderella’s “Don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.”
The referees received an ovation before Thursday’s game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
While the replacement refs were pilloried, allow me to be the lonely voice defending them. This is not for the sake of doing so. The hysteria against the replacement refs was out of control and in many cases undeserved.
The value of the regular referees is overstated and the contribution of the replacement refs was understated.
Did the replacement refs make mistakes? Absolutely.
Were they that awful? Absolutely not.
The two main straws that finally broke the camel’s humpbacks came at the very end of close games. The first one involved the Baltimore Ravens hosting the New England Patriots.
With time running out, the Patriots had a 30-28 lead. The Ravens needed a miracle and got one when defensive pass interference on a deep ball was called on the Patriots. It was the correct call. The defender hooked the receiver. It should have been called, and properly was. If not for that penalty, the Ravens do not even get to try the winning field goal, and controversy is eliminated.
As for the field goal, it was ugly, but it was good. The refs were standing right under the goal post. The had the view. That replay was shown over and over again and there is nothing to show that the kick went wide. It was beyond close, and in the end it appeared that the replacement refs got the call right.
If that game was an earthquake, then the Monday Night Football matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks was a nuclear holocaust.
The Packers led 12-7, and the Seahawks had one final Hail Mary from the Green Bay 24. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled back to the 40, unleashed to the end zone, and saw his prayer end in celebration. Seattle had been awarded a touchdown and the 14-12 victory.
Controversy immediately ensued and in both cases angry fans wanted to burn the replacement refs in effigy. Again, those rushing to judgment are at best arguing inconclusive results and at worst completely wrong.
The first complaint was that a Seattle receiver was guilty of offensive pass interference in the end zone. He was, as the replay showed Golden Tate clearly pushing a Green Bay defender out of the way. This was pretty blatant, and fans normally would have every right to be angry that it was not called.
Not this time.
The “non-call” was not an issue of replacement refs versus regular ones. Age and experience were irrelevant. This was an issue of an unwritten law called “let the players play.”
In hockey, if the game is tied in the third period or overtime, the officials go out of their way not to call penalties unless a guy gets garroted with a stick. In that rare instance, they look for an excuse to call a penalty on the other team to even things out.
In basketball, if a team is down by one point as the game is ending and a player drives hard to the basket, he should not expect to draw a foul. His job is to make the basket, not beg for a bailout from the refs.
In football, the officials do not call pass interference on the Hail Mary. It just is not done.
Some will argue that the job of the officials is to “follow the rules” always, but that is not what happens and fans everywhere know it.
Fans hate it when a game is decided by the officials. If it can go either way at the end, the non-call is the way to go. The officials decide the game by overturning a result, not by upholding one. Pass interference can be called on every Hail Mary, and the refs don’t like to interfere with miracle endings. Ignoring the offensive pass interference was consistent with how games are normally called.
The second part of that deciding play was the dispute over who actually caught the ball. In the air it did appear to be an interception. The defender had two hands on the ball while receiver Tate only had one hand on it. However, think about what happens when there is a fumble in a game.
During a fumble, we may see one player have the ball only for the other team to end up with it. During the scrum, the ball may change hands several times before the pile is uncovered. Players are kicking, scratching, punching, and even biting. Team A may have truly “recovered” it, but Team B possessed it when the pile was uncovered, and possession is nine-tenths of the law.
The interception in this game followed the same pattern. In the air it did look like an interception, but when both men hit the ground, so many players were around that it was almost impossible to tell what happened. Did Tate rip the ball out of the defender’s hands after they were both on the ground? Quite possibly.
Do we know for sure? No.
All we do know is when the pile was uncovered, both players had both hands on the football. A “tie” goes to the offense. The touchdown was called correctly.
I personally have no stake in either of these games. My team is the Oakland Raiders. The replacement refs clearly missed a helmet-to-helmet hit on Oakland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey that left him down on the gorund for several minutes. He had to be taken away on a stretcher. It should have been a penalty, but none was called. Yet last year the regular refs called it right sometimes and got it wrong sometimes.
The replacement refs did not cheat the Raiders out of victories due to the “Immaculate Reception” or the “Tuck Rule.” Raider-haters will point out that the replacement refs did not mess up the “Holy Roller” either. All of those calls were by regular referees. A critical game several years ago with regular refs cost Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson his job when it was ruled that Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde had scored a touchdown.
Replays clearly showed Testaverde down before the goal line. A playoff game between the Giants and 49ers was affected by a dreadful call that cost the Giants the game. All Steve Mariucci, the winning coach of the 49ers could say was, “bummer.”
Refs are human beings and human biengs make mistakes. Ed Hochuli made a bad call a few years ago that resulted in death threats. Overall he is a fine referee, but he had a bad night.
The replacement refs were demonized, but all in all they got the job done. Without them, the games would have been canceled. The criticism of the replacement refs was unfair and excessive. Those cheering the regular refs will go back to armchair quarterbacking the next time a major call is blown.
Now on to Week 4 of the NFL season:
Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens (13) was the Thursday night game.
(Ravens win but fail to cover)
Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons (7)
New England Patriots (3.5) @ Buffalo Bills
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions (4)
Tennessee Titans @ Houston Texans (12)
(Texans win but fail to cover)
San Diego Chargers (1) @ Kansas City Chiefs
San Francisco 49ers (4) @ New York Jets
(Upset special, Jets win outright)
Seattle Seahawks (3) @ St. Louis Rams
(Upset special, Rams win outright)
Cincinnati Bengals (1) @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Miami Dolphins @ Arizona Cardinals (5.5)
(Cardinals win but fail to cover)
Oakland Raiders @ Denver Broncos (7)
(Broncos win but fail to cover)
Washington Redskins @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2.5)
(Upset special, Redskins win outright)
New Orleans @ Green Bay Packers (7.5)
(Packers win but fail to cover)
New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles (2.5) is the Sunday night game.
Chicago Bears @ Dallas Cowboys (3.5) is the Monday night game.
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