Penalty, No Penalty. We’ll Miss the NFL Replacement Refs

Are you ready for some, er, football? Before the season began, the commentators told us that the NFL, after an unsuccessful attempt to resolve a contract dispute with the referees, had locked the referees out and hired replacement referees. Everything would be perfectly fine. How hard could it be?

Turns out to have been, so far, really, really hard. I watched two games over last weekend. In one game, there was a fumble, which was pounced upon by at least 10 different guys. A big pile was thus created. Someone was hanging onto the ball at the bottom. But who?

To find out, the referees ran over and began to peel off one after another of the players on the top. But as they were doing this, apparently one of the bigger players succeeded in ripping the ball out of the hands of a smaller player from the other team down in there. Had the smaller player taken it from somebody else? Some of the other players in the pile, seeing this, started to holler. And so everyone who had been peeled off of the pile now came back on top of the pile. And then there were more guys jumping in and piling on.

This is a normal situation. The refs have to make the call. But there were all these 300-pound men all shouting and cursing. The referees stepped back, and did nothing. Then one of the refs blew his whistle and pointed to one end of the field to indicate one of the teams had won the fumble. That really set the players off. One of them, in a rage, took a swipe at a referee. At this point the pileup was going into its fifth minute. And so now, more out of embarrassment than anything else, perhaps, the network went to a commercial break. But when they came back, there was still this big pile. A coach was now yelling at a ref. You could see this vein in the coach’s neck popping out. It wasn’t until 11 minutes went by that the refs got the situation under control. Amazing.

In another game, with six yards to go for a first down, a defensive back interfered with a pass receiver, knocking the ball away. The refs called a penalty. Then the refs walked off the 10-yard penalty. First down. On the next play—this was now on the defense’s 34-yard line—the quarterback threw a touchdown. Six points! But then somebody in the booth brought out the fact that in professional football this particular penalty calls for only five yards. It’s 10 yards in college play. It shouldn’t even have been a first down! Too late.

Then I saw something that broke me up laughing. This was during the Jets-Steelers game. The Jets had fourth down. They decided to dive for it, and made it by a foot and a half. The ref blew his whistle, stood tall and then pointed in the wrong direction, although he meant to point in the right direction. First down, he said.

The errors and omissions went on and on. You know how the refs give the number of the player who caused pass interference? The player’s number was 54.

“He meant 52,” the commentator said. A replay showed 54 never touched anybody.

“Well, I guess
it doesn’t change anything,” the commentator said ruefully.

There was another amazing call in the Jets game. The game was still hanging in the balance. QB Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass, complete, but the receiver was tackled well short of a first down. In comes the ref and marks the ball two yards further into Jet territory, making it a first down. He then announces first down. As a result of this, Jet coach Rex Ryan threw a red flag asking for a review.

At the end of the review, they moved the ball back the two yards. So now it was fourth down.

On another occasion, the referees spent six minutes reviewing a call, only to return with the decision that, actually, due the rules, this play was not subject to review.

Who are these refs? You would think they would have been called up from some football league just below the pros where hopeful refs ref, trying to show they are good enough to be elevated into the NFL referee ranks.

“This ref is from a high school in Texas,” said the commentator. “A big high school. He’s supposed to be very good.” Others were refs from colleges or, as a one player, running back LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles, speculated in a radio interview, just fans dressed up in ref uniforms and given a whistle for the day. “I’ll be honest, they’re like fans. One of the refs was talking about his fantasy team, like ‘McCoy, come on, I need you for my fantasy.’”

One referee, in the middle of the Saints-Panthers game on September 16, was removed from the crew after publicly proclaiming himself a Saints fan—as reported on ESPN.

Bad calls. Passes dropped in the end zone being called touchdowns. At one point, after the slow-motion replay showed a pass defender with a headlock on a pass receiver without a penalty being called, one of the commentators said, “What does somebody have to do to be penalized for pass interference?”

Watching the NFL now is a bit like watching one of those old black-and-white movies where the Katzenjammer Kids can’t do anything right.

Years ago, President Ronald Reagan locked out all the airport traffic controllers around the country. They had been demanding what Reagan felt were outrageous raises. Reagan put out a call for replacement controllers. They came in to work the next day—retired controllers, teachers and students in air control schools and I don’t know what else—and not one, not one, plane fell down from the sky until the battle was resolved four months later. (And at that time, Reagan refused to rehire those who he had locked out and instead continued on with the replacements.)

Now, I know that was serious business, controlling the skies where our planes fly, but then so is the NFL. Who are we kidding here?

Personally, I hope they keep the replacement refs in for a long, long time. What a scene—a bunch of incompetents trying to make decisions about and control angry men weighing 300 pounds playing football.

Boy, is this fun to watch.

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