Thrill of Victory

Officials proved on Monday that they can decide games

Football fans, writers and coaches love their clichés. Whether it’s “defense wins championships,” or, “you have to establish the running game to win,” we repeat them quite often until they become accepted as truisms whether they are or not – and as research reveals, they’re often not.

Let me add another one to the “not” list when it comes to truth: “officials don’t decide ballgames.” While it is generally true that they don’t, I don’t know how anyone could watch the end of Monday night’s Packers-Seahawks game and think much differently.

Most everyone’s seen the play in question by now, but if you haven’t, here’s what happened. It was the game’s final play, Seattle trailed Green Bay, 12-7, and the Seahawks had the ball. Quarterback Russell Wilson lofted a ball to the end zone, as four Packers and two Seahawks all went for it. Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings out-jumped everyone and wrapped both hands around the ball as the group of players fell to the ground. Clearly, he maintained possession.

Game over, Packers win, right?

Wrong.

For six seconds, there was a struggle in the back of the end zone. At no point did Jennings lose possession of the ball, but Seattle’s Golden Tate (a Hendersonville native, by the way) stuck one hand in on the ball as he lay on his back with Jennings lying on his back on top of him. “One hand” may be generous, for at first, it didn’t appear that Tate had more than a couple of fingers on the ball when Jennings first grabbed it.

It was clear who was in control, but six seconds later, one of the NFL’s officials signaled, “touchdown,” while the other official signaled the game was over. That sent the call to the replay booth.

The Monday Night Football broadcast crew waited for a decision from the replay booth. It didn’t seem like much of a decision. “How does Jennings not get credit for the interception? I have no idea,” Gruden said.

Well, we’re still all wondering along with Gruden, as the play was ruled a touchdown. And if that’s not a case of a bad call deciding a game, I can’t say I’ve seen one.

Bad calls happen. I understand. One other maxim we often hear is that “holding can be called on every play,” so I get it: we can never leave a game certain that the right call was made 100 percent of the time.

But there are tough-to-make judgment calls, and then there gargantuan mistakes like these where the right call seemed obvious. And when a guy makes a huge, game-deciding play and doesn’t get credit for it, as Jennings clearly did, the officials clearly have decided the game.

In these instances, people often say things like, “Well, these things even out over time.” Maybe so. Perhaps when the Packers and Seahawks play again, the Packers will get a bad call in their favor that will decide the game. But just as easily as that could be next year, it could also be 2035, when kids of the current players are playing.

So try telling that to the Packer players who played their hearts out and lost on Monday. Try telling them that if they fall one game short of the playoffs at season’s end. If you’re really brave, try telling that to the thousands of gamblers who lost money they should have won – it’s said that $150-250 million of money changed hands on that one call.

There are two other sayings about bad calls that I despise. One is, “ the losing team had time to overcome it,” and the other (should you not have time to overcome it, as the Packers didn’t) is that, “they should have made plays earlier in the game to where it didn’t matter.” Often, these statements are made by the fans of the winning team.

Here’s my response: why should a team have to overcome it? If you take those injustices so casually, let’s arbitrarily put seven points on the board for your favorite team’s opponent before the start of next week’s game, and then let’s hear your take on fairness if your team loses by a handful of points, because there is essentially no difference.

Sometimes, good actually comes from these situations. In this case, it evidently has lit a fire under the NFL to get a working agreement with its real officials; as most know, the games have been called by replacement referees. Much has been said about this, and there’s not much more I can add here.

But perhaps one more good thing will come of it: it’ll stop fans from using senseless clichés that defy logic and common sense — because clearly, officials can decide games.