It seems everyone has an opinion on the replacement referees now after the Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks ended in farce as Golden Tate was awarded a touchdown for what appeared to be a Green Bay interception on the final play of the game, a Russell Wilson hail-Mary to the end zone as time expired.
The incident itself was undoubtedly a bad call – while simultaneous possession is judged in favour of the passing team; Tate only appeared to have two hands on the ball after Green Bay’s defensive back Jennings plucked the ball from the air. If there was any grey area surrounding this, then at least there should have been none about the blatant push off by Tate to get in position just seconds before, but this was missed completely by the officials.
The game defining incident was only one of many poor decisions in the game – Seattle’s winning drive was enabled by a mystifying pass interference call against Sidney Rice, who appeared to be the perpetrator on the left side line, and a very generous roughing the passer call for a hit that was late by a matter of milliseconds on rookie Quarterback Russell Wilson on third down. But to suggest that the game completely favoured the home team Seahawks wouldn’t be fair- Green Bay’s sole touchdown drive benefitted from a similarly outrageous pass interference call against Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor when Rodgers targeted tight end Jermichael Finley on third down, and the Aaron Rodgers scramble on 3rd and goal was adjudged to have gained enough for a first down by the replay booth, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
The first three weeks have been littered with officiating errors, quantifiably evident by the fact that the early games on the Sunday did not finish this week until the second set of games had entered the second quarter. An unfriendly media and commentators questioning every call, fair or dubious, when they would usually try and give the benefit of the doubt to the officials has led to a climate of distrust of the supposed authorities running the games; creating a negative and suspicious atmosphere amongst fans and players alike.
The Sunday Night primetime clash the Patriots and Ravens was another game littered with refereeing errors to the detriment of both teams – though it was the home Baltimore crowd who felt the most aggrieved, coordinating the loudest “Bull-s**t” chant I’ve ever heard as Tom Brady’s final drive was extended multiple times by phantom calls.
In the end though, while we can apportion a lot of blame to the replacement referees for blowing the calls, and we can only hope that the NFL authorities, who are not short on cash, put their hands into their pockets and pay the regular referees what they have clearly demonstrated they are worth, for me the main fault in this whole sorry episode lies elsewhere – with the coaches and players themselves.
Defensive backs and linemen on both sides of the ball in particular have used the circumstances of the replacement refs as an opportunity to push the envelope in regards to what they can get away with on the field. The upshot of this has been an increase in the amount of contact by cornerbacks after 5 yards and sly holds by offensive linemen on nearly every play. The situation resembles when a replacement teacher takes over a classroom of children who take advantage of their perceived lack of authority to run roughshod over the lesson.
Even the coaches haven’t been innocent. The NFL wasn’t happy at Bill Belichick’s grabbing at the sideline official after the Patriots last second loss to the Ravens. Their coach, John Harbaugh, was given a 15 yard penalty for encroaching onto the field whilst trying to call a time out. These are experienced professionals in positions of authority who have shown a complete lack of leadership in these difficult weeks. Under these circumstances, is it any wonder that the replacement referees have made so many errors?
America’s social spine is based around the concept of personal responsibility and individual rights. But the past three weeks have shown that without due respect for an authority that is seen to exert power, a group of utility maximising individuals and groups cannot co-exist in a functioning system, as they all seek to take advantage of a power vacuum for their own individual ends. It’s time for a functioning central authority to regain control of the mess by ensuring that the rules of the game are enforced upon the players and coaches who have proved incapable of policing themselves.