Sports with Shook: Roger Goodell failing to “protect the shield”

Referees signal different calls after Monday night’s game-ending play. It was finally ruled a touchdown, giving the Seahawks a 14-12 win to defeat the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on Monday, September 24, 2012, in Seattle, Washington. Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Nick Shook

Nick Shook

Nick Shook is a junior news major and sports columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

The men in stripes.

The zebras.

Whatever you prefer to call them, referees are a necessary and vital part of any sport — especially football.

The outcome of games, and careers, often hinge on the human judgment of these officials, keepers and enforcers of a sport’s integrity.

That has never been more apparent than it was Monday night in Seattle.

Trailing 12-7 late in the fourth quarter, Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back, ran around, rolled out to his left and did everything short of Doug Flutie’s “Miracle in Miami” before lofting a 27-yard pass to the end zone as the clock expired.

The ball rose while Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate shoved away a defensive back, and fell in a beautiful arc, directly into the hands of Green Bay Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings for what appeared to a game-ending interception to seal a victory for the Packers.

The back judge, Derrick Rhone-Dunn, started to signal a touchback, declaring the ball in the Packers’ possession, and thus ending the game. But side judge Wayne Easley had a different result in mind.

Easley ran toward the pile of Seahawks and Packers and attempted to see who had possession of the ball. Live television cameras clearly showed that the ball was pinned against Jennings’ chest, but Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate had one of his arms tangled with Jennings.

One arm was enough for Easley to declare shared possession and raise his two in signal of a touchdown, giving the Seahawks the score and the last-second win.

The referees convened, and went to the replay booth, but not to review who had possession; that decision is not reviewable, according to NFL rules.

After review, the referees declared that the touchdown was good, that the game was over, and essentially, that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell better stop pinching pennies and bring back the real league officials.

The side judge who made the game-changing (and potentially, season-changing) call, Easley, had never officiated a game at a level higher than NCAA Division III football before the 2012 season. I once played D-III football. I can tell you from personal experience, and from the common knowledge of any former player and/or fan, that the speed of the game at D-III is not equivalent to that of the NFL, the highest level of football on the planet.

To make matters worse, it has since been revealed that Easley has only four years of refereeing experience under his belt. NFL rules explicitly state that officials are required to have at least 10 years of experience, with at least five in major-college football.

Major-college football is Division I — not D-III, or D-II for that matter.

Goodell might as well call up the old gray-haired, pot-bellied referee who used to officiate my CYO and high school games in Akron. Except I doubt his 40-yard dash time would be up to par.

The worst part about this entire fiasco? The NFL, in its always-right attitude, stood behind the blatantly incorrect call Tuesday morning. It has the authority to overrule the official’s call, and thus, give Green Bay the win it so rightfully earned and deserves.

But the Shield wouldn’t want to risk that. God forbid, the city of Seattle wakes up and it stops raining long enough for angry Seahawk fans to gather in the streets and riot. Starbucks coffee would never be the same.

The league issued a statement, in which it quietly admitted the call was wrong but adamantly defended the referee’s proceedings in the moments after the play.

“While the ball is in the air, [Seahawks receiver Golden] Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground,” the statement reads. “This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game. It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay.”

“When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown … Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review.

“The result of the game is final.”

After reading this, I literally felt like I had just watched an episode of Family Guy, in which Peter Griffin makes an outrageous statement about the seriousness of a situation and finishes the argument with “I HAVE SPOKEN!”

According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, the final play at CenturyLink Field (hooray, terrible corporate stadium names) shifted between $150 million and $250 million in bets on the game worldwide.

Do you realize how many bookies the refs just ticked off?

But the problem isn’t about betting, or who won/lost money. I couldn’t care less about what the person who put $20,000 on a team (I.E., the guy sitting next to me at the Browns/Eagles game) has to say about the outcome of a game. But the absolute failure of these officials threatens the integrity, and thus, attractiveness of the game.

There’s a reason the replacement refs don’t have position letters on the backs of their uniforms — they’re interchangeable, and no matter what position you place them in, they’re equally as awful.

Goodell has taken a dictatorial approach to handling the NFL. He is definitely no Paul Tagliabue; Goodell’s “my way or the highway” attitude nearly cost the world a 2011 NFL season, and is now in danger of tarnishing the legacy and integrity of the greatest professional sport in the United States, and arguably, the world.

A league that brings in billions, yes, BILLIONS of dollars per year still cannot find a way to pay its locked-out referees, forcing the fans to sit through such atrocious officiating on a weekly basis.

With inept officiating comes a sharp drop in fan interest. The fans will suddenly look at the entire 2012 season as a wash, a season that they believe should go down in the record books with an asterisk larger than that which may or may not reside next to the career home run record of suspected steroid user Barry Bonds.

Former NFL player Darren Woodson was completely accurate in his statement — this isn’t the referee’s fault; this is Park Avenue’s fault. The NFL offices need to stop playing around and get a deal done.

It’s time for Goodell to sacrifice a little pride and open up the league’s check book to pay these officials. Not the replacement ones we’ve been dealing with since week one of the preseason, but the real guys. Mr. Jacked-and-Tan, yet-still-older-than-50 referee Ed Hochuli needs to take a break from the weights to lead the NFL officials back onto the field in a triumphant and celebrated return — before it’s too late.

Disagree with Nick? Frustrated with NFL officiating as well? Let your voice be heard, and tweet Nick @NickShookDKS. Be sure to voice your displeasure by using Sports With Shook’s weekly hashtag, #ReplacementRefs. Tune into “Sports With Shook” every Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., hosted by Kory Kubasek, Austin Coley and Nick Shook, only on Black Squirrel Radio, and follow the show’s Twitter account, @SportsWithShook.