The NFL has started the season with replacement officials. The league that turned football into a multi-billion dollar industry (and America’s favorite sport) could not settle its differences with the men in stripes.
For the first time since 2001, the NFL kicked off the season with replacement officials. Regular officials have been locked out since June. The two sides talked over Labor Day weekend before discussions broke off.
The issues are both financial and non-financial. Some NFL officials have other jobs outside of their weekly commitment to the league. Others do not. Along with more pay, the guys who make the calls want a pension plan.
Having replacement referees during the exhibition season is one thing, but what happens now when the games “count?” Ultimately the players decide the outcomes of games, and on occasion, the officials do too.
If the season opener between the Giants and Cowboys is any indication, this may not be such a big deal. Aside from missing an obvious hold on Giants receiver Victor Cruz at the goal line, the substitute officials did not embarrass themselves.
The same cannot be said of the preseason, which was chalk-full of follies and faux pas. Everyone knows that officials make mistakes. Just like the players, and the rest of us, they are human. But if the lockout continues, there is sure to be at least one big blunder that could be the difference between a “W” and an “L.” In a 16-game season that is huge.
After the season opener in East Rutherford, Giants coach Tom Coughlin was diplomatic when asked about the non-call that cost his team a touchdown.
“I think it was more than a hold. There is another word for it. But you have people in a position and they’re trying to do the very best they can. We can yell and scream on the sidelines all we want, but that’s the nature of what we have in front of us right now.”
Just picture if that were the Patriots. Imagine Bill Belichick’s head exploding on national TV the first time he disagrees with a lame call that could be a game-changer.
Up in the broadcast booth we hear Jim Nantz say, “A pass interference call on Devin McCourty leads to a Titans touchdown with one second left on the clock. I don’t know Phil, the replay seems to clearly show the Patriots defender made a clean play.”
Phil Simms: “Bill Belichick not only ripped his headset off; he is now being restrained by his own players!”
In my ten years covering the Patriots, I learned this about Belichick. He has little patience for ineptitude- not from his players, not from the media (the worst offenders) and not from officials who steal a win from his team because of a bad call.
There is no doubt that coaches and any other team personnel have been instructed by the league to stay out of diatribes having to do with bad calls. They know where their bread gets buttered, and the owners clearly want to win this battle.
So for now it is up to the replacements. Where do they come from?
Everywhere from Pop Warner to high school to college to the Lingerie League. Yes. Lingerie League.
Imagine a game between the Bears and Packers being decided by a referee who once officiated women running around in bras and panties.
How much will the replacement officials change game plans?
If I were the Patriots, I would run the hurry-up faster than the speed of light. Before a whistle could get into an official’s mouth, Tom Brady will have taken the next snap. It’s a sure fire way to create mass confusion- not just for the opposing defense, but for the officials.
It’s September and football is back. No labor dispute would ever stop me from watching. The sport is that good- even if the officials are not.
In the words of Coach Hoodie, “It is what it is.”
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