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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

NFL replacements: Train wreck or blessing in disguise?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Well, I knew it was only a matter of time and it finally happened. There have been several botched, missed and just plain bad calls made by the National Football League's replacement officials, but now, it's simply gone too far.

There have been several instances in which one could make the argument that a call or a series of calls here and there that impacted the outcome of a game, but as of Monday night, there's now no way to argue that the replacements haven't actually given a game away as there was before. Before Monday night's debacle, any of the missed calls that everyone knows have happened this year could have been pointed to as a deciding factor in a game, but an equally strong argument could have been made that the impact would have been the same if those calls had or hadn't happened, whichever the case may be.

The crew that officiated Monday night's game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers put all of those arguments to rest and made it clear that there is a huge problem here that's having a major effect on the game.

On the final play of the game, after a number of previously botched calls, the Seahawks found themselves with a fourth-and-10 on the Green Bay 24. Quarterback Russell Wilson threw up a Hail Mary intended for Golden Tate with 8 seconds left and side judge Lance Easley ruled it a touchdown catch, thus giving Seattle a 14-12 win.

What Easley and referee Wayne Elliott should have seen right off the bat and especially after replay official Howard Slavin called for a second look was that not only did Tate commit one of the most obvious offensive pass interference fouls I've ever seen when he pushed cornerback Sam Shield so hard in the back that he fell to the ground, but also that safety M.D. Jennings had clear possession of the ball while Tate was simply touching it with one hand.

There is a rule in the NFL that says when an offensive and defensive player possess the ball simultaneously, the catch is always awarded to the offensive player, but there's a huge difference between simultaneous possession and one player trying to steal the ball from another. Theft is exactly what was attempted when Tate came down as he then slipped his left arm back into the pile and began trying to jerk the ball out of Jennings' arms and into his own.

Apparently, that's a distinction that the replacement crew working that game didn't have the knowledge to see because Elliott spent a fairly extensive amount of time looking at replays and discussing the play with the booth, but still came back and upheld the ruling on the field.

Needless to say, the Packers and many NFL fans were very unhappy with the call, to say the least, but Tate and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll sure weren't. Carroll could be seen jumping around the field and shouting with joy for several minutes after the game ended and Tate even went so far as to respond to a question about the interference after the game with a simple, "I don't know what you're talking about."

I was pretty disgusted with how things had been going thus far in the regular season with the replacement crews and their apparently complete lack of knowledge of the rules of NFL football, but I took it one step further after that game. As many people I know did, I openly said after that complete debacle that until the referee lockout was over and the real officials came back, I was done watching pro football.

From the looks of it, the backlash from that game was all the NFL Referees Association needed to gain the leverage it sought and bring an end to negotiations. When I was on my way home from work Wednesday night, I got a notification from the ESPN Scorecenter app at just after 11 p.m., that said the League officially announced that a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement had been reached.

The full-time officials made their return to the field Thursday night in the Browns-Ravens game in Baltimore, Md. As fans, we won't have to worry about something like this happening again for the next eight years since that's the length of the new deal and I hope that the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell got the message to make better decisions in the future.

What's funny to me is that the replacements were brought in simply to give the NFL leverage in the negotiations by showing them that the game could go on without them, but it ended up having the opposite effect. Goodell won't admit it, but it seems pretty clear to me that the problems with the replacements were exactly the reason a deal was finally reached.

Goodell did issue an apology on Thursday for all the trouble this fiasco has caused, but if you ask me, it was just too little, too late. But on the bright side, it looks like the NFL will be back to the great sports organization it once was fairly soon.

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Eric Wade
Beyond the Bench