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Even if you don’t follow football, you have probably heard about the controversy.
You probably know about how the genius NFL dictator Roger Goodell has hired a group of absurdly under-qualified referees to officiate the most violent and confusing sport on its biggest stage.
After week three, it is evident that Goodell’s experiment has not faired well—the thousands of dollars he saved by refusing tenured referees their desired salaries (a minute portion of what the league makes) have turned into millions lost by the league in fan and player dissatisfaction.
The money is secondary in comparison to how the presence of these green-horned officials is changing so much about the NFL. First and foremost is the utter lack of respect that the referees are getting from the players and even the coaches (… Bill Belichick). It’s beginning to get out of hand and is starting to remind me of high school, when we would push and push our substitute teachers mercilessly until they broke. It was not their fault, nor ours—the power of intimidation is just too good to pass up.
Although the replacement referees have received an abundance of extreme scrutiny, on certain occasions, they bring it upon themselves. Take this past Sunday’s Cowboys-Buccaneers game when the ref threw his hat into the end zone as a penalty flag, causing Cowboy’s receiver Kevin Ogletree to slip and miss the catch. OR, how about when a block in the back was called on the kick-off team in the 49ers' game?
These Three Stooges-type mistakes by the referees are acceptable to some extent.
What happened at about midnight last night in the Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers game, however, has brought the NFL to its knees. It was a pathetic display of panic by the officials and has the potential to strip the NFL of the three things that make it king of the sports world: money, power, and respect.
Long before the game’s final play the replacement referees had lost control of everything. Think of a first-time substitute teacher trying to control 50 of the worst high school students in the country; make those students weigh between 200 and 300 lbs; and throw in a few million people to watch. It was chaotic. There was pushing and fighting after virtually every play. There were botched calls all over the field, generating a disruptive and annoying number of foul calls (a total of 24).
As the game progressed, I (and probably everyone else) could sense that it was destined for disaster. Commentator Mike Tirico, who has been working in the NFL for decades, began wondering out loud, “When will the owners speak up about the referees? It’s ruining the game we love.”
Then it happened. On a last-ditch effort after three incomplete passes and as he was falling down at midfield, Seattle’s rookie quarterback Russell Wilson heaved the ball into the left side of the end zone. The oblong ball seemed to float forever as the camera followed its path. Finally, it nestled itself tightly into a leaping Green Bay (M.D. Jennings) safety’s chest: Game over.
I turned to walk out of the room thinking, “What a hell of a game. I sure am going to have a lot to talk about tomorrow… these refs were atrocious!”
Then I heard the screams. I looked back at the TV to see Seattle’s wide receiver Golden Tate trying to wrestle the ball out of Jennings’ hands.
“Wait. Who has the ball? Who won?” I shrieked to my roommate.
“Seattle! Seattle won! Tate didn’t catch the ball, but they’re saying Seattle won,” he answered as both of our eyes melted into the TV screen.
A selfish grin came over my face as I realized that I had just witnessed some of the greatest fodder a sports blogger could ever come by. It was glorious.
As I sat there alongside millions of bewildered players, coaches, analysts, fans, and… referees… I began thinking about Mr. Roger Goodell. I wondered if he had already purchased a one-way ticket to northern Alaska where he would spend the remainder of his life hunting bear, building fires, and running from crazy Green Bay fans. Suddenly, though, I realized that he probably loved it. He had created a Jersey Shore-like reality show out of the once straight-laced NFL, and ratings were sure to shoot through the roof.
In Goodell’s mind, these refs are the best thing to ever happen to his NFL. Who the hell cares about integrity when everyone and their mother are talking about football and the money is pouring in?
To top the whole thing off in Rolling Stones-encore fashion, both teams were brought back onto the field to kick the required extra-point. The Seattle players waved their arms beckoning the fans' chants as the Packer’s trudged out of their locker room, led by a moping M.D. Jennings.
After it was all said and done, Steve Young, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, was asked his opinion on the game’s outcome. Fighting through tears, Young explained not only how this was the most pathetic display of officiating ever, but moreover how he feared that the game he (and all of us for that matter) loved so much, had lost it honor.
Perhaps an overreaction, perhaps not, but I can’t help but wonder if Goodell even cares about how his actions are ruining our love, our passion, our life, that is the game of football.
Photographs (2) by Getty Images
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