For the second time in the 2014 post season, the NFL has everyone talking about what should not be. The games have been marred with questionable calls and bad officiating at the critical juncture of two games. It has overshadowed some very good football games and for all of us long term purists and historians, given us much to banter about for years to come.
Last week on my social media things took off with the interference/ non interference call between Dallas LB Anthony Hitchens and Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew. The controversy didn’t begin until the refs picked up the flag reversing their call. In truth the ref should have either explained the reason the flag was being picked up or not to have thrown the flag in the first place.
Now we fast forward to yesterday’s NFC Divisional between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. In the waning moments down 26-21 and facing a 4th down, Romo lofted a pass toward Dez Bryant when apparently he caught the ball and it would be 1st and goal. Once the Packers challenged the play the controversy began.
What we received was a poor carrying out of the rule was as it was written. This rule was adjusted after the 1999 NFC Championship Game when Bert Emanuel caught an apparent pass late in the game and the tip of the ball touched the ground. This was a diving play and the ball hitting the ground in the middle of the catch. We didn’t see that on the play with Bryant.
During Bryant’s catch, had he been in the middle of the field caught the ball and been hit after two steps, it would be a catch and fumble meaning he had possession. So now he catches the ball, rotates his body, cradles the football with one hand, takes several steps and dives for the goal line and the explanation is he hadn’t made a football move. This was and should have been ruled a catch once he took the two steps with no bobble of the football. Not the diving catch that the rule was written for.
As The Chancellor of Football I said it at the time… this was the worst call in NFL playoff history and changes are coming. Yet you do realize the instant replay that robbed Dallas of this game was borne from bad referee calls in playoff games prior. The first comes from 1972 when the Steelers faced the Raiders when the nonexplainable happened to the naked eye with :22 to go.
Since it was such a bang – bang play the officials had to confer and did so for more than 5 minutes before they signaled touchdown. Don’t tell me feelings don’t linger. John Madden refused to be interviewed for A Football Life – The Immaculate Reception citing for years the Raiders were cheated in that playoff game. At the time a ball couldn’t bounce from an offensive player to another without a defender in between. A hail mary could not be thrown back then…but had the ball hit Fuqua or Tatum of the Raiders??
“Why can’t the referee watch the replay on television?” became a cry from fans at the time. It seemed blasphemous to NFL rule makers to aid the officials in getting it right. It would be taking it out of the refs hands…the human element would be removed from officiating was the sentiment maintained by the league.
Those same Oakland Raiders found themselves in the same position in the 1977 AFC Championship in Denver. With the Broncos maintaining a 7-3 lead, they were poised to take a commanding lead over the defending Super Bowl champions. From the 1 they had a 1st and goal when Craig Morton turned and handed the ball to the late Rob Lytle when
Sentiment started to lean toward fans who clearly saw Lytle fumble. Just because the referee didn’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Talk after the game centered on the nun fumble call from the Raider locker room to fans across the country. The Raiders would have seized the momentum.
This touched off a brutal rivalry that lasted for most of the 70s where Pittsburgh became Team of the Decade. As the rivalry began to subside with Oakland, a new one emerged with division rival Houston. Pittsburgh beat them in the 1978 AFC Championship 34-5. It was not even close. However in the ’79 AFC Championship Game they were embroiled in a dogfight. With the Steelers up 17-10 and the Oilers driving late in the 3rd quarter, Dan Pastorini lofted a pass for Mike Renfro when…
Sentiment finally came full circle when the refs admitted to the blown call in private but the company line was towed publicly. So the same as they can parade out the official’s brass to explain a terrible interpretation of the rules, I know better. Six years later instant replay was instituted in the NFL.
Just like “The Tuck” rule in 2001 and the Bennie Barnes “incidental contact interference call in Super Bowl XIII, the referee would have been better served calling it to the spirit of what he saw. Deal with the rule book interpretation later. The ref knew Brady wasn’t throwing that football…call it that way. The ref knew that Bennie Barnes and Lynn Swann tripped over each other looking for the football…call it that way.
However several seasons had been ruined by terrible calls that instant replay could have helped but in this instance it worked against. Had I been the referee I would have called it in the spirit of the play. I keep hearing folks talk about the letter of the law as though it’s black and white. Once you leave the field its too late, stick to the spirit of the game and what you saw.
The Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys could have become back to back champions. The Steeler dynasty may never have taken off totally and or it could have ended with 3 Super Bowl victories had the Oilers seized the momentum. Now we don’t get to see if the Cowboys could go up and dethrone the Seattle Seahawks as we have argued on social media for weeks.
The other elephant in the room is the NFL not only needs to move to full time referees, they need to have complete officiating crews work these games. Not all star crews. If the best teams make the playoffs have the best team of officials calling it. We wouldn’t have had the nonsense of refs not explaining their actions in Dallas and yesterday could have been different as well. Dez Bryant’s catch was nothing like Bert Emanuel’s diving catch in the ’99 NFC Title Game.
Get ready for more change…
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Jef, you have the best page on pro football…..us purists owe you a great dea of gratitude,
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That Lytle call was bad, but there were several bad calls in 1977. Here are two of them:
1. Week 16-Patriots at Colts: Late in the game, the Colts were driving around the Patriot 10 when Bert Jones fumbled the ball. The Pats picked it up, but the whistle had blown when it shouldn’t have. If that was called right, the Raiders go to Miami, not Baltimore.
2. AFC Divisional Playoff-Steelers at Broncos: With about 7 minutes left to play, Denver is up 24-21 when Morton hits Moses with a TD pass…or so we thought. The officials said that it bounced off Jack Dolbin (double-touching was still illegal), but when the replay was shown, it hit nobody.
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The essence of sport is athletes performing at such a high level that fans understand they could NEVER imagine let alone do what the gladiator in the arena does, let alone at franchise or career defining moments. The fact is the vast majority of games consist of plays which are UNLIKE that, which of course make those glorious events that much more memorable. Yesterday NFL officials robbed the sporting public of a jawdropping athletic, game changing (dare I say franchise changing) play that would have gone down in football lore. Let players play and refs get out of the way.
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