By Peter ChristianÂ
The NFL Officiating is punchline bad, but honestly is there anyone out there that is truly shocked we’ve gotten to this point? Think back to the 2006 Super Bowl when there was a 5 minute stretch in the second half when the Seahawks were poised to take the lead and control of the game when the officials took the game into their own hands with a shady holding call, an awful non-call on the newly imposed illegal horse collar tackle (more on that later) and then the 15 yard penalty against Matt Hasselbeck for a low block even though he was attempting to make a tackle after his interception. In hindsight, that game should not have been a much more exciting game down to the wire. Instead it was over relatively early in the 4th quarter.Â
Typically I’m not a fan of blaming a loss on the officials because there are so many opportunities to overcome a bad call during the course of the game. However, since that Super Bowl XL debacle it seems like the officiating crews have a protective veil around them to hide behind. The league rarely admits mistakes, never rectifies them and continually sweeps internal issues under the rug. During the next two seasons the officiating slowly started to become reliant on instant replay, but hesitant to overturn calls and completely inconsistent when doing so. Finally, this season has brought sub-par officiating to its peak. The NFL Officials are not in touch with their own rules. Simple differences between how to handle a procedure (pre-snap) penalty and in-play penalty have even been botched. Each crew and head official has a different interpretation of the rules and policies of the game.
As a fan it is extremely frustrating, I can’t even imagine how upsetting it has to be to the players and coaches.
Personally, I have watched every minute of the 2008 Minnesota Vikings season and they have been involved in some of the most egregious calls of the season. Against the Colts in the second week of the season the Vikings were leading 15-0 in the third quarter and the Colts had a first and goal from the one yard line. After the Vikings stopped the Colts on 1st and 2nd down (the 2nd down play was initially called a touchdown but was challenged and correctly reversed) the Colts were given a touchdown on a Joseph Addai plunge on 3rd down. The replay showed it to be an extremely close play and was challenged as well and even though there was no evidence of Addai getting the ball across the line (note: I was at this game and my wife paused the replay where Addai was closest to getting the ball to break the plane before getting thrown down by Pat Williams took a picture of it and sent it to me via text message; Addai was clearly short of the goal line.
If I can clearly see on my tiny cell phone screen in a text message picture of a paused non-HDTV that he didn’t get across what the hell are they looking at under those hoods? additional note: the replay did show the head linesman indicating a touchdown when Addai had the ball on the opposite side of his body and was unable to see it cross the goal line; this is the type of calls that are being made in every game) the play was upheld.
Two weeks later when the Vikings played the Titans they were forced to rely on the views of instant replay yet again after a 4th and 2 play on the Vikings 3 yard line. Trailing by six in the 2nd quarter, the Titans completed a short pass to Justin Gage in the near sideline flat and he was immediately hit but not taken down, hit again and driven back and as Gage tried to stretch for the first down he was hit again and ultimately lost the ball. At full speed it was clear that Gage never got to the first down marker, so the fact that they ruled Gage down was a non-issue until I saw where they spotted the ball, nearly a full yard beyond where Gage’s momentum was stopped and enough for the first down. Again the instant replay blatantly showed any and all of the three things that would yield a successful challenge; wrong ball spot, not a first down, fumble before being ruled down and recovered by the Vikings. Yet inexplicably the referee came out from under the hood and ruled the play stood as called!
(Note: In no way do I think that those two plays altered the outcome of the game, however I do relate them in detail to show how blatantly bad the officiating has become. So bad it feels like the NFL officials are shaking it in front of our faces just to say, “Screw you guys, you thought instant replay would fix things and it hasn’t and there isn’t anything you can do about it”)
That brings me to Ed Hochuli. I’ve always liked Ed. He explained the interpretation of the rule and how the play was affected by the said rule and for the most part was pretty right on with the majority of the calls. I’ll even go as far to say that the call at the end of the Charger-Bronco game was the correct call. He knew he messed up, he knew it was wrong, however it was the fault of the NFL and the owners to put one of the officials in that position. For the first time ever, the rules screwed Ed Hochuli. The NFL has gone to extreme lengths to have the officials protect the quarterbacks and Hochuli did just that in that game, but instead of being able to use instant replay for its purpose, he was hamstrung by the NFL rule book. That is the reason the league demanded that Ed stop discussing the call and stop answering emails about the call because they knew sooner or later people would realize that it wasn’t Ed’s fault but the league’s instead.Â Much of the same can be said about Hochuli’s calls in the Saints-Vikings game on Monday Night Football a few weeks back.
We’ve all seen the replay of Reggie Bush getting yanked down by the facemask before fumbling the ball or the questionable fumble/non-fumble of Adrian Peterson at a crucial point in the game. There have been and there will continue to be missed penalties on the field (holding, pass interference, facemasks, horse collar tackles that never get called etc.) however the league and the owners have continually voted that instant replay not be allowed to reverse penalty or non-penalty calls. Again, Ed is being criticized because of the league’s policies. The Peterson fumble is another story. I have been arguing with officials (through the television, of course) that having possession of the ball and having the ball secured are two separate things. Finally, in this instance, an NFL referee saw my point of view, but I don’t think he did so to make precedent.