I immediately became transfixed on my phone after the game. All said, I probably spent too much time on it Sunday night but my curiosity was piqued – how would the national media respond to the pass interference non-call? Would the league say anything? What about fans of the sport and others who partake in football circles?
The reason for my devout curiosity stemmed from a similar officiant gaffe just 45 days ago. Although the stakes were less and, as it turned out, not every one of the calls were incorrect the LSU versus Texas A&M game left a bad taste in the mouths of Bayou Bengals fans everywhere. Unfortunately, similar analysis of media and college football fandom showed one thing – the game was billed as a “Game of the Century” by media and fans from elsewhere were willing to follow suit on that narrative.
Sure, there were some from outside Louisiana who expressed their qualms with the poor referee job and demanded more. In fact, even relatively passive LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva got on the phone with the SEC offices both that evening and Monday morning – but to no avail. He had no national media backup as the game was relatively meaningless in the College Football Playoff landscape and the SEC really needed a good “rivalry” narrative after an abysmal showing on “Rivalry Weekend.”
So, A&M got its first victory over LSU since joining the SEC. The Tigers bowed their heads and took their frustrations into a Fiesta Bowl game with UCF where they summarily exacted revenge and snapped the Knights’ win-streak, among other things. With a season ending like that, the A&M game will eventually fade into a memory.
Sunday’s game was not inconsequential, in fact it had the ultimate consequence – a trip to the ultimate NFL game, the Super Bowl. The Saints would have faced first and goal from the Rams 6-yard-line and, as has been written ad nauseum online, there were about seven different ways the Black & Gold could have handled the situation giving them a much higher probability of victory.
Videos emerged after the game showing Sean Payton clearly telling the ref, “That’s a Super Bowl call.” Interviews revealed the league office took the blame, as more videos emerged of not two but three refs looking directly at the spot and the non-call. While Rams coach Sean McVay said after the game it was a good play, the player in question dutifully turned around on a live interview and said, “That was clearly pass interference” after he got beat and wanted to stop the touchdown.
It didn’t stop there for the NFL, however. In the very next game – the AFC championship between the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots – a phantom roughing the passer call gave the Patriots another chance, upon which they capitalized. Was it as egregious as the pass interference? No, but the crux of the matter is that while blown calls may be a thing for regular-season games that teams try to avoid – it simply can’t happen on championship weekend surrounding a billion-dollar industry.
Now, a couple of things of note surrounding the circumstances. First, the Saints had chances … plenty of them. Trying to force the Taysom Hill narrative at any point during this game was foolish enough but leaving eight points off the board in the first quarter was bad. Throwing the pick in overtime was rough. The Saints had their own bevy of “missed” penalties, as well – some of them could have been costly.
The Black & Gold could have just run the ball in that final set of downs, anyway, leaving less than a minute after the field goal.
What should come into question is not the outcome of the game. It’s over, and there’s no love lost between Commissioner Roger Goodell and Sean Payton – there won’t be a repeat. The address here needs to be the integrity of the game with regard to officiating.
Would more officials on sidelines help? Probably, although it was clear three of them had their eyes on this play and missed the call. In order to avoid five-hour football games, pass interference calls should be reviewable within the two-minute warning. That way, at least in situations where the game or a big drive is on the line, coaches and players have at least some retribution.
The fact that three members of this refereeing crew are from Los Angeles, and one of them played for Rams in the past, combined with the fact that the NFL recently moved the franchise to L.A. and needs a reason to get fans out is really, really bad optics. Sprinkle in some conspiracy theory and the move toward a more business-like approach by the league office with regard to “highest ratings” and “best narrative” and it makes these types of situations and the outrage considering the league’s stance on “zero transparency” and protecting these refs like sacred cows.
They make plenty of good money. Hold them accountable.
The NFL wants more league parity. They want closer games. They want higher scores. That’s all well-and-good, but if you can’t officiate the games correctly the quality of your product is tainted.