Thursday, October 11, 2012

SEASONED NFL REFS CAN STINK, TOO

After the blown call made a couple weeks ago by the replacement officials in the now-infamous game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, football fans couldn't wait for the regular officials to return to the field.

Soon after that bad call was heard 'round the world, the National Football League gave in to overwhelming public pressure and, on Sept. 27, the league and the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) agreed on a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement.

And just like that the replacement refs were, well, replaced. But be careful what you wish for my fellow football fans. Having the regulars back has not meant a reduction in bad calls. If anything, it's inexplicably gotten worse.

San Diego Charger fans like me know this. In the game Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints, the officiating was horrible. I admit my bias, but even some Saints fans admit that officials gave the game to New Orleans.

From start to finish, Chargers future Hall-of-Fame tight end Antonio Gates was held. The refs ignored it. Then in the crucial final drive, the striped crusaders called a preposterous offensive pass interference penalty against Gates. It was incidental contact with the defender - the same one who'd been holding Gates the entire night.

Then the refs called holding on Chargers center Nick Hardwick. The replays showed clearly that Nick didn't hold. These calls arguably cost the Chargers the game. Arrgghh!

But that's not all. In the Packers game against the Saints last week, the "real" refs also blew several calls, including a Saints’ fumble that was wrongly ruled down by contact, and a Saints’ touchdown catch that should’ve been negated for offensive pass interference. Maybe they were paying the Saints back in the Charger game.

Thing is, Charger fans already know all too well that NFL officials, even the alleged best of the bunch, can tear your football-loving heart out with stupid calls. Can you say Ed Hochuli? Back in 2008, Hochuli (pictured above), a former president of the NFLRA, blew a call that helped the Denver Broncos beat the Chargers. I was there. And it's still a painful memory.

The call came in the game's final minute with the Broncos at the Chargers' one-yard-line. Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, arguably the most unpleasant athlete in professional sports (he's now a Chicago Bear), dropped back to pass, and the football slipped out of his hands and was retrieved by Chargers linebacker Tim Dobbins.

Hochuli called it an incomplete pass. What!? Replay ruled it a fumble, but it was spotted at the 10-yard-line, where the ball hit the ground. And the ball was given to Denver because the rules didn't permit possession to be awarded to San Diego because the whistle had blown. Denver went on to win 39-38. Unbelievable. I'd never been so angry at a sporting event in my life. Like 65,000 other screaming Charger fans, I wanted to ring Hochuli's neck.

To his credit, Hochuli did the right thing and admitted his mistake. He was contrite. He was probably scared for his life.

"I'm getting hundreds of e-mails - hate mail - but I'm responding to it all," Hochuli wrote to several Chargers fans, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune (now called the U-T San Diego). "People deserve a response. You can rest assured that nothing anyone can say can make me feel worse than I already feel about my mistake on the fumble play. You have no idea … Affecting the outcome of a game is a devastating feeling. Officials strive for perfection - I failed miserably. Although it does no good to say it, I am very, very sorry."

I wish the refs who called the Chargers-Saints game Sunday would man up and issue a similar apology. I know that officials are human, and that it's a tough job, but one would think, with this lucrative new contract, these guys would have stepped up their game, and that they would admit their mistakes.

Never thought I'd miss the replacement officials, but right now, the seasoned NFL refs stink!



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