You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
The powers that be in the NFL are not happy.
The 24 hours after the Super Bowl have been not been
dominated by talk of One for the Thumb, two of the longest plays in Super Bowl
history, Jerome Bettis’ triumphant departure from the NFL, or even Big Ben
posting the worst quarterback rating for a winning signal caller. Nobody’s even
talking about the lame show that the ancient, washed up group formerly
deserving of the title The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll put on at halftime.
No, the buzz is all about the officiating. That’s the
absolute last thing that Tags and company want to be the talk of the town. And
it’s not just the lunatic fringe on the message boards and call-in shows that
are in an uproar over the zebras; the major newspapers and network TV have the
story plastered all over the place as well. It’s enough to make Paul Tagliabue
wish that there had been a wardrobe malfunction this year or wish that they had
allowed the racier versions of the GoDaddy.com commercials to be shown,
anything at all to take attention away from the guys in the striped shirts.
There were four calls that are drawing most of the attention
today, calls that all went against Seattle and possibly cost them a net of some
18 points or more in a game that they lost by 11. Those four are the offensive
pass interference on Darrell Jackson, the touchdown awarded to Roethlisberger
just before halftime, the holding call on Seattle that called back a pass that went
to the Steelers one, and the personal foul called on Matt Hasselbeck when he
tackled the defender who had intercepted his pass.
They were all peculiar in their own way, making you wonder if those were penalty flags the officials were carrying around or if they were Terrible Towels. The pass
interference call was a late one, coming only after the Steeler defender turned
and complained to the official, who had shown no inclination to throw a flag
before that. The TD call on Big Ben’s run was also a delayed call. If the ball
did indeed eke over the goal line as he was going down, why did the official
not make the call immediately? Instead, he waited until Roethlisberger had
pushed the ball over goal after he was clearly down. The holding call looked
like nothing other than routine pass blocking and the cut block called on
Hasselbeck was just a flat-out missed call.
This comes on top of a postseason filled with questionable
calls, from a pass interference flag against New England to a reversal of an
interception by the Steelers for which the league issued an apology.
The Redskins had more than their share of controversial calls
in their games this year. In Denver, an apparent safety was overturned on
replay under a questionable interpretation of the tuck rule. The call on Mike Alstott’s two-point conversion that represented the winning points during the
regular season in Tampa Bay was just the last of several head-scratchers by the
referee crew on that day.
The cumulative effect of all of this has been quite damaging
to the NFL. An unscientific poll of members of the CPND Redskins Addiction Board
here shows that a majority believes that NFL officials have performed with “alarming
incompetence”. Anyone who is going to shell out money to attend an athletic
event or invest the time to watch one on TV wants the outcome to be determined
by the players, not by the officials. The more people perceive that the team
that gets the calls is the one that wins, the less popular the game will be.
The worse news for Tagliabue is that people thinking that
the referees are merely grossly incompetent is the better case scenario here.
There are those who are calling the very integrity of the officials into
question. Many of them are bitter Seahawk fans who probably will calm down and
angry gamblers who took the four. But not all of them are from the Pacific
Northwest and not all of them are going to go back to watching football as
I am not one to believe that there is any conspiracy to tilt
the officiating towards one team or another. As a practical matter, there isn’t
enough gain in having, say, the Steelers win to balance the risk of the
incredible damage the league would suffer if word of any plot to fix a game
were to get out.
That being said, I will say this. If a crew of officials,
for whatever reason, was inclined to fix a game they would have made exactly
the calls they made against the Seahawks on Sunday. The timing and impact of
the calls could not have been better had there been a sinister plot to ensure
that the Steelers would be crowned as champs.
Perception is reality, especially in a sports league. The
NFL will only remain popular if people perceive that it’s on the up and up. The
events of Super Bowl Sunday will no doubt harden the suspicions of the
conspiracy theorists and push more people into the ranks of the cynics. You don’t need Oliver Stone to do a movie about this situation to give it some legs.
It’s enough to make Tagliabue long for the days of Janet
Jackson and Desperate Housewives.
In the next installment here, this observer’s suggestions
on how to fix some of the problems with the officiating.
Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to
Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book chronicles every game the Redskins
played from 1937 through 2001. It is available at www.RedskinsGames.com