Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 9/25/12

There was a football game once. During that game a play occurred in the final minute of the game and resulted in the referees determining the outcome of the game by poorly misinterpreting the rules. That game then affected the entire season because of division standings and playoff seeding. That game was played on September 12th, 2010 in front of actual NFL referees at Soldier Field in Chicago after Calvin Johnson scored what everyone thought was a go ahead touchdown for the Detroit Lions. However because he set the ball down to begin his celebration, it was ruled an incomplete pass. The Bears won.

(This is a guest post from Peter Christian)

Last night, a little more than two years later, another game was played with replacement officials overseeing the games rules and another controversial play in the end zone in the final seconds of the game occurred. Similar outcry, outbursts and mental breakdowns took place. The difference is that last night, the replacement refs were right.


Now I know that popular opinion is that the Green Bay Packers got jobbed by the half-wit refs who don’t know their head from their anus penalty flag from their hat, but the fact is I’m of the opinion that the side judge who made the call of a touchdown was, in fact, correct.

We’ve all read the simultaneous catch rule a few hundred times by now (if not, catch up here). We’ve also apparently collectively come to the conclusion that Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings had possession first and Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate gained joint possession 2nd. I argue the contrary.
First, replays indicate that Tate’s left hand was in contact with the ball simultaneously with Jennings two hands. Rolling those videos forward shows that Tate’s hand never comes apart from the ball. Unless we are discounting one handed catches as null, we cannot discount that Tate had some control (or possession) of that ball. By rule, that is a simultaneous catch.

Second, there is no part of the rule that dictates “more” or “less” possession or control of the football. Also, there’s no way to even guess how much or how little Tate’s hand behind the ball assisted in helping Jennings get two hands on the ball. The fact is, this is a judgment call that has to be made in real time on the field. I’m actually impressed that the side judge recognized the fact that Tate maintained partial control on the ball as the players touched it and fell to the ground. As Gerry Austin (a 27 year NFL referee who is now in the booth for Monday Night Football to act like a not as well dressed Mike Pereira) incorrectly tried to justify that Jennings first had total possession by bringing the ball into his chest, he made it clear that even “real” NFL referees don’t understand the rules.

My entire purpose in defending the minority in this controversy is to better show that even the actual NFL referees suck. We’ve all complained over the years that they are awful (see: Super Bowl XL, etc.). Now, because the current batch of referees aren’t household names and have the stigma of being “replacements” we complain louder because we think it’s better with the other bad refs. The replacement refs didn’t ask for this, they were thrown into this situation.

This situation and subsequent game changing call is going to be the tipping point for fans, players, coaches, analysts and league executives to get better refs. But it doesn’t change the fact that this call, as controversial as it was, has merit. Previous game changing calls that occurred with real refs really don’t. I can’t be the only one to remind everyone that Ed Hochuli publicly admitted that he screwed the pooch in 2008 which allowed the Broncos to beat the Chargers. I know we all remember the Calvin Johnson catch I referenced earlier. Both of those game changers were far more egregious and outside the rules than this call. By a longshot.

But instead of the hundreds of other boneheaded calls and decisions made during every game (GB @ Seattle included) during the past three weeks, this play, which was correctly called is going to be the one that people point to and say, “see, those replacement refs totally screwed up.” Without any mention of the phantom PI call on the Steelers or the time when the 49ers were allowed to challenge a fumble even though they didn’t have any timeouts or when the Seahawks were given a 4th mystery timeout or a multitude of others, this is going to be the one that gets a Senate Committee hearing. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that this is the one controversial call that was made correctly.

While I agree that this version of NFL referees is difficult to deal with and at times makes the seemingly most trivial situations of an NFL game comical, the refs are doing what they always do. They make bad calls. They are inconsistent in their judgment and upholding of the established rules. They are stubborn and very unwilling to admit failure. This is the NFL. This is what we’re used to.

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