In the end, the horrible missed calls at the end of the “Monday Night Football” game was the best thing that could have happened to the NFL, because it got the attention of league owners and gamblers.
Yes, I said gamblers. The NFL likes to ignore the gambling that’s done on games but the creation of the point spread, which pushed the NFL ahead of horse racing as a popular betting vehicle, was a very important reason that football passed baseball as the leading sport in the country. Individual baseball games are so unpredictable that it’s very foolish to bet on them, but the point spread is easily understandable to football fans.
So, when blatantly blown calls on Monday night turned the point spread on its head — the Packers were favored by four points and were five points ahead before the “Hail Mary” pass was thrown — cries of anguish from professional and amateur gamblers were heard throughout the land.
Blown calls by the replacement officials were commonplace in previous games. I saw a blatant one in the Raiders-Steelers game on Sunday, a helmet-to-helmet hit by Steelers safety Ryan Mundy on Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Even before I saw the replay, I said to the writer next to me, “That should be a penalty.” Nothing was called, but Mundy was fined $21,000 by the league this week for that play.
But neither that play nor other bad calls got the full attention of fans because they happened in Sunday games, when the TV audience is divided. On Monday night, viewers were focused on one game. They saw the blown calls and they also witnessed the attempt at an immediate coverup, as the replay official took a bare minute and a half to uphold the ruling on the field. Anybody who has seen NFL games knows that replay officials normally look at a disputed play for about 10 minutes — and those aren’t plays which determine which team wins.
The reaction from the public and media was immediate and vicious. Steve Young blasted the NFL for not caring about the players’ safety. Owners had been allowing commissioner Roger Goodell to lead these negotiations with very little input from them, but they realized something had to be done. Privately and publicly they urged Goodell to reach an agreement, and so negotiations which had been stalled suddenly moved forward.
It should never have gotten this far. There was no way this plan to use replacement officials could ever have worked.
These weren’t even the top level of collegiate officials, because those men are working the games of the major conferences. The NFL had to go to Division II and lower to find officials.
The difference between even the top college football conferences and the pros is wide. When it comes to Division II, it’s a chasm.
NFL players are not only the best, they’re also the fastest. The replacement officials could not keep up with the speed of the game, and they didn’t know the complex NFL rules very well, either.
Now, the nightmare is finally over. We can only hope that the miscalls already made won’t affect the season — and that the NFL has learned its lesson.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.