Kayfabe Referees

If you saw the final two minutes of Sunday’s NFC Championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints, you saw (several times) an obvious missed call of both pass interference and head-to-head contact which would have (almost certainly) handed the football game and victory to the New Orleans Saints.

If the call had been made, the Saints would have retained the football with a first down inside the ten yard line.  The Saints would have run the fourth quarter clock down to under twenty seconds and attempted a field goal from extra point distance (95% chance of success) to win the game 23-20.

Inexplicably, the referees overlooked the obvious penalties on the third down Saints passing play.  The Saints kicked a field goal and handed the ball back to the Rams with enough time to drive for their own game-tying field goal. 

In overtime, the Rams prevailed by three points and moved onto the Super Bowl to play the New England (this is a recording) Patriots.

Let’s focus on the play again.

The current rules of the NFL only allows a head coach to throw the “challenge” flag to force a video review in order to overturn a specific ruling on the field. 

In this case, if no call was made by the officials, Saints head coach, Sean Payton, cannot challenge a call which wasn’t made on the field.

It won’t make it any easier for Saints fans (count me as one) to accept this incredible dereliction of duty by the officiating crew when you learn that:

  1. The head referee for the Saints/Rams game (Bill Vinovich) said, “I personally haven’t seen the play”.   Translated, that means “I haven’t been instructed by my employer (the NFL) on what I should or shouldn’t say at this time.  I really like my high paying job, and I’d really like to keep it”. 
  2. The flagship radio station for the New Orleans Saints reported that two of the officials (including the referee closest to the actual play) are from (you guessed it) the Los Angeles metropolitan area. 
  3. There was no attempt made by the officials on the field to discuss this matter and change the call prior to the next play being run by the Saints.  The head referee can and should have stopped the game for a consultation if he really wanted to understand why no flag was thrown in this situation.

In professional wrestling, the outcomes of matches are predetermined.  Both the participants and the referees are paid by their employer to maintain the appearance of an honest match even though the match has a scripted outcome.

Professional wresting calls this “Kayfabe” (translated – act like it isn’t fake, but do what your employer tells you). 

Let’s now apply this to officiating in other professional sports such as the NFL. 

The officials are hired by the NFL, paid by the NFL, and selected by the NFL for their assignment to work certain football games. 

If you are the NFL, how do you explain that you sent two officials who reside in the Los Angeles area to officiate the Saints/Rams game? 

Couldn’t you have sent these two highly qualified (cough, cough) officials to referee the Kansas City/New England game instead?

Here’s another convenient excuse you may hear about referees.  How many times do you hear that the officials (football or basketball) were simply “letting them play” and preferred not to interfere in the outcome of the game’s final moments?

I am not a professional referee, but I did have the chance to referee a variety of youth sports (for pay) when in college and, for a little extra money, after taking my first professional job.

In my opinion, a good referee calls the game consistently all the time. 

A good umpire calls balls and strikes the same way for the entire game to give both sides a consistent outcome.  A good basketball referee calls fouls on players the same way from the opening tipoff to the final whistle for consistency. 

A good football referee should be attentive to his or her assigned area and be consistent for the entire game. 

Most are.

Though I might be wrong on this statement, the head football referee (FYI – that’s the guy wearing the white hat, ironically) cannot allow the fans, instant replay, angry coaches/players, or other outside factors influence a call (or non-call) on the field of play. 

HOWEVER, the head referee does have the discretion to briefly call a time-out (prior to the start of the next play in 40 seconds) to bring the other officials together to make sure that they haven’t overlooked anything obvious on the previous play.   For example, the closest official may have tripped on the play and asked for help with the call by the other officials.

The goal of the head referee is to get each play right.  That means from the opening kickoff to the final whistle in football.

In the Saints/Rams game, the NFL’s assigned head referee in this game maintained he didn’t see the key play that everyone in attendance and millions at home saw.  The closest official to the play didn’t see a penalty (cough, cough). 

The play clock ran its allotted 40 seconds of time.  Too late now, Saints fans!

Those ARE the current rules, you know (wink, wink). 

What a crock.

The NFL is to blame for this. 

They will surely apologize to Saints fans (“Sorry, 40-year old Drew Brees, but you just missed a chance to play in another Super Bowl”!), and the NFL owners will promise to review this “horrible situation” during the off-season while they are tabulating revenues.

In the meantime, the NFL will get their dream Super Bowl television ratings bonanza pitting the evil East coast Empire of New England against the new West coast darlings from Los Angeles (who just happen to be building a multi-billion dollar stadium to house their beloved Rams).

The NFL is sorry if your team happens to be from fly-over country in New Orleans and Kansas City.  Better luck next year!    

It’s just too bad that the NFL (and, to be fair, the NBA) isn’t as honest as the WWE at admitting that the paid officiating crews are not necessarily unbiased at all times.

Especially if a tight game could be swayed into the “preferred” outcome for the wallets of the league’s owner$, that is.

Super Boycott, anyone?   Come join me! 

NFL Week 1 – Haven’t we seen this before?

The National Football League’s first week of football is now in the books.  Fortunately for all, the initial weekend of the season was mostly about the games and not about the pregame sidelines antics.

There were a few positive surprises in Week 1.  The New York Jets won their game 48-17 against Detroit’s Matthew “Poppin’ Fresh” Stafford and The Four Turnovers.  I’m not ready to jump on the Sam Darnold bandwagon just yet, but the J-E-T-S fans deserve a season opening cheer for a change.

Ditto for the Baltimore Ravens as they absolutely demolished the Buffalo Bills 47-3 on Sunday.  Though I’m not a believer in the Ravens just yet either, Buffalo should stock-up on brown paper bags for the fans who attend home games this season.  The Bills’ offense featured a total of 98 yards passing and 86 rushing yards.  With this Sunday’s home opener in Buffalo, the Bills may want to serve a Five Hour energy drink to the team before the game and give freebies to the fans who stay for the second half before they start falling asleep.

Looking around the league, not much has changed for some teams since the end of last year.

The New Orleans Saints still have a terrific offense featuring ageless quarterback Drew Brees and elusive running back Alvin Kamara.  When you score 40 points in a game played in your home stadium, I would think you should win 99% of the time.  Unless you have the Saints’ “Bless you, Boys” holey defense, that is.  The Popes seen in attendance at the Superdome Sunday might be better at covering-up dirty little secrets than the Saints’ defensive backs were at covering receivers as Tampa Bay outscored New Orleans, 48-40.  Sean Payton’s teams are always great on offense and, at best, marginal on defense.  Same ol’ same ol’.

Then there are the Houston Texans and New England Patriots.  Coach Bill O’Brien’s sleepy Texanzzzz offense continue to waste a fabulous young quarterback and talented wide receiver as the offensive play calling in Houston is truly offensive.  Atrocious.  This stale and tepid offense has stunk every year since O’Brien was handed the keys in Houston.  Could someone tell me why did this man receive a four-year contract extension after going 4-12 last season?

Meanwhile, the Patriots won the game 27-20 in a final score that wasn’t as close as it seemed.  Tom Brady is 41 years young and throws touchdown passes to unheralded players such as Colts’ cast-off wide receiver, Phillip Dorsett (not related to Tony Dorsett).  The Patriots are a machine on offense and defense with a coach who never seems to flinch.  He just wins.

On the flip side, there are the Cleveland Browns.  Lovable losers of 17 straight games before Sunday, the Brownies thrilled the home faithful with a fourth quarter rally to take the sleep-walking Pittsburgh Steelers into overtime at 21 points apiece.  And, in true Browns fashion, the home team dashed the hopes of the faithful Dawg Pound by missing a game winning field goal on the last play of overtime. Only a die-hard Browns fan would be happy ending the losing streak – with a tie.

As for Steelers fans, it’s time to find another coach.  I am convinced that Mike Tomlin may, indeed, be just be a statue who is planted on the sidelines for every game.  Captain Clueless seems to be satisfied with another under-performing Pittsburgh team that is loaded with talent again this season.  Hello, Bill Cowher?

Finally, there is quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.  When Rodgers went down with a leg injury Sunday night against the Chicago Bears and the 2018 Monster$ of the Midway defense led by newly acquired Khalil Mack, it looked like all was lost as Chicago led 17-0 at the half.  As Aaron Rodgers limped out on the field in the third quarter to the thunderous roar of Packers fans, you just knew that he would find a way to zip and lob passes down the field to make it a game.  The Pack came back and da’feated da’ Bears 24-23 in a terrific opener for NBC’s Sunday Night Football.  Bears fans have seen it before.

Though a few things may have changed since last season, the NFL’s opening weekend seemed more like the movie Groundhog Day again as certain NFL teams, players, and coaches have become just as predictable as Bill Murray’s alarm clock.



Brees agrees! Thursday Night Football must end!

After Thursday night’s 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Super Bowl champion quarterback of the New Orleans Saints has joined the growing list of NFL stars who want to see the end of Thursday night NFL football.  Why?  The number of injuries which his team suffered on less than four days of rest since their game played against Carolina late on Sunday afternoon.

Saints rookie running back sensation Alvin Kamara and offensive guard Senio Kelemete suffered concussions.  Rookie defensive end Trey Hendrickson was taken off the field via cart for examination (ankle injury – out for up to three weeks). Middle linebacker A.J. Klein and safety Kenny Vaccaro both left the game with possible groin injuries.

But wait, there’s more!  Wide receiver Michael Thomas, running back Mark Ingram and wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. all left at times during the game due to injuries suffered on Thursday night in a hard-fought 20-17 loss in Atlanta.

Many of the Saints were furious afterwards, including head coach, Sean Payton.  Coach Payton asked the media in the press room a question that seems quite obvious to everyone except the NFL ownership.

“Seriously, speak up?” Sean Payton said. “What do you guys think, why do you think there were so many injuries tonight?”

Super Bowl champion quarterback, Drew Brees, chimed in with his opinion on playing on Thursday nights.  It’s hard to disagree with him, too.

“It’s 100 percent a product of playing on Thursday night,” Brees said of the injuries. “Do you understand what guys’ bodies go through in a game? And then to have to turn around four days later and to play? Look at the injury studies: They’re off the charts. They’re off the charts. So is this smart as it pertains to guys’ health and safety? No, absolutely not.”

He added, “No player likes putting himself at risk on four days rest to come and put their bodies through what they put them through.  You hope it’s addressed, you hope it’s talked about, and you hope that something is done about it.”

You said it, Drew! Brees has also served as part of the NFL Players Union executive board, so his voice will definitely be heard when this issue is finally addressed after the season ends.

The NFL currently has a contract with CBS and NBC to continue carrying Thursday Night Football games though the 2017 season.  Here’s hoping that the NFL’s management and the players will do the right thing to allow all players a better chance to recuperate by ending Thursday Night Football games.

Regardless of the short-term profits which may be garnered by playing football on Thursday nights, the long-term benefits to the players and, for the owners, decreasing the amount of the NFL’s current overexposure would just seem like a smart thing to do.

Time will tell.