Having officiated intramural football games in college – which makes me roughly as qualified as some of the current NFL replacement refs – I’m throwing this flag on commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell is not one of the team owners short-sighted in their failure to recognize the value of officials to their multibillion-dollar annual enterprise.
And he’s not one of the officials who are seeking more pay and benefits for a part-time job in a recessionary economy.
But Goodell has failed the nation of fans by having been unable to generate the leadership force to get the labor dispute solved before it began tarnishing the image of the league and reducing a proud product into a laughable satire.
Perhaps the owners have taken a stance that is valid in business terms, but they’re dead wrong in their apparent belief that we wouldn’t notice the difference, or that the game wouldn’t suffer with crews of unqualified replacements.
When Goodell took over for Paul Tagliabue, he conceded that he had one primary personal fear – that he’d be the guy in charge when the most successful athletic enterprise in history did a face-plant.
The Seahawks’ 14-12 victory over Green Bay on Monday Night Football – abetted by any number of botched calls, but most specifically the result of the controversial final play – caused the labor dispute to reach critical mass.
The result of the game stands, the NFL announced Tuesday. Of course it does. But the debate isn’t going away soon.
The league office correctly conceded that Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was guilty of offensive pass interference, which should have caused his winning touchdown catch to be nullified. But it is an infraction that is not correctable on review according to current rules.
The officials’ ruling that Tate and Packers defender M.D. Jennings had simultaneous possession of the ball (giving the score to offensive player) was, in fact, open to review, but the league saw no irrefutable evidence of the ruling on the field.
The call was highly debatable. But without dispute is the fact that the mechanics of the call and the review were botched. And the image of vast ineptitude was captured when the two officials overseeing the call looked at each other with blank faces and finally raised their hands in conflicting rulings.
Almost every game since the replacement refs took over has been an avalanche of flags for phantom interferences and retaliatory punches, and endless meetings of officials who seem to have been supplied rule books printed in a foreign language.
No slam on their intent; they’re simply not prepared. And because of this, they’ve lost the respect of the players and coaches whose livelihoods – and, in some cases, health and well-being – are dependent on the proper application of the rules. The result is chaos and rising hostility.
Even before the deciding touchdown, the game had been marred by 24 penalties for 245 yards. At least half a dozen were blatantly incorrect, leading level-headed MNF announcer Mike Tirico to comment that “it’s making it hard to watch.”
The Packers would agree. In the fourth quarter, two other huge calls went against them – a roughing-the-passer flag and a pass interference that probably should have gone against the Seahawks.
But the Packers also could have eliminated the issue by finding a way to get a first down on their final possession, or blocking better in the first half when Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times.
While the Packers made effective adjustments at halftime, the Seahawks went depressingly one-dimensional in the second half. And they also relapsed into the undisciplined play that was such a problem last season, with any number of inexcusable procedure penalties. (I mean, will somebody check Russell Okung’s hearing? It’s obvious the man can no longer hear the snap count).
So, for all its marvelous intensity and drama, it was a flawed game in many respects – with the performance of players and coaches included.
And instead of drawing attention to the Seahawks’ elite defense led by end Chris Clemons and a dominant secondary, or the steel-willed running of Marshawn Lynch, the topic across the country is lousy officiating.
Find whatever negotiating middle ground necessary to end the dispute and send these refs back to the level of competition that matches their preparation.
Expand the range of judgment calls open to review via replay. If an obvious violation or infraction contributes to a score, it should be correctable on review – judgment call or not.
The Seahawks have been on the short end of historic officiating controversies, in games that were of greater consequence than Monday night’s. So they owe no apologies for benefiting from this one.
However, an apology came from an interesting source on Tuesday – the Packers’ Rodgers.
He apologized to the fans who pay good money to see first-class entertainment and instead are treated to a product rendered inferior by faulty officiating.
He needn’t apologize.
Roger Goodell should be the one doing that.dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com