NFC West: Bill Leavy Apology

Referee Bill Leavy's surprise admission stands as the most notable officiating-related development in the NFC West this offseason.

A smaller one slipped through unnoticed -- almost, anyway.

Don Carey, the rookie referee San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary confronted at halftime of the 2009 regular-season opener, has been reassigned to work as a back judge under Ed Hochuli.

"You don’t want to hear what I said (to Carey)," Singletary told reporters in the aftermath of the game against Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium. "It was very positive. He may not say that."

Singletary was joking about the "very positive" part.

"Really, what it came down to, when you’re making calls out there, have somebody over there near me that can relay some kind of information and I’ll be fine," Singletary explained at the time. "And that’s what we talked about. That happened in the second half. It worked out a lot better."

Carey suffered two replay reversals in the 49ers' game at Arizona and three more the next week. He finished the season with 11, tied for second-most among NFL referees behind Al Riveron (13). In Week 3, Carey's sixth reversal of the season returned possession to the Chicago Bears following Matt Forte's fumble at the Seattle 1-yard line (David Hawthorne had recovered for the Seahawks). I remember thinking replays did not appear conclusive.

Clete Blakeman, a field judge under Leavy last season, has replaced Carey as referee for 2010. Carey's more famous brother, Mike, remains one of 17 referees (he has been one since 1995).

The NFL has shuffled multiple crews for 2010. Referee Peter Morelli's crew has a league-high seven members new since 2009 (each worked on a different crew last season).

Six officials from 2009 are not returning in any capacity for 2010: John Schleyer, who served as head linesman under referee Jerome Boger; Carl Johnson, line judge under Don Carey; Charles Stewart, line judge under Carl Cheffers; Bill Schmitz, back judge under Morelli; and Clayton Judge, video operator under Al Riveron.

A seventh, back judge Bob Lawing, died from cancer in May. Officials will honor him by wearing a memorial patch on their hats this season. Lawing worked under referee Walt Coleman.

Ex-Seahawks weigh in on referee

August, 7, 2010
8/07/10
5:13
PM ET
The story featuring referee Bill Leavy's admissions regarding Super Bowl XL has more than 2,700 comments and has been shared on Facebook more than 8,500 times.

The subject has gained traction, in other words.

I'll pass along some comments from former Seahawks Seneca Wallace and Bobby Engram, both with the Cleveland Browns. Thanks to AFC North maestro James Walker for tracking these down."
Wallace

"On a whole, unless they’re going to come out and say, 'Hey, here’s the trophy and here’s your ring,' it’s not going to make a difference. But if we took care of what we were supposed to take care of in that game … I think a lot of those calls wouldn’t have made a difference. But it’s good that he came out now and admitted that he blew some calls.

"We can only control what we can control. If the refs are going to make bad calls, they're going to make bad calls. We can dispute and argue them all we want. But at the end of the day [Pittsburgh] walked away with the trophy.

"[Mike Holmgren] wasn’t happy at all. He’s a very intense guy. From what I remembered, he was very upset with some of the calls that went on in that game."

Engram

"I hope he feels better about himself. He’s human and we all make mistakes. I’m sure he was trying his hardest, but it was difficult for us to overcome some of those missed calls.

"We talked about it until we were blue in the face the first year after. To throw salt in that wound, I live in Pittsburgh and went to Penn State. Even the fans there, they knew. The fans knew me from Penn State, so they treat me a little differently. And when you talked to a majority of them, they say that they hated to see it go down like that. They saw it. Those calls were such momentum-changers. We kept battling and kept battling. But we could only overcome so much, especially when we didn’t play our best football that day.

"But I feel bad for the guy. These refs try hard and I respect what they do. It’s not an easy job. It’s a fast-paced game and a lot of big, strong guys are flying around. It’s just unfortunate that he had a bad game in the Super Bowl."
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com has quotes from other current Seahawks players. I watched the game in person without hearing TV commentary and didn't think officiating affected the outcome of the game. My thought was that Seattle dropped some key passes, probably didn't stick with the running game enough and had trouble against the pass once safety Marquand Manuel suffered an ankle injury during the second quarter. The bad calls hurt, too. I do remember thinking at the time that the pass-interference penalty against Darrell Jackson seemed ticky-tack, even if it were defensible from a technical standpoint.
Referee Bill Leavy's surprise confession over officiating errors in the Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl defeat four years ago raised questions. Let's search for some answers.
  • What calls did Leavy admit missing? Leavy said he "kicked two calls in the fourth quarter" of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 21-10 victory. There were only two penalties in the quarter. One was a holding call against Seahawks tackle Sean Locklear, wiping out a gain to the 1-yard line. The other was a low block called against Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The latter call was clearly made in error. Current and former associates of Leavy declined to speak for attribution, but they said the call against Hasselbeck always bothered Leavy. However, that call didn't affect the game significantly because it came after Hasselbeck threw an interception and Pittsburgh was in command. Leavy's associates said they thought the call against Locklear was correct and they couldn't understand why Leavy would make such an admission.
  • Why was Leavy in Seattle? Leavy never worked another Seahawks game while Mike Holmgren was the team's head coach. The league assigned him to the Seahawks' Week 2 game at San Francisco last season, without incident. Leavy was familiar with coaches on the Seahawks' new staff, however. He had worked their training camp practices elsewhere previously. That could have made the connection more natural at this time. The league did assign him to Seattle.
  • Did the league know in advance Leavy was going to make these statements? No. League spokesman Greg Aiello had this to say via email when contacted Saturday: "Bill's personal comments speak for themselves and we see no reason to add to them."
  • What was the Seahawks' reaction to Leavy's admission? Few players from the 2005 team remain on the roster, but Hasselbeck was gracious when reporters asked him about the admission Saturday. "I think all the officials that we have in the NFL are stand-up guys and Bill Leavy is no different," Hasselbeck said, adding that he spoke with Leavy in Week 2 last season. "It’s not a perfect science and there’s a lot of human involvement there and I’ve played some games that I remember because I feel like I did a good job and then I feel some other games where I have some regrets. That goes for any sport, any player, I’m sure coaching is no different, in that same way I’m sure officiating is the same thing."
  • Why confess at all? This admission seemed to serve Leavy's conscience more than anything. The league certainly doesn't want to revive a 4-year-old discussion on officiating errors. Even the Seahawks had moved on. Leavy's associates described him as very conscientious and as an official with a strong performance record overall, but they said they knew the Super Bowl bothered him.

Officials take all sorts of abuse from fans and criticism from all angles, but rarely do they open up the way Leavy has done in this case. The only complaint here is that he didn't do so earlier, and he wasn't more specific.
The Seattle Seahawks and their fans weren't the only ones agonizing over officiating in the team's Super Bowl XL defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 2005 season.

The referee, Bill Leavy, also felt horrible about it. Leavy, part of the officiating crew monitoring Seahawks practices at training camp this week, told reporters the game "left me with a lot of sleepless nights" and that "I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better."

Where's Mike Holmgren when you need him?

Leavy admitted blowing two calls in the fourth quarter. One call would have presumably been the disputed holding penalty against tackle Sean Locklear after Seattle advanced to the Pittsburgh 1-yard line. The other presumably would have been the call against Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck for an illegal block.

There were other potentially dubious calls that hurt Seattle in that game, from a penalty against receiver Darrell Jackson for pass interference to the ruling that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger scored a touchdown shortly before halftime.

Leavy made his apology before briefing reporters on rules changes for the 2010 season. NFL officials provide such briefings every year in every NFL camp.

Leavy deserves credit for owning up to his mistakes, but why wait more than four years? As tough as it must have been for Leavy to fess up, it would have been much tougher -- and far more meaningful to the Seahawks -- if Holmgren were still head coach, Tim Ruskell were team president and more than eight current players had ties to that 2005 team.

Perhaps Leavy plans to reach out to them separately.

Too many questions remain unanswered. I plan to follow up when dropping by Seahawks practice Sunday.

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