Flem File: Replacement refs in one sentence
September, 27, 2012
By David Fleming | ESPN The Magazine
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBefore we put the replacement refs out to pasture, let's send them off with an epic one-sentence farewell.So the NFL owners and referees have finally struck a deal to bring the real refs back to work, starting with the Browns-Ravens game tonight.
And my first reaction to this news was: What’s the rush?
Sure, the Packers may have just been cheated out of a playoff spot and bettors lost a reported $150 million while players’ health and safety were put at risk, to say nothing of the integrity of our national pastime.
But if you go by the 32 owners, men who fancy themselves guardians of this $10 billion game, who had stubbornly refused to pony up an extra $100,000 per team per season to end this debacle, there’s no real urgency here.
Even though they've reached a deal, let’s not all become mesmerized by the reappearance of Ed Hochuli’s guns and forget that throughout 99.9 percent of this mess, the NFL’s stance on the refs didn't change: The game’s fine; this is no big deal; calm down, you idiots; the replacement refs are doing splendidly.
And I, for one, totally agreed.
In fact, I can sum up all of the replacement refs' so-called major gaffes in one simple sentence:
During the Twitterpalooza that went on Monday night and well into Tuesday morning after the Fail Mary in Seattle where now, in the new pro-wrasslin’-meets-Arena League version of the NFL, you are awarded a touchdown if someone else catches the ball then lands on top of you (known now as a Golden Tate touchbackdown; look it up if you want), one of the last things I tweeted was: as the greatest benefactor of all this amateurish refereeing (which is quite a turnaround from Super Bowl XLIII, I know) Seattle owner Paul Allen really should be the one to break ranks with the owners and demand that the league bring back the real refs (hell, dude, just cut the check yourself), because this whole mess, and by that I mean calls being challenged and overturned at the stunning rate of 80 percent (17-of-21 in Week 3 alone) started the same place we all hope it ends: with the Seahawks, in Week 1 when Pete Carroll was twice given a third timeout on a potential game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter of what ended up being a 20-16 win by the Cards who, thankfully, stopped the Seahawks on fourth-and-4 at the Arizona 4, preventing the first real game-changing disaster by faux refs only to have it be quickly one-upped (or is it one-downed?) by rent-a-penguins in SanFran who awarded Jim Harbaugh an extra timeout and an extra challenge -- yes, challenges seem to be quite challenging for these rule-challenged refs who, the next week, let Rams coach Jeff Fisher challenge an unchallenge-able play with no penalty (it’s the mustache, I swear, that thing has magical powers) — look, real refs make mistakes too, big ones, awful ones, and lots of ‘em, a few years ago Mr. Perfect and former NFLRA president Ed Hochuli cost the Chargers a win against the Broncos with a botched call on a Jay Cutler fumble, but what makes this situation so different is the way the NFL, even with its integrity leaking out like the squealing air leaving a badly punctured balloon, kept denying there was a problem, an attitude punctuated by NFL spokesmen Greg Aiello, who, god love him, actually stated early on in this mess that “officiating is never perfect” which, I’m sure, is a real comforting thought to Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee if, in fact, he’s able to remember anything prior to the disgusting crackback block he got blasted by in Week 2 by, you’ll never guess: Golden Tate -- who, somehow, did not get flagged on the play (what is it with this guy?) even though he clearly led with the crown of his helmet and was later fined $21,000, the extra grand coming, I hope, for the way Tate strutted, flexed (while Lee was still on the ground) and celebrated the extreme courage and skill it takes to hit a defenseless player who can’t see you coming, an atrocious act that got lost in the overall avalanche of awful officiating that occurred in Week 2, an ignominious list of errors that includes: one of these clowns telling Eagles RB LeSean McCoy he needed him for his fantasy team and side judge Brian Stropolo being taken off a Saints game at the last second because he was a diehard, um, Saints fan (just barely avoiding a TD call of “The super-awesome Drew Brees, who seems really cool in person down here on the field y’all, looked me right in the eye and told me his foot was in bounds, so it will be Saints touchdown, even though the play ended at the 11-yard line ... ”); an intentional grounding call in the Miami-Oakland game that was ruled an incomplete pass; the Steelers' Ike Taylor getting called for his heart being filled with pass interference even though he never actually touched the Jets' Santonio Holmes; enough unregulated scrums in the Eagles-Ravens game to make me miss the NHL; and, oh, nothing big, just 29 extra seconds run off the clock after an incomplete pass by the Bengals which was actually something of a relief considering how dreadfully long the fake refs are making these games: eight tilts have already broken the marathon benchmark of 3:30, including the Falcons-Broncos who needed 56 minutes to complete one quarter and, I’m pretty sure, just hit the 2:00 warning a few seconds ago ... but, the truth is, the NFL could not have expected any other outcome, really, when they agreed to stake the game’s integrity on refs with no pro or major college experience, guys who reportedly couldn’t cut it in the Lingerie Football League and folks like Seattle Screw architect Lance Easley, 52, a full-time banker -- I mean, just ask yourself this: if everyone other than Vince Young would not hand their investment portfolios over to a ref with no experience in banking, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that Goodell would hand the $10 billion NFL over to a banker with no experience in refereeing -- and if just a handful of players can make the jump from D-III to the NFL, there’s no way Goodell could have anticipated anything less than the catastrophe that continued in Week 3 when D-III refs in Tennessee actually spotted the ball on the wrong 44 (hey, be glad it wasn’t the 24), then tripped up Dallas wideout Kevin Ogletree after failing to realize the middle of the end zone was probably not the best place to throw a hat; comical mistakes compared to the deadly serious error that led to Oakland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey being sent to the hospital on a hit that did not receive a flag (I seem to remember some garbage about player safety this summer when, the truth is, this ref debacle makes Bountygate look like a pillow fight ... ) although, to be fair, they did catch Denver’s Joe Mays for a hit that turned Texans QB Matt Schaub into the front runner for Player of the Ear (sorry), a highlight that made me cringe on Sunday night in between watching, literally, full-blown fistfights breakout in the New England-Baltimore game right in front of officials who did nothing because, presumably, they were too busy throwing 24 penalty flags, for an NFL all-time record 13 first downs and most of them, I think, on the Patriots for defensive holding (in total, fake refs have called 18 more penalties for pass interference than last year at this time and 38 more than in 2009), an ironic twist considering Bill Belichick’s very real attempt at some seriously offensive holding himself after the game when it appeared the fake refs were going by rugby rules and awarding three points for anything that hit the goal-line net, a momentary lapse by Belichick that came with a 50-grand fine (unlike Golden Tate who was actually awarded a game-winning TD for pretty much doing the same thing, grabbing a guy by the arm from behind); afterward, though, at least Belichick did the unthinkable in our culture: he actually stood up, like a man, took responsibility for his actions and apologized (by press release, ok, but still ... ) a lesson lost on Tate who, the next night, insisted he did nothing wrong after shoving Green Bay’s Sam Shields halfway into Puget Sound before becoming the benefactor of Easley’s enormous error which NFL owners bravely responded to by, well, initially, not budging one bit in their negotiations with the real refs, of course though, put yourself in their shoes, why the hell would they when they have the greatest bargaining chip in labor negotiations history: us, the poor, violence-addicted saps who continue to respond to this outrageous disgrace -- one that might have as its legacy a lost playoff spot for the Green Bay Packers -- by, ya know, driving television ratings to new and historic highs.