There is dripping irony here, no? Not only were the replacement officials sending out mixed signals by the week, game, quarter - or in Monday's disaster in Seattle, last second - we couldn't even get a consistent read on what was happening between Roger Goodell and his boys and the 121-member NFL Referees Association.
You know, the real refs?
Then again, the idea that more money was won and lost by bettors on Monday night's botched call than either side stands to gain no matter what is ultimately negotiated underlines what madness this has been since owners locked out the real refs in June.
There were a list of disputes to be resolved, but the main one involved the NFL's attempt to replace a longstanding pension plan with a 401(k). Must be a lot of dough, right? Uh-uh. While labor disputes between players and owners seek to equitably distribute the billions pro leagues earn these days, cost estimates of continuing a defined-benefit pension plan rather than the league's proposal of a 401(k) plan put it around one-third of 1 percent of total revenue.
That's less than $500,000 per team per season.
You might call the owners cheap.
You might call them arrogant, even more than the NHL owners who have locked out their loyal players. At least they're trying to win back tens of millions, not thousands. I mean, what kind of a sports world do we live in that Bud Selig might be our least arrogant commissioner?
Goodell's argument was that because much of corporate America has eliminated pensions in favor of 401(k)s, the NFL should, too. Speaking at a Washington luncheon 15 days ago, he said that only about 10 percent of America still has pensions.
"Yours truly doesn't have that," he said. "It's something that doesn't really exist anymore and that I think is going away steadily."
But according to ProFootballTalk.com, in the case of the NFL officials, not immediately. The website reported that the pension plan will remain in place for 5 years, then be replaced by a 401(k).
The whole thing turned the NFL into the NHL or worse, good ol' wrestling. Not the current brand. I mean the old days of Chief Jay Strongbow and Andre the Giant, when the referee was always turned the wrong way when Freddie Blassie picked up the aluminum chair, or Professor Toru Tanaka was rubbing salt in someone's eyes.
There may be no funnier picture in the history of sports photo journalism than the well-circulated one in which two officials, standing equidistant to the participants of Monday's final play, are simultaneously signaling touchdown and touchback.
I mean, aren't we all just nitpicking a little bit?
That apparently was the official NFL stance right up to Monday night's well-publicized, well-criticized final play. Right up until Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson lofted a pass into a crowded end zone, right up until Seattle receiver Golden Tate blatantly pushed Green Bay defender Sam Shields to the ground, then tried to rip the ball from the cradle of Green Bay defender M.D. Jennings as he landed on his back.
In its postmortem ruling, the NFL office that reviews these calls said that offensive interference should have been called. But it also claimed that its replace-o-refs got the call correct.
Even if they weren't quite sure - at least at first - what they had called.
"When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball," the NFL said. "Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown."
Well, that was one result of the play. There was also the aforementioned $300 million swing in bets gained and lost, the starter and spark plugs of the NFL's $9.3 billion business.
And that apparently led to the ultimate result of the play: The return of the real referees, reportedly as early as Thursday night, the men who catch Freddie Blassie and the evil professor more often than not.
The men we love to hate. Even when they make the right call.
Contact Sam Donnellon at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @samdonnellon.
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