Blowing whistles, blowing calls -- it's all in a day's work for an NFL replacement ref.
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that he was locking out the refs during their labor dispute, he assured the world that the replacement refs would do "a very credible job." A month later, he's likely having doubts, and even if he's not, the president certainly is.
"Terrible," said President Obama in response to a pool reporter simply shouting "Packers" as he walked from Marine One. "I've been saying for months, we've gotta get our refs back."
When the history of this labor dispute is written, the final play of Monday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks (see below) could be the moment that broke Goodell's resolve. So let's take this chance to look back at six games featuring nine of worst calls -- two by the league, five by refs and one by a state senator -- of this torturous experiment in labor relations.
Sept. 16, Panthers 35 - Saints 27: It was only hours before kick-off that the NFL realized that replacement ref Brian Stropolo, who'd already worked the Giants-Cowboys Week 1 opener, is a huge Saints fan. Before Stropolo's Facebook page went missing, Deadspin spotted comments on it like, "Hey, now be nice with those yellow flags for our Saints!!" and "That's awesome you get to be an official for a Saints game! I didn't think they would let you since your (sic) from Louisiana."
While the blown calls on the field are the ones that spark all the outrage, it's this sort of nonsense that is totally inexcusable and totally avoidable. If the NFL is going to risk the integrity of their product by bringing in replacement refs, they have to at least make sure they meet the barest minimum of qualifications -- like not being a superfan.
Sept. 9, Cardinals 20 - Seahawks 16: This game featured a replacement ref who had for the previous three seasons been on the Seahawks payroll, reported NFL.com. But it was head referee Bruce Hermansen who made headlines when he granted the Seahawks an extra timeout, because he was a little fuzzy on what exactly a timeout is.
"It was my error,” said Hermansen afterward. “We gave [the Seahawks] the additional timeout because of the incomplete pass stopping the clock before the injury occurred. When in effect, the clock has no bearing on the play at all, whether it's stopped or running. We should not have given them the additional timeout."
Sept. 9, 49ers 30 - Packers 22: After the 49ers let fly a booming 61-yard punt, the Packers only manage a paltry 4-yard return, but San Francisco defensive back C.J. Spillman is called for an illegal block--how does a guy on the punting team get called for a block? Who was he blocking and why?
In that same game, the 49ers Aldon Smith get called for unsportsmanlike conduct for removing his helmet -- despite the fact that it was Packers QB Aaron Rodgers who kicked it off.
Sept. 24, Titans 44 - Lions 41: In overtime, with the score tied, Titans QB Jake Locker fired a 24-yard pass to TE Craig Stevens that was originally ruled a catch. The Lions were called for a personal foul to tack on another 15 yards. The catch was subsequently overturned upon review, but in the confusion (of their own making), the refs marked off the penalty from the from the Detroit 44 instead of the Tennessee 44, thereby giving the Titans an extra 12 yards. Seven plays later, the Titans kicked what would prove to be the winning field goal.
Sept. 24, Bengals 38 - Redskins 31: In the waning moments of the fourth quarter and trailing by a touchdown, the Redskins drove from their own 2-yard line to the Bengals' 34 before getting hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that should've cost them 15 yards.Instead, they were moved back 20 yards. Why? Who knows?
Sept. 24, Seahawks 14 - Packers 12: Monday night, the weekly crown jewel of the NFL's schedule, was marred by a blown call on the last play of the game -- one that has probably produced the season's inconic photograph and will be widely cited in American sports history.
With the clock winding down and the Seahawks trailing 12-7, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson heaved a 24-yard desperation pass into the end zone. Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate knocked down Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields as Packers' M.D. Jennings leapt for the ball. Jennings made the catch and fell to the ground with Tate, who tried to wrestle the ball away from him and was awarded a game-winning touchdown.
The NFL acknowledged in a statement issued Tuesday that Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference, but the league stood by the touchdown call.
"When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball," the NFL said in a statement. "Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown."
The outcry was wide.
Former President Bill Clinton: “I would not have called that last play the way they did in that Seattle-Green Bay game last night,”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, via Twitter: “After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful." Usually one to take on unions, he added "#Returntherealrefs."
And Wisconsin State Sen. Joe Erpenbach distinguished himself by tweeting Goodell's phone number.
So when are those refs coming back?