How to Counter the Scab Pig Refs
Sports shouldn't have terrible officiating, but at this point, you have not only to live with it, but actively gameplan for it.
Sunday was a banner day for poor officiating in the National Football League. In the Eagles/49ers game alone, the stretch in the fourth quarter was enough to give anyone who pays acute attention to yellow laundry flying onto the field heartburn. The officials in the game were already making themselves an issue based on how closely San Francisco’s depleted defensive backs were playing the Eagles wide receivers, namely Devonta Smith. After being flagged twice early for interfering with the standout rookie, recent signee Josh Norman “appeared” to have held his target in check, at least until the replays showed his hand checking, grabbing, and jostling of Smith probably fell more under the category of “illegal contact” than “hard-nosed coverage.” That being said, I would much rather see the officials keep their flags in their pockets on borderline judgment calls than I would see them turn a game into a full-on ref show.
The real issues began in the fourth quarter, specifically starting with a play where 49ers rookie running back Trey Sermon appeared to fumble the football, giving the Eagles new life. However, officials flagged the Eagles on the hit, which left Sermon motionless on the turf for a few minutes. They said it was an illegal hit with the defender leading with his helmet. K’Von Wallace appeared to have led with his helmet in a bang-bang play in real time. Replays clearly showed that while his helmet did appear to hit in real time, the contact was engaged by Sermon diving while leading with his head, which is to the letter of the law against the rules, and that Wallace initiated contact with his shoulder, not his hat. While one cannot blame officials for legislating a penalty to the injury of a player, said injury was not the consequence of an illegal hit. If anything, Sermon going low and leading with his head caused the injury to himself1. Either way, it was a poor call. Possession went from the Niners to the Eagles, and San Francisco ended the drive with a field goal.
The second bad call worked in favor of the Eagles. On the drive after that 49ers field goal, the Eagles started driving. Jalen Hurts scrambled away from a collapsed pocket and ran for a first down. As he went out of bounds, Jimmie Ward of the Niners collided with him. The hit was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Although by the letter of the law, it technically was a foul, it’s the kind of thing that most officials would not flag. Ward grazed the inside of Hurts’ thigh as a consequence of his momentum carrying him into the hit. It was for all intents and purposes unavoidable, and the contact happened on the big white painted sideline marking rather than past it in the area of players and coaches. One could argue the Eagles might have scored a touchdown without that penalty, but it sure helped them get to a point where they could score. Moreover, it felt like a makeup call from the obvious miss on the Sermon hit prior. Either way, it was a bad call.
The final bad call was the most unforgivable, in my eyes, mainly because the officials missed TWO procedural calls. On the pivotal third-and-one right before the two minute warning, Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo clearly did not snap the ball before the play clock hit zero. Additionally his left guard, Laken Tomlinson, clearly moved before the ball was snapped, a false start penalty to the letter and spirit of the law. The referees missed both calls, and the Niners converted the third down to effectively end the game, as the Eagles had no timeouts left to stop the clock. The Niners were able to kneel the rest of the time off the clock. I’m not saying that the officials won the game for the Niners, because the Eagles made several questionable decisions on offense and had terrible execution on the second field goal attempt that the Niners blocked. However, in a vacuum, one might expect there to be repercussions over this clear failure in the execution of the rules.
The problem is that these failures happen multiple times every goddamn week, not just in the NFL, but across the spectrum of professional sports leagues around the world. For example, I spent three paragraphs on the Eagles/Niners game because that’s the game I watched in its entirety this week. None of the calls above compare to the robbery of a Julio Jones touchdown in the Titans/Seahawks game. Granted, the Titans did end up winning the game, but one could argue they would not have needed overtime had the officials not stupidly overturned a touchdown in the second quarter based on this “evidence:”
Moreover, here are some stills:
The play was called a touchdown originally. The evidence is close, but Jones snagged the ball from the time it hit his hands. The stills above show his second foot come down in bounds. Even by the labyrinthine standards of the arcane and infuriating NFL rulebook, that’s a goddamn touchdown. The officials reviewed it and changed their damn minds, and yet it’s not even the worst call officials have made in a Seahawks game in the last decade.
Even though the above call, the most infamous botched officiating call in perhaps NFL history, was made by replacement referees while the regular ones were on strike, the quality of calls has not improved an iota since the regular ones returned. It’s not just the NFL either. You can’t go a single night in the marathon baseball season without several calls for robot umpires because of inconsistently applied strike zones or the humans’ massive egos leading to ejections for the most benign of reasons. The NBA has actually had a referee fired for being on the take, and Tim Donaghy’s dismissal did nothing to improve the night-to-night quality of officiating. The NHL might have the worst set of officials in North American sports, a feat no less, and even the choir of HOCKEY MENS screaming about their crews is drowned out by international football/soccer fans yelling about theirs. The quality of the jobs done by people whose sole duty it is to make sure the games are played the way the rules say they are, so that each team has a fair chance to win, has been substandard for as long as I can remember.
To say teams should learn to live with bad officiating is a gross statement, not because officiating should be pristine and perfect, but because living with bad officiating alone is a loser mentality. If bad shit happens to you, it’s a built in excuse for losing games, sure. However, the road to missing the playoffs or not winning a title is paved with blaming the officials on your poor execution. Even if the ref’s bad call is bad enough to shift the entire tide of a game, like with, I dunno, the Tuck Rule Game that launched a Tom Brady Dynasty, sitting back and taking it feels antithetical to the human spirit. When man sees a problem, even if that problem is “other humans,” the dynamic and enterprising problem solver sees solutions. The NFL especially is a league that prides itself on having coaches who can solve problems, even if execution on that image is less than average given all the cronyism and recycling that goes on of coaches who are content to punt from the opponents’ 38-yard line on fourth down and three.
The real solution here is that the enterprising team should expect to get fucked on a gross misapplication of the rules. When you expect a problem to happen, you gameplan for it. Simply put, a successful NFL team has to treat a bullshit holding call or, a 2021 No Fun League special, a tight-assed interpretation of the taunting rule the same way they’d anticipate a bad pass rusher vs. offensive tackle matchup or an overmatched rookie WR going up against Jalen Ramsey. Holding call wipe out a big gain? That’s when you break out the flea flicker you’ve been practicing in secret. The only way to erase penalty yards against you is to gain them back in spectacular fashion. On the other side of the ball, if you see the other team is getting away with mauling your wide receivers past the five yard cushion zone, then you do the same to their receivers. The officials are, in reality, as much a variable as the players. It shouldn’t be that way, but few things in life ever work the way they do in the ideal state.
Basically, you can do one of two things when you encounter poor officiating. You can sit back, take it, and hope that it benefits you one day in a karmic ballet that will eventually even the score. Or, you can prepare for it and make it a part of your gameplan week in and week out. The only thing you should accept is that the various leagues worldwide are not going to do a damn thing about officiating, especially since all of them have licenses to print money. Outside of that, it’s just another variable to have to plan for.
This is not me saying Sermon “deserved” to get hurt. No one does outside of those players who prove that they’re cruel to others outside of the game of football (i.e. domestic abusers and rapists). If anything, it SHOULD be a call to reform how football is taught at the youngest levels to prevent players from instinctually putting themselves in these positions.