The “Real” Referees
If on this past Monday night you happened to be signed onto Facebook or were following along on Twitter, you would think that one of the replacement refs actually shot a guy. There was outrage, whining and even death threats levied against Rodger Goodell (though he works for the owners and doesn’t do things just for himself).
The funny thing is that yes, the refs made a mistake, but it’s not the first time this has happened. I can personally recall a Steelers/Colts game from a couple years ago where Troy Polamalu intercepted a ball and returned it for a touchdown only to have it overturned when the refs forgot what the rule was. It was the “real” refs, the ones everyone from general fans to sports reporters have deified as 10-feet tall and bulletproof, who screwed the pooch on that one.
Let’s look at what happened at the end of the Seahawks/Packers game. A Hail Mary pass was in the air. A cluster of players in the end-zone start to leap for the ball. Seattle’s Golden Tate pushes a Packers player in the back, knocking him down, then begins his assent. This should have been called offensive pass interference and the game should have ended there with a Packers win. The NFL has since released a statement saying as much. This, however, doesn’t change the final score as they don’t go back and rewrite history.
After the ball reached the players, here is where it got even more interesting. A Packers defender begins to grab the ball, seemingly a little before Tate can get his hands on it. As they both descend, Tate gets more control to the point where by the time they hit the ground, they are in equal possession. Remember, a catch is not a catch until the catch is completed. Just because the Packers player was the first to touch the ball, the catch was not complete until the players came down with the ball. By the time the catch was complete, both players had the ball.
Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5 states:
Simultaneous Catch. If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.
The NFL recognized this and stated the correct call was made in this case. If Tate had only gained dual possession after they both hit the ground, then it’s an interception. This was not the case as dual possession was attained before they hit the ground. So, yes, the replacement referees made a mistake with the no-call on pass interference. They made a mistake the “real” refs make every game. I put it to anyone that if the “real” refs were under the same microscope as these poor replacements, we would find that while the “real” refs would probably fare better, it wouldn’t be by as much as some would think.
Humans make mistakes. However, it’s not right to demand the NFL capitulate to the NFLRA just because of a perceived difference between these guys and the regular guys. Both teams play under the same refs, so everything is fair.