Terrorism works, even on the gridiron.
Last week at this time, the NFL football world was coming to an end. The NFL’s pet team, the Green Bay Packers, had just lost a game on the last play. Because that is not supposed to happen to their almighty Packers, those who cover professional football were ready to start a riot. Fans were threatening to boycott the rest of the season. The players suddenly remembered how much they loved the regular officials to the point where there were rumors of a new line of Hallmark Valentine’s Day card for NFL players to send to their favorite officials. Even the financial channel, CNBC, was doing stories on how much money changed hands in Las Vegas merely because the last play of the Monday night game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers was ruled a Seahawks catch and a touchdown rather than a Packers interception.
So, emergency labor negotiations went into effect and the NFL poured bundles of money into getting back their old officials. The league just could not let its almighty Packers lose even one game do to a questionable call. So, those part-time two-legged zebras got to keep their fat contracts and inflated pensions. Those of us who thought NFL football might have something to do with the players who play the game, and the owners who take the financial risk to make the games possible, be damned! The game is all about having officials that help Green Bay look good.
Not the first NFL strike/lockout
This was not the first American football strike/lockout. Most notable was the 1987 player strike. The owners refused to either cave in to player demands or cancel the season. Instead, they hired replacement football players. The regular players played the first two games of their season, but walked out for week three. However, the owners had replacement teams on the field for week four and, quite frankly, those replacement players were not all that bad. The fans lovingly came up with nick-names for the replacement teams. The Dallas team become the Rhinestone Cowboys. The Los Angeles Rams became the LA Scams. San Francisco’s home team became the Phoney-Niners. Combining the name of a popular television show and the team’s regular–but highly controversial name–the people of New Orleans were rooting for the Saint Elsewheres. Perhaps the most descriptive monicker of the bunch was Chicago’s Spare Bears. Football went on for three more weeks and the fans were having almost as much fun with the replacement teams, so the strike was settled and, of course, the replacement games counted just as much as the others for determining who made the playoffs.
Fast forward to 2012.
For week four of the NFL season, we had a weekend of normal football. The officials made good calls and bad calls. That included the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers, which the Packers won, at the end of the game, by only ONE point, over a team that has been win-less so far this year.
That brings me to this week’s Sunday night game. Just like last week, it was decided, more or less, on a controversial call. I cannot EVER remember seeing a penalty for offensive pass interference in the last two minutes of a game. During the last two minutes, it’s been a tradition to “let the players play.” (In fact, the announcers made that same point several times during last week’s Monday night game, in their analysis of what is wrong with replacement officials.) For those of you who don’t know much about American football (but have bothered to read this article anyhow), let me explain a little bit about pass interference. When the team on offense throws a forward pass, the players down field are supposed to try to catch the ball, not push each other out of the way. Defensive pass interference is a very serious penalty. The offense is given the ball where they should have caught it and a first down (if it would have been a touchdown, the offense gets the ball on the one-yard line). However, we don’t want to have the offensive player take advantage of this rule and push the defensive player out of the way of the ball, so we have offensive pass interference. The ball is moved back and the down is played again. Normally, this is not a very serious penalty, unless the game is grinding to an end.
So, it was a bit odd that the New York Giants were called for offensive pass interference Monday night. The clock had almost run. An incomplete pass would have meant that the Giants could have tried for a 44-yard field goal. While it is not quite “money in the bank,” a 44-yard field goal is very doable. A 54-yard field goal is another matter. It proved to be too much of a challenge for the Giants. So, the Philadelphia Eagles got the win, 19 to 17.
I guess the officials overreacted to all that angst about the Seahawks touchdown on the last play of the game last Monday, and the league’s response: “Yes, the call was good, but there was offensive pass interference.” The “real” officials didn’t dare let an OFI call go when it might influence the outcome of a game.
So, other than the NFL opening up its wallet and enriching its PART-TIME officials even further, nothing has really changed – unless we are headed for a new era of over-calling offensive pass interference.