The Zebras Deserve A Flag Not Stopping Fog Bowl Wasn't Refs' Only Weekend Goof

Posted: January 04, 1989

It was editor and essayist John Trotwood Moore who coined the much-quoted aphorism,"Only the game fish swims upstream."

Moore would have admired WIP sportscaster Bill Campbell for taking to the air yesterday in defense of referee Jim Tunney and the other errant zebras who worked the Eagles' NFC playoff loss to the Bears in the fogbanks of Chicago's Soldier Field.

From what I caught of the call-in show, Campbell would have been better off heeding the modifying clause of poet and humorist Ogden Nash, who said:

"Only the game fish swims upstream. But the sensible fish swims down."

Game effort, Bill, but the currents of local opinion were just too strong to buck.

The way Philadelphians perceived Tunney's act, while it was still perceptible, not even Bobby Simone and Chuck Peruto combined could defend the guy successfully.

Tunney's integrity is not at issue. It's just the nature of the game, in playoff situations particularly, for the roar of the crowd to inhibit an official's sense of objectivity.

It happened in Buffalo, where Houston receiver Drew Hill was robbed of a touchdown when the zebras ruled he wasn't in control of the ball within bounds before two Buffalo Bills sent him skidding head first against one of the uprights.

That call was wrong on two counts. True, Hill did juggle the perfect pass

from quarterback Warren Moon on the way down, but he had the ball clearly secured in one hand by the time he slid into the upright. And because the upright itself stopped his slide, jamming his head so forcefully into his neck that it incapacitated him for the rest of the game, Hill was never really out of bounds till he was helped off the field.

All of this was obvious on the replay, of course. But with the playoff- starved Buffalo crowd roaring its approval of a bad call, the officials weren't about to reverse themselves. As for the visitors, his collision with the upright left Hill too punchy to protest, and the Houston coaches were too preoccupied with their star receiver's injury to demand a review.

There were bad calls against the visiting Vikings in San Francisco as well. But the 49ers really didn't need such help from the zebras to rout the listless Vikes, 34-9. The thing about Buffalo's 17-10 win over Houston, though, was that its margin of victory was that very touchdown the zebras nullified with their bad call on Hill's painfully earned catch.

By now it's agreed that Tunney's worst call in Chicago was the call he didn't make when the fog rolled in. At its thickest, Tunney claimed he could still look fore and aft and see both goal posts. But if his vision was that acute, how come he couldn't see Chicago's offensive line using everything but ropes to hold the Eagles' all-pro sacker Reggie White even before the fog took the home crowd out of the game?

On one play, White was bareheaded by the time he made a belated move on quarterback Mike Tomczak. When White tried to point out that his helmet was still locked under the armpit of Chicago tackle Keith Van Horne, Tunney paid no heed.

But where was Tunney's vaunted vision when Reggie's head was still inside that helmet?

Don't make Anthony Toney the goat for those back-to-back penalties that nullified touchdown catches by Chris Carter and Mike Quick, respectively.

On one, Tunney charged the Eagles' fullback with illegal procedure for not being set a full second before the snap after moving up a step to position

himself better to pick up a blitz.

Forget that no zebra carries a one-second beeper to guarantee the accuracy of that call. The purpose of the penalty, sometimes known as a the Landry Rule, is to prevent deliberately deceptive moment before the snap - of the sort featured by Dallas coach Tom Landry's jack-in-the-box offensive linemen.

To invoke it against a fullback who's obviously just adjusting to a defensive shift that threatens his quarterback's health is a dipstick call, which you'll never see made against the home team in a playoff.

The holding call against Toney was even more spurious, for reasons I lack the space to detail here.

Aside from the NFL's cowardly lack of contingency against a fog that began gathering Friday, it's been correctly noted that the Eagles beat themselves.

So why did Jim Tunney have to help them do it?

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