Mailbag: Emotional fallout from MNF finish

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
7:07
PM ET
A veteran NFL official mistook Vinny Testaverde's green-annd-white New York Jets helmet for the football crossing the goal-line plane back in 1998.

The gifted touchdown lifted the Jets to a 32-31 victory, dropping the Seattle Seahawks' record to 6-7 while severely damaging Dennis Erickson's chances for returning as head coach.

"Jet's win just plane crazy: Zzzebras call TD even though Vin can't crack goal," the New York Post proclaimed.

"Vinny falls short on Jets' final chance, but refs say it's ... CLOSE ENOUGH," the New York Daily News wrote.

Seven years later, officiating played a role in the Seahawks' Super Bowl XL defeat to an extent great enough for the referee, Bill Leavy, to issue a public apology years later.

Those two events frame reactions such as the one I received via Facebook from a Seahawks fan unmoved by suggestions officials handed a cheap victory to Seattle against Green Bay during the Monday night game at CenturyLink Field.

"In a time like this, Sando, we need a voice like yours to speak up for the alienated nation which is Seattle and tell the national media that we don't feel one ounce of regret and refuse to apologize to a league whose officials have cost us a playoff game (Vinny Testeverde's helmet TD) and a Super Bowl," Seahawks fan Floyd wrote. "This karma has been a long time coming."

First off, the defeat to the Jets was not, by itself, enough to keep Seattle from the playoffs that year. It put a damper on the season and might have played a role in the team finishing 8-8 instead of 9-7, but that is impossible to know.

What I'd like to do here is promote a better understanding for why fans feel the way they're feeling following what happened Monday night.

Floyd went first. Now, let's dive into the NFC West mailbag.




Ken from Yakima, Wash., disliked the way Seattle won but thought there were too many bad calls and non-calls to say for sure which team should have won the game.

Sando: I felt like the Packers did enough in the second half to win the game. They were the team trending in the right direction as the game progressed.

The frustrating part, from players' perspectives, was trying to figure out how officials were going to administer certain calls. Michael Robinson, the Seahawks' veteran fullback, said holding was one such penalty. He said the regular officials granted some leeway as long as offensive players kept their hands inside the frames of the players they were blocking. The officials working the game Monday night applied what Robinson thought were inconsistent and unreasonable standards.




Gary from La Conner, Wash., thinks Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is being disingenuous when he defends the call favoring Tate.

"Carroll knows the score," Gary writes. "Rather than manning up and saying, 'Yeah, we caught a break but will take it,' he defends what cannot be defended. Anyone who is remotely objective who watches the video of that play knows Jennings came down with the ball, clutched to his chest, on the ground, game over. The best Tate ever had was one arm on the ball and that was after the players were on the ground. That is obviously clear from the video. Any other coach in the league would have manned up. But not him. Yuck!"

Sando: I've heard quite a few people say it's not Carroll's job to apologize for what happened. I don't have a huge problem with Carroll's take on the matter. I do think Tate's repeated proclamations regarding his obvious push-off -- "I don't know what you're talking about," he said -- comes off as flippant and immature. The broader response from the Seahawks' locker room was less abrasive.




Joe from Anchorage, Alaska asks rhetorically how much preconceived notions about which team should have won affected the general reaction to bad calls.

"I know you were covering the Seahawks during Superbowl XL, so you could see how Seattle fans felt about the officiating in that game," Joe writes. "Here was a clear case of poor officiating affecting the outcome of a game, in the biggest game of the year; the official even apologized years later. There was nowhere near the coverage in one entire offseason that there has been regarding last night's play. I also don't recall any Seahawks players saying the Steelers needed to 'man up' and give the win to the Seahawks. What are your thoughts on the reason this particular play has incited so much controversy?"

Sando: The Packers' standing in the league affects the reaction, sure. Having the New York Giants, New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers victimized would have resonated as well. When a lower-profile team beats a higher-profile team, the story often becomes about the higher-profile team losing, not the lower-profile one winning.

That wasn't what was primarily at work Monday night. The reaction to the Packers-Seahawks ending hinged on a single play changing the outcome with no time on the clock. When I covered Super Bowl XL from Ford Field, I left the pressbox for the postgame locker room without knowing officiating would be a big issue. The TV analysts had been talking about it. Seahawks fans were sensitive to it. I wasn't aware of their concerns and did not, on my own, see officiating as decisive in that game. I just wasn't conditioned to think that way. That situation was different in that fans were upset by a series of calls over the course of the game, not a singular, decisive call at the end.

ESPN's analytics team determined that the play Monday night carried the largest change in win probability for any play since the 2008 season, which is as far back as our win probability models go. The Super Bowl had no comparable plays.




Matthew from Bremerton, Wash., wants my thoughts on this statement: "Had the refs not called a phantom pass-interference penalty against Kam Chancellor on third down during the Packers' touchdown drive, which even the analysts said was a bad call, Green Bay never would have scored. Thus, the 'bad call' would have been a moot point. Both teams were screwed by the refs, so it's really unfortunate that they are making a big deal of the one play, and not even speaking of the other."

Sando: I've heard this one quite a bit, but it's ultimately unpersuasive. We could go back and replay the game a hundred times based on one play here or there. What about the ridiculous interference penalty against Sam Shields when Sidney Rice was clearly the one interfering? What about the roughing penalty against the Packers to nullify what would have been a killer interception by Seattle's Russell Wilson?




Brian from Seattle says he understands why the final play is getting so much attention.

"But why is it that with our defense playing as one of the best in the league, the Seahawks still don't get any love from the national media?" he asks.

Sando: Well, the Seahawks moved into the top 10 of our power rankings this week. Would people rather watch analysis regarding this highly controversial play or a show breaking down some of the better defenses in the NFL?




Hugh from Moss Landing, Calif., compares the Tate-Jennings replays to the Zapruder footage. He thinks Tate established possession first.

"When the two were in the air, Jennings touched it first, was the first to have both hands on it, then Tate managed to put both hands on it," Hugh writes. "Tate was the first to have both feet on the ground, at which point he did have both hands on, though not as securely.

"Then Jennings came down, and Tate let go with his hand to reposition it. Simultaneous catch. The question should be whether the rules should be changed. Should a replay allow the detection of a penalty? The league allowed that there was interference, which should be the disputed issue, I think."

Sando: I don't think we want officials watching replays to look for pass interference, holding or other more subjective penalties. I do wonder if there should be some allowances made on the final plays of games. Clearer language regarding simultaneous catches could be helpful. The interference from Tate was so blatant, however, that any official monitoring the situation should have seen it.




John from Bakersfield, Calif., agrees with my contention that the NFL had a clear disincentive against finding fault with how their replacement officials ruled on the question of a simultaneous catch.

"This season has turned very ugly, very quickly," he writes. "From the Saints fiasco and the unbelievably harsh penalties that ensued over supposed player safety, to watching unqualified officials make a mockery of the game and endanger all players, it seems the league is begging for the government/courts to step in and get a little fairness back into the game.

"The owners and their chosen man seem to think they can do what they want with impunity in all matters. It seems they are turning the game into a political statement, and I don't think they understand all the anger the 99 percent or the 47 percent or any other high percentage of average working people feel toward the ruling class these days. The nation could go Wisconsin in a heartbeat over this folly to break a small union."

Sando: You're onto something here, John. NFL owners won big during the labor negotiations, in my view. I think the commissioner has felt empowered. Owners are feeling empowered.

Also, the battles became personal during the lockout. The tenor of the league changed. The commissioner has sent messages to players through fines and bounty suspensions. He has sent messages to the officials by remaining unflinching amid officiating disarray. The league and its teams have sent messages to their own employees through reduced benefits, temporary pay freezes and staff reductions. The common theme through those messages: The NFL does what it does because it can. No one can really hold the league accountable.

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