Since the advent of the lockout of NFL referees (following the failure of contract negotiations with their union), the media had been awaiting a fulfillment of prophecy. On Monday they got it.
All it will take is one bad call to decide the outcome of a game and the outcry will be so loud the owners will have no choice but to give in…At least, that’s what the pundits thought and said.
So guests and hosts to the NFL postgame shows, ubiquitous fan radio, Mike and Mike in the Morning, and don’t forget the old sports pages of your favorite rag (electronic or paper) ramped the issue up and up and up, spicing things with a heaping helping of ridiculous gambling losses and Twitter feeds from players, fans, retired refs, and Grandma Moses, who even though she’s dead apparently still has an opinion and is registered to vote in Chicago. (Sorry, I get carried away too.)
However, the remainder of this week has shown us reality is never quite what we believe it’s going to be, no matter how much some try to force things to turn out the way they expect. Not to get too deep into the NFL owners/referees dispute, but like most communication breakdowns, it’s a matter of trust. And what’s the matter is that they don’t have any – and piling on like this sure doesn’t build it.
The refs not only want to keep their pensions just the way they are, they also want to know they have security during the season and will not be yanked off the field from September to December by the NFL office thinking they’ve screwed up too many times.
From the league’s perspective, they want to be able to evaluate and make immediate changes when performance is not as expected, which looks good on paper but is a process fraught with problems. Umpiring crews are teams not unlike the players. They have their routine, trust and confidences. They work closely together, understand each other, and rely on one another’s judgment.
It is one thing to be evaluated every year and then advanced, put into training, or released based on further review. But when you stop and think about it, that happens during the season to players all the time. It’s a bit out of the ordinary, but it does happen.
Once so yanked, who would substitute for these refs from this new pool system? I bet we could call them replacements? Wouldn’t that be nice, not to mention somewhat ironic?
Come on, man! What’s a little forgiveness between friends? Better yet what should it be between anybody (friends included and enemies especially)? The NFL owners, through the league office, want to take near total control of the game at all levels. With billions of dollars on the line, the stakes don’t get any higher unless you’re talking nuts-oh Iranian mullahs with apocalyptic vision, but that’s not a sports page issue.
The quasi-religious aspect of this whole situation struck me when during the postgame ESPN review-a-thon into Tuesday’s wee hours the eloquent, articulate and wow-so-wrong-headed Steve Young said the current situation with the NFL’s referees was damaging the “reverence” the public held for the NFL.
Goodness knows I enjoy the game and respect the players for their abilities, but having a worshipful attitude (or attempting to create one) toward a game we fallible humans play is very dangerous territory in which to tread.
If this is in fact the case, walk lightly my friends, and hope a little humility and perspective begins to show from somebody. In this sense, failure can be a good thing. It often exposes the truth about us more than success can. Let’s hope fans of American football appreciate that, but let’s pray the NFL’s leaders on all sides understand it even more.
Smack in the midst of all this replay drama, there’s another week of games coming, so Week 4 here we go. Week 3 was a middling 8-8, but only thanks to the Seattle/Green Bay fiasco that went my way. After three weeks my average remains pitiful and less-than-middling. For those of you wanting the gory details, it’s 23-25, to which I can only say, “Meh.”
Browns at Ravens – Cleveland has an “old” rookie quarterback who has improved from awful to merely bad, a great rushing option in Trent Richardson, and nothing but banged up receivers who may or may not be up for this one tonight. I just don’t see any way Baltimore loses this one, even if Ray Rice gets bottled up by some miraculous showing in the Browns’ D, which they don’t really have. Just going Flacco to Boldin will be enough.
49ers at Jets – San Francisco found out what it’s like in this league when you bask in the glow and don’t bring your “A” game. The New York greenies are still a mess, and had been somewhat lucky in that regard too until Darrelle Revis went down for the count. Not even luck will help them this week. Not even in somewhat friendly confines. And if things don’t get much better soon New York is about to get hostile with its AFC representative.
Seahawks at Rams – St. Louis should rebound somewhat coming home. At least since Dick Vermeil’s day they’ve been a dome team, but Seattle is too fast up front and too strong in the secondary for the Rams to mount any consistent offensive threat. The Rams’ best chance is to keep it close with a capable defense and hope their kicker comes through at the end. He’s the most consistent threat they have now, but that’s not enough of a chance to suit me.
Panthers at Falcons – Atlanta is playing fast and furious and Carolina lacks the intensity, the wit or the will to slow them down so they are about to get blitzed on the road. Cam Newton needs to learn the value of humility. Life may indeed be a bowl of cherries for some, but that don’t mean the pits aren’t big.
Vikings at Lions – Minnesota is celebrating a great home upset of the Niners and may still be hung over by success. Detroit has little but a passing offense that is going their way. Last week it was almost enough, but that defense is far, far, far from where it should be. At home against a divisional rival they should squeak by, but I’m holding my breath on this one.
Chargers at Chiefs – It took two whole weeks of pathetic for Kansas City to find itself unwilling to jump into the abyss of 0-3, so they pushed New Orleans in instead. Their defense had a great second half (finally!) and the offense figured out the basics known as “Give it to Jamaal” and let him get 200-plus. San Diego may be ready for that eventuality, but it won’t matter because they can’t stop it. Philip Rivers may pull this one out despite himself and his quirky excuse for a team, but I’m taking that minimal risk. KC has looked good this season. Now they may be ready to play that way for real. Besides, you almost never go wrong taking the Chiefs at home.