“I think it’s getting to a point where it’s pretty horrendous, and it’s an embarrassment.”—Drew Brees
1) 1972 Gold Medal Men’s Basketball game.
2) Armando Galarraga blown perfect game.
3) The Monday Night Football Replacement Ref game.
What do all of these games have in common? They make up the top three biggest travesties in American professional sports. The first cost the United States a Gold medal against the Soviet Union the height of the Cold War, the second was a downer for everyone in baseball, and the third will go down as the moment Roger Goodell was finally caught with his pants down. Between the NFL’s concussion cover-up, Bounty Gate (which is looking more and more like Goodell’s Bounty Hunt), and the Replacement Refs Era, Goodell may be on the worst streak of any American sports commissioner ever.
Going into the season, I honestly didn’t think much of the Replacement Refs. Peyton Manning, the non-Quarterback controversy with the Jets, and Chad Johnson’s wife were the only big training camp story lines, so I chalked up any qualms about the Replacement Refs to a slow news cycle in the NFL. Just good ol’ sensationalizing by the TMZ faction of the sports media. [Editor’s note: Greg warned all of us of this impending doom during Week 1.]
The old refs were pretty bad, so how bad could their picket-fence crossing counterparts be? After all, we spend hours upon hours every weekend lamenting their calls, and claiming that we can do better. This is a job that apparently any fan can do better, right? The Replacement Refs, however, are so bad that it actually somehow puts the old ones on a pedestal. This is the only instance in sports history (to my knowledge) that the regular officials of a sport, who are generally despised and blamed viciously (and often unfairly), are actually being revered, held to a higher standard, and genuinely missed. After the infamous Ed Hochuli call in 2008, I didn’t think that NFL officiating could get any worse, but it did.
It took three weeks, but the Replacement Refs finally blew a game. It’s not like there were a few bad calls that may or may not have actually influenced the outcome of the game. Wins and losses are created throughout the course of the game—it’s usually impossible to seriously chalk it up to one play and say the game was won or lost there. Coaches never ever point to one particular play as the reason why a game was decided. But in Roger Goodell’s NFL, we can finally point to one play.
On the last play of the Packers-Seahawks game on Monday Night Football, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a hail mary into the end zone. A touchdown would win them the game, and anything else would end it in favor of the Packers. Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate shoved Packers cornerback Sam Shields to the ground (no offensive pass interference was called), and Packers safety M.D Jennings caught Wilson’s pass for an interception (he should’ve swatted it down though). Tate fought with Shields for the ball, but it looked more like Jennings caught the ball and Tate caught Jennings. It was a clear incompletion on the field, and even clearer in replays. That was Jennings’ ball.
And then this happened:
One official signaled for an incompletion, and the other signaled for a touchdown. The next time the old refs head to the bargaining table with the NFL, all they have to do is slip Roger Goodell this photo in a manila envelope, and he’ll cave. That one snapshot is the defining moment of the Replacement Ref Era in the NFL—the moment two officials called the game the opposite way, and ultimately got the call wrong, even after reviewing the touchdown. Not only did they look foolish making the call on the field, but they even got the call wrong after having a chance to correct it. This is exactly why they NFL added automatic reviews for every touchdown scored. A safety-net was put in place by the Rules Committee to prevent this, but the Replacement Refs somehow managed to slice that net into pieces. Refs get calls wrong on the field all the time—Replacement or not, they mess up. The missed call on the review was more inexcusable than the call on the field, because they had every chance to fix their error.
But never mind all of the horrible calls on both sides of the fence throughout the course of the game. Russell Wilson’s interception was overturned on a soft roughing the passer call, Greg Jennings got blindsided running his route, Jermichael Finley got mugged all night, and Charles Woodson got away with everything against the Seahawks wide receivers. A total of 24 penalties were called tonight, and every drive seemed to go like this:
Play, play, flag, play, punt.
For 3.99999 quarters, the game was dry, uneven, and frankly boring. Every Packers drive featured Aaron Rodgers getting killed, and every Seahawks drive was a Marshawn Lynch three and out show, all aided by flags thrown left and right. (I hope this game doesn’t overshadow what was a bad performance by the Packers on offense and a worse play-calling job by Mike McCarthy. We’re still waiting for this offense to look like 1/4 of what it was last year.) The “play, play, flag, play, punt” drive formula wasn’t exclusive to this game either—NFL games are 10 minutes longer this year thanks to increased penalty calls and general confusion from the Replacement Refs. Games not only feel slower, but they actually are slower.
Tonight was a watershed moment in NFL history. It was the night that the NFL’s Stalin got egged by his Replacements Refs, and finally had his ego popped. The NFL will be better for what happened tonight (the only way to go is up once rock bottom is hit, right?), but for it to come at the cost of my Packers doesn’t make any Packer fan feel any better. The Packers are now martyrs, but their loss will not be in vain.
The Seahawks were celebrating their “12th man” tonight to honor the great home crowd and community they have in Seattle, but who knew that their 12th man was wearing zebra stripes instead of a lime-green Nike jersey? The players now know, and they’re not fucking around anymore. Your move, Roger.
Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49