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Lessons learned from the replacement ref fiasco

By Norman Chad

CHICAGO SURVIVED A teachers' strike, Los Angeles survived Carmageddon II and, now, America has survived its scars-and-stripes apocalypse, in which random citizens pulled out of line from Radio Shack were making critical third-down - and sometimes fourth-down - calls that could affect the outcome of football games and small families for generations to come.

If we were not stronger as a people - thankfully, we have a foundation of fair play and a sense of perspective in this nation - I shudder to think where we might be today.

So what did we learn?

  • Yes, the end-of-game Packers-Seahawks "intereception" was a horrific call, but how horrific? No animals were harmed in the adjudication of the play, not a single Social Security recipient was denied his or her check at the end of the month, "Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars" is still set for Monday and Tuesday nights on ABC and Thomas Jefferson did not trip off his perch at the Jefferson Memorial.
  • On the other hand, Charlie Rose interrupted his three-day interview of Brookings Institution president Strobe Talbott to remark to a cameraperson, "The Packers got screwed blue."

  • Bad calls are part of the game, even biblically bad calls on "Monday Night Football" that first get reviewed by a replacement ref and then by 77 million recliner refs at home followed by 168 NFL players-turned-talking heads on ESPN. The problem with Sports Nation these days is that we look at the games differently, obsessing on the officiating as much as the outcome. Dazzling action is trumped by coaches' challenges; we watch for bad calls more than good plays.
  • This would be like going to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and zeroing in on the sound editing.

  • In defense of the replacement refs: Of the 10,000 most difficult calls in NFL history, 6,279 of them came in this season's first three weeks. To arrive at this fact, I sat with Ron Jaworski at the NFL Films vault in Mount Laurel, N.J., until the wee hours of many nights and watched all available game footage from 1933 to the present.
  • The blatant offensive pass interference on that final Packers-Seahawks play was NOT reviewable. On that play, Golden Tate could've blindfolded and waterboarded the defensive back, and, if it wasn't flagged, it's okay. Heck, he could've taken out an AK-47 assault rifle he bought legally online - I apologize for getting too graphic here - and mowed down the entire Seahawks secondary and, although he might face criminal charges later on, it does not affect the video review of the play.
  • Which reminds me - the NFL answers to no one. Whether it is negotiating with player and referee unions or running all the way to the bank with an antitrust exemption in its gold-lined hip pocket, the league generally operates by its own laws, rules and precepts. The NFL, in effect, is the fourth branch of government.
  • Note: The NCAA would be the fifth branch of government.

  • Football fans didn't care that NFL replacement referees were scabs, they only cared that these refs didn't get the calls right. In today's anti-labor climate, this is not terribly too surprising. Couch Slouch still is dismayed that more of us don't appreciate the blessings of the 19th- and 20th-century organized labor movement; i.e. the 40-hour workweek, paid vacation and sick leave, retirement benefits. What, you think that stuff falls off trees? And if it did, management wouldn't allow us anywhere near the trees.
  • People were not going to stop watching the games because of the officiating mess. Oh, sure, there was talk of a fan boycott because the NFL used replacement refs. Uh, hello? Fans didn't boycott games 25 years ago when the NFL used replacement players;  three weeks of those games counted in the standings, and your Uncle Herb was playing linebacker for the Bears!
  • Replay as an officiating tool is ruinous to a livable, low-stress democracy. If I weren't an atheist, I'd pray for no replay in the afterlife.
  • Ask The Slouch

    Q. I remember the Boston Braves, the St. Louis Browns, no night games, eight teams in each league with no playoffs, and the World Series over by the first week of October. Ernie Lombardi was behind the plate for the Reds and Harry "The Cat" Brecheen was on the mound for the Cardinals. How old am I? (Richard Crowley; Annapolis, Md.)

    A. I can't believe I'm now getting mail from Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

    Q. Former Met Keith Hernandez shaved his mustache - does that give The Slouch any ideas? (Jerry Weinstein; Pittsburgh)

    A. And remove the last remnants of a fabulous marinara I had at Rao's restaurant in 1997? No way.

    Q. The D Las Vegas Casino returned money to those that lost the Packers-Seahawks game. Don't you wish your first two weddings were booked there? (Tom Hawke; Albany, N.Y.)

    A. Pay the man, Shirley.

    Q. Shouldn't the NFL replacement refs be offered fallback positions as MLB umpires? (Jack Leininger; Spokane, Wash.)

    A. Pay this wiseacre, too.

    You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!


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