Shhhh, 1389 won’t like me telling you this, but she has a secret. She is a big NFL Football fan. (That’s “American football” to those of our readers who live elsewhere.) I know that she doesn’t mention it on the blog, but if you can get her talking about football, she really knows the game better than most women. Heck, she knows it better than a lot of male fans who watch but never played. (I did play. The guys I played with all say that I was pretty good. So, hopefully, I do know a thing or two about the game of football.)
That brings me to last night’s (September 24, 2012) game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. The NFL officials have been on strike and that has been stoking up all sorts of controversy about the quality of the game with the replacement officials. So, 1389 called to me and asked if I thought the controversial play at the end of the game was a “legitimate call” or not. I had to duck the issue, a little. Maybe you could say that I have a “conflict of interest.” Let me explain.
OK, I am kind of an old man. About the time I was born, the three top American sports were baseball, boxing and horse racing. Professional football and basketball were not that popular yet. In fact, during my preteens and early teens (the years when most boys are sports crazy), if you happened to live in Chicago, Detroit, Boston or New York, you probably would have found it harder to get tickets to your town’s NHL hockey team than to a NFL football or NBA basketball game.
In my family, there wasn’t much reason to follow NFL football. Southerners who liked football were college football fans. The ethnic half hadn’t much interest in it either. On the ethnic side, I had some older cousins who watched the game but it seems they were all college games and the cousins in question were college boys.
Going into fourth grade, I had no idea what the game of football was all about. At some point, my friends taught me how to play. The school had some “programmed learning device” that we could use and take home. I think they called it the “cycle teacher” or “psycho teacher” or something like that. It had a lesson on football and that was how I learned the basic rules of the game. My friends told me when the games were on television. They taught me to play the game in the back yard. And one of my best teachers, who had played a little in college, talked to us about the game one fall.
Officiating, then and now
One of the first things I can remember was a game between the local favorite NFL team and the almighty Green Bay Packers. There was about two minutes to go and the local NFL favorite team was ahead. The Green Bay Packers had the ball. (By the way people reacted, it must have been third or even fourth down.) The Packers’ quarterback threw the ball into the end zone and it bounced off one of the Packers’ hands and out of the end zone. Ready for the officials to rule the pass “incomplete” and bring it back to line of scrimmage, the home team fans were in for a real shock. The officials signaled touchdown. The other team got the ball back, but there was little time left and they couldn’t score. So the Packers won on a “touchdown” that was merely a ball bouncing off a receiver’s hand.
Note that I said “hand” and NOT “hands.” The ball hit only ONE of the guy’s hands! It was NOT even close to what any reasonable person would call a catch.
It was a different world in the 1960s. There were no “challenges.” There were no reviews or appeals of any kind. The decisions of the official were final. Games were won and lost based upon whatever the officials decided.
Supposedly, the rule was that if a receiver had “control of the ball” for any length of time, the ball was considered “caught.”
In those days, it was hazardous to your career to question the integrity or competency of any official, even indirectly. I remember that some coach (I think it was college basketball, but I’m not sure) was fined a huge amount for suggesting that some officials might SUBCONSCIOUSLY have been affected by the cheering of the home crowd. Oh, and in the 1960s, the word “subconscious” carried a lot of weight. Old Dr. Freud was on every “educated” person’s mind and the word “subconscious” worked to magic to explain most everything. So, if adding the word “subconsciously” didn’t save you, nothing would.
Well, there was quite an uproar after that Packers game. The media focused on the poor soul who was in charge of filming the game. The question was put to the film guy, “Is there any way that the receiver could have controlled that ball?”
It was a nasty question. If he’d said “Yes” the hometown fans might have had him tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. OK, that might be a bit of a cliche, but he sure would have looked like an idiot. If he’d said “No” his career in professional sports might have been over. In those days, no one in sports dared criticize an official.
Exhibiting the wisdom of Solomon, the film guy said, “There is an eighth of a second between frames. You cannot see anything between frames. It is possible that the receiver controlled the ball for an eighth of a second. (Please forgive my poor memory if we find that it was a sixteenth of a second or some other interval of time. Hey, I am an old man and lucky to remember this much. The concept is the same.)
The following week, our great teacher discussed the controversial call and the the film’s guy response. He asked, “Even if he had ‘control,’ how much control can you have for an eighth of a second?”
That was my first exposure to NFL football: The officials cheated and made sure that the Green Bay Packers won. So, I focused my attention on another league, the American Football League (AFL).
Fast forward, and, at the end of each season, the best of my AFL teams were playing in a Super Bowl against the NFL champs. What a surprise! The NFL team in the first two Super Bowls were the Green Bay Packers! All I could see was that ball bouncing off the Green Bay receiver’s hand in the end zone.
1970 came along and the NFL and AFL merged into one league. It would not affect me personally, as injuries ended my personal football career before college. However, that film still stuck in craw.
It may be psychological on my part, but every time I watch the game involving the Packers, it seems as though too many close calls–and even bad calls–go their way. So much so that I wonder if the fix is in. Well, okay, I am sure every fan of every team sees things that way from time to time.
Nobody gets hurt, right?
Funny thing about the Green Bay Packers, they don’t have an owner. The fans own the team. Literally. There is some historical tale about the fans “saving the team.” However, NFL rules won’t allow that for any team but the Packers. I might like to own a piece of the Dallas Cowboys, American’s team. Or maybe we could buy into those Pittsburgh Steelers with all those Super Bowl rings. How about those New York Jets or Kansas City Chiefs, who won Super Bowls while in the AFL? How about those once-perfect Miami Dolphins? Heck, I might even like to buy into those lucky Seahawks after last night’s game. Too bad; it doesn’t seem that the NFL will let me. But owing to a special “grandfather clause” the Packers fans, and only the Packers fans, get to own their team. How is that fair?
OK, so the league plays favorites and the Green Bay Packers are the league’s number one favorite. It is only a game, right? Nobody gets hurt. Or do they?
Green Bay is in Wisconsin. One of the Packers’ chief rivals is just to the south in Chicago, Illinois. In a former life (so to speak), I traveled the Midwest on business. Two such business associates were big Chicago Bears fans. They used to travel to see the Bears play in other cities. After nice trips to Tampa Bay, New Orleans and other places that I cannot remember, they decided to travel north to Wisconsin the next season to see the Bears play the Packers. Big mistake!
The Monday after that game, one of these fellows told me that the other was “still in the hospital.” The next day, I did see the other fellow. He could walk, but his head was all covered with bandages. It seems that the Green Bay fans had beaten these two fellows up.
The one who didn’t get beaten up as badly, had a grandfather come to his office that day. His grandfather recalled that Packers fans had been doing bad things to Bears fans who dared visit Green Bay for decades. Old grandpa said that, as far back as the 1920s, they would smash car windows, slash tires, and the like to any car with Illinois plates that was parked near the Packers home field.
A few years later, I found myself in Minnesota speaking with some Vikings fans. It seems that they knew all about the same kind of Green Bay “welcome mat” for Vikings fans.
So, the officials like to give this team special treatment. The team gets special treatment from the league. And the fans commits minor acts of violence against rival fans and vandalize their vehicles. Oh dear, a call didn’t go Green Bay’s way for a change, and the sports media is all upset? Well, give me a break!
What happened last night?
Last night’s game had some interesting calls. In the beginning, they mostly seemed to go against the Seahawks. As the game progressed, the Seahawks were leading 7 to 6, but the Packers had the ball. A very highly questionable penalty on a third-down play caused a Packers drive to stay alive. The Packers eventually scored a touchdown to take the lead. I thought to myself, “These replacement officials must’ve gotten the memo to call things to aid the Packers.”
It would be one of those exciting finishes. The Seahawks would have to drive the ball down the field and score a touchdown. Early in the drive–with plenty of time still on the clock–a somewhat questionable penalty kept the Seahawks drive alive. Now, the announcers were all upset. How dare those replacement officials made a bad call against the Packers! Funny, how they all but forgot that the Packers were only leading because of a bad call (or two, or three) that lead to their touchdown.
So, the game came down to the bitter end. It was fourth and goal and only time to run one play. The last play of the game would determine the outcome. So, like the rest of the viewing audience, I was watching pretty closely. What did I see?
Well, it looked like the Packers defender did touch the ball first. He certainly had both hands on the ball before the Seahawk receiver. However, they both had hands on the ball soon enough. I could not tell if the Seahawk receiver had one hand or two on the ball. I certainly could not tell who had control of the ball first. So, I focused my eyes on the officials. One signaled touchdown. One signaled something else. However, once the confusion cleared up, the ruling on the field was touchdown.
Then we all waited for replay officials. Ever since the flamboyant Bill Veeck, owner of the Chicago White Sox, who in the late 1950s or early 1960s, put his “eye in the sky” to try to monitor the umpires’ calls, we have had some fantasy that we would have officiating perfection with the right technology. Hmm, it has been 100 years since the “unsinkable” Titanic sunk. Will we ever learn that man is fallible?
As the time dragged on, we heard some speculation about whether or not the replay officials could overturn the play. And finally, an official took the field and tried to speak. When the sound system started working again, the play was confirmed as a touchdown and the Seahawks declared the victors.
In disbelief, the sports media complained about the call, the officials’ strike, and on and on. The NFL team singled out for special treatment had lost a game.
So, let me answer 1389’s query: Was it a “legitimate call”? I don’t really know. Somebody caught a ball. That is more than I can say about my first exposure to NFL football on a play where obvious nobody caught anything. And while the whole sports world is focusing on settling the officials strike, let me suggest they find a new focus. How about treating the Green Bay Packers like any other NFL team and not some sacred institution?
Author’s Note: I am NOT a sports commentator. I do NOT profess to right about all my facts. This is based on my memory. Your sports-related comments are welcome, even if they might not normally be acceptable for other posts. Try to keep the profanities to a minimum. And if you have reason to think that I am wrong about a fact, please try to provide a source if you can.
- PJM: NFL Says Clown Car Refs Missed Call at End of MNF Game
- ESPN Video: Breaking Down Seahawks’ Game-Winning TD
- Eric Golub: In defense of the replacement referees and the NFL Week 4 Prequel