If there was ever question in your mind about sports passing the human capacity to adequately officiate it, Sunday’s NFC and AFC championship games turned another page.
Most assuredly, in light of last week’s PPM column about officiating and the pressures we put on men and women to now officiate with objectivity…given the fact of what they see, and apparently DON’T see…there were a lot of comments shared on Monday.
Did we all see the ‘no-call’ so controversial to the outcome of the Saint-Rams game?
And did we all see the spate of calls in the Chiefs-Patriots game that seemed to dictate a more favorable path for New England and their eventual win?
Yes, and yes. And, I’m forced to admit that in times like these that I (and you) are forced to think the unthinkable about that which we’d like most to believe.
But first, let’s just think in terms of humans, and human limitations. The speed and complexity of the game has passed human officials by, given that we now expect them to render a decision not only on interference, holding, roughing the passer, and unnecessary roughness, but we want them to decide intent, as well.
Because as I explained about basketball in last week’s column (Words On Officiating, And Officials), it’s not enough to see a foul and call it for the sake of contact…because coaches and players say the players are bigger and faster than before and therefore there has to be more incidental contact. LET ‘EM PLAY! Now you see what you see and in a micro-second you have to evaluate intent, advantage versus disadvantage, where the player was standing in relationship to the rim, blocking or charging…it’s a lot to process.
And in football it’s even harder because there’s 22 bodies out there, instead of 10. There’s no possible way middle-aged officials can run with NFL wide receivers, so there’s always going to be a question of having the correct position to make a call. We have bigger, faster, and more athletic players, yes; but we don’t necessarily have bigger, faster, and more athletic officials. Ed Hoculee’s biceps don’t mean jack.
And regardless of the sport, in games of Sunday’s magnitude there’s simply more pressure at times than people can stand. They get brain-lock. I know, because I’ve walked in those shoes. You want to make a call and you don’t, or can’t. And then that awful feeling of self-doubt – that the moment was bigger than you.
Did those calls Sunday effect the outcome of the games? Absolutely, in my judgment, because if for no other reason they impacted the momentum of the game. Even if they got it right the amount of down time to review detracts from the actual playing of the game – in any sport. Frankly, if you know anything about sports history the game seemed to get along better before replay review than it does now, when we relied solely upon the human element of judgment. Back then the play was over and done, and there were no reviews to talk about and second guess. THERE WAS NO ESPN! Maybe it was better that way. Eh?
Which brings me to unthinkable possibility number two. Pooh-pooh if you want, and think of me what you will, but doesn’t your mind go there, to the unthinkable…that there is the possibility that the game’s integrity is less than we want to believe? And what bigger stage (except for the Super Bowl) than the NFC and AFC championship games, in terms of the amount of money wagered?
It’s happened before, going as far back as the 1919 World Series, and the famous ‘Black Sox’ scandal, where members of Chicago White Sox players were banned from baseball for life because they admitted throwing the series to the Cincinnati Reds. One of those players was ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson, one of the game’s finest players of that era, whose reputation to this day is synonymous with cheating the outcome.
And I’m certain that there’s a possibility of it having happened more than once since 1919, so if you’re a realist reading this, you know it too – because everything is open to a wager anymore. Nothing is sacred. I’m not saying that IT DID happen on Sunday, but every time I see a call blown like the no-call on the Saints receiver, it does cross my mind.
So now there’s a call for even more replay – for interference and holding calls – which will slow the game even more for the sake of ‘getting things right’. Not good! Because in fact, if they want to get it that right they should put the game in the hands of officials off-field somewhere, who can watch it from all the different camera angles, slow it down, and then make the calls. When there’s a penalty sound off a deafening horn, and make it a spectacle…like the Romans used to do in the Coliseum. And sell commercial rights to the announcement of the infraction. By the way, you’ll be there all day to watch it, so pack your tailgate accordingly – breakfast, lunch and dinner.
While they’re at it, add a wing onto the Hall of Fame for the worst calls in the history of the game, because it’s rapidly becoming a part of history. Complete with photos and a biography of the infamous – something like they have in the museum at Alcatraz.
At the rate we’re going…it’ll soon be bigger than the room with the artifacts.