John McGrath

John McGrath: Here’s hoping the game — not the officiating — is the story Sunday

Veteran NFL official Tony Corrente is a former high school social sciences teacher and baseball coach from California. Although I’ve never met him, I assume he’s an honest, trustworthy person fit for the job of refereeing the NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

That said ...

Come Monday, I hope we’re not talking about Tony Corrente. I hope he goes unrecognized as he boards a flight at Sea-Tac Airport. I hope his face is not shown on television atop a breaking-news scroll that reads: “League acknowledges referee erred on controversial touchdown call in Packers-Seahawks game.”

I hope the George Halas Trophy is presented without 55 million Americans arguing about what precisely defines pass interference, or the follow-through phase of a pass completion.

Is this too much to ask? Maybe.

The first two weeks of the NFC playoffs provided everything a football fan could want: acrobatic catches, crazy bounces, theatrical celebrations, bruising collisions, momentous strategic decisions, riveting suspense. But instead of being identified as postseason classics, Dallas’ 24-20 victory over Detroit in the wild card round and Green Bay’s 26-21 defeat of Dallas in the divisional round are destined to be remembered as officiating crew train wrecks.

The pass interference flag that was picked up during the fourth quarter of the Cowboys-Lions game already has attained All-Time Head Scratcher status. Pass interference and its twin sibling, defensive holding, are maddeningly arbitrary calls anyway, and the inability of referee Pete Morelli to articulate a reason for excusing Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens of an apparent penalty complicated things.

As a neutral television viewer told the Detroit News: “The call is announced and then reversed without explanation. I haven’t seen that before. So I will leave it up to the experts to make that judgment as to why it happened. But I can tell you if I was a Lions fan, I’d be pretty aggravated.”

That baffled man who isn’t a Lions fan? President Barack Obama.

When NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino concluded Hitchens was innocent of pass interference but guilty of defensive holding — worth 10 yards and an automatic first down — it only served to turn aggravated Detroit fans into aggrieved Detroit fans.

Your guys messed up a pivotal call at midfield with four minutes remaining in a game the Lions were threatening to ice? Thanks for sharing that, Dean. Thanks a lot.

Last Sunday the tables turned, as you knew they would be, in the divisional round. Beneficiaries of the mysteriously rescinded flag in Dallas, the Cowboys were denied a clutch reception near the end zone in Green Bay because of a literal interpretation of an awkwardly constructed rule.

Dez Bryant made a terrific catch that should have put Dallas in position for a touchdown. If Bryant is thinking logically, he clutches the ball, hits the ground, and calls it good. Not only do the Cowboys almost certainly score, they kill vital clock time Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers would need for a comeback drive.

But Bryant is not thinking logically. He’s a wide receiver with a hard-wired impulse to take the ball to the house. On his way to the house, Bryant loses possession of the ball but regains it.

A catch followed by a fumble followed by a Cowboys recovery for a first-and-goal is what you and I see. Booth-review officials, tethered to a rule that screams for revision, see an incomplete pass.

The calls that cost the Lions in Dallas, and the Cowboys in Green Bay, figure to be prominent topics when the NFL’s competition committee convenes in February. Among the potential changes afoot: replay reviews for pass interference/defensive holding, and a restructuring of a rule that insisted Bryant failed to catch a pass he clearly caught.

Another change could alter the makeup of “All Star” officiating crews during the postseason. The communication snafu on the picked-up flag in Dallas was an obvious consequence of colleagues unfamiliar with each other.

A referee wasn’t in synchronization with the same officials who accompany him through the 16 weeks of the regular season. No wonder Pete Morelli found himself in a predicament so clumsy it confounded the president.

As for Tony Corrente, he began his NFL officiating career as a back judge in 1995. Three years later, he was awarded a promotion to a referee. The Packers-Seahawks contest will be Corrente’s 14th postseason and fifth conference championship game.

He has earned his stripes, but sometime around 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, I hope Corrente is walking off CenturyLink Field as a referee whose hard work has gone unnoticed.

So does he.

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