Just like Cody Parkey’s missed field goal attempts, there had been no shortage of complaints against NFL officials this season. It didn’t stop at Week 17, either. I am one of those vocal fans of the game that has been frustrated and outspoken about the current condition of things. Before anyone says it’s just me being unhappy with a call that didn’t go the Browns’ way, let me extinguish any such thoughts before they begin. It is a destination we have reached that is the culmination of time and mishandling. Such an equation has brought us to a circus of errors that all started about eight and a half years ago.
Up through the 2011 season, I always considered the NFL to be an exceptionally officiated league, perhaps even the best at times when considering the four big leagues of the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA. Sure, errors occurred, but referees and line judges are human so these things are to be expected. They were, however, kept to a minimum. Then 2012 happened, which brought with it the NFL officials labor dispute and resulting strike.
The lockout only lasted three weeks, though in hindsight it certainly felt longer than that. Regardless, substitute officials came in to save the day, though I use the word ‘save’ lightly here. There were some questionable calls that seemed rather commonplace over those first few weeks as we all waited with bated breath for the regulars to return to their zebra-striped duties. Be careful what you wish for. Once the regulars returned, things didn’t feel all that improved.
Now in all fairness, the last eight seasons have not been abysmally called games by NFL refs. Actually, I want to take part of that back. Yes, there have been moments that have gone from head-scratching to table-flipping. It is almost as if the current officiating union is made up of individuals whose introduction to the great game of American football was a mere three or four years ago.
The examples are certainly endless and things seem to be getting worse instead of better. Case in point, last night’s playoff matchup between the Eagles and the Bears had its under-qualified referee moments. Mentor-native and Bears QB Mitch Trubisky found an open Anthony Miller and hit him for a 30+ yard pass. Miller caught the ball before an Eagles defender was all over him. Nevertheless, Miller persevered taking three steps, all the while maintaining control before his descent to the turf…and being stripped of the ball.
In the land of normal referees in this scenario, no one blows a whistle and play continues until someone scoops up the ball and A) gets tackled, B) goes out of bounds or C) scores. In the 2018/19 scenario, a ref blew the play dead right after the fumble, which ironically enough blew the call altogether. Ah, but wait! The officials convened for a meeting of the minds and reviewed the play. Surely, they would realize their mistake and thus right their wrong. Even the rules expert in the commentators’ booth with Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth said we can all expect this to be a completion.
After the black and white uniformed group dispersed, we were all blindsided with the complete opposite of what we were told to expect. The ball was ruled incomplete. Now, a mistake is one thing, but this was a refereeing travesty and it’s not the first time something like this has happened in recent memory. Not only did the refs blow a whistle prematurely that effectively ended an active play, an official then proceeded to pick up what should have very well been a live ball. Stay with me because this chain reaction of follies gets better.
Instead of calling it a completion (because it was) and giving the ball to the Bears (who had last possession before a ref picked up the ball), the refs organized on the sideline, reviewed some footage and wiped the whole play’s existence off the map. Incomplete pass. That was the ruling. If a single word were to enter into my mind at that moment, ‘dumbfounded’ would have been the most likely. I suppose if there is one way to erase the official’s mistake, just claiming the whole thing never happened is the most efficient way to do so.
The mess wasn’t limited to this past Sunday, either. It’s been a plague all season. Fumbles that are called back but should have been fumbles. Helmet to helmet near misses that are flagged. Poor ball spots. It’s seemingly endless. Don’t even get me started on the Browns/Raiders game back in Week 4.
With all of that being said, it’s not that this one writer’s outcry for the Bears’ heartbreaking loss to the defending Super Bowl champs. Rather, it’s an ongoing frustration with an awful display of officiating that is becoming a disease in the league. America’s favorite pastime is being undermined at its highest level by what is supposed to be the glue holding the game together. Instead, the binding to this book is quickly coming undone and the pages are all over the floor. When I watch the NBA and I see whistles blown simply for brushing up against a player, I can honestly say the NFL is rapidly competing for such a low standard of reffing.
If you want to see a league that is properly officiated, let me direct your attention to the NHL. With two refs and two linesmen and a replay system that almost never gets it wrong, hockey at the top-tier has held the standard for how to do things right. Their efforts are not alone, either. Over the last decade, Major League Baseball has made strong efforts to rein in a variety of strike zones and focus on a more common area of balls and strikes. The implementation of instant replay has also been a plus. Both of those leagues make it apparent that calling a game properly is of utmost concern for the integrity of their respective sports.
Certainly, all four leagues have and will get calls wrong, but the idea is for that to be the exception, not the norm. The NFL is on pace to completely buck that trend and take the low road by sweeping mistakes under the rug. As a writer, I’d rather not compose a sequel to this article wondering how things have gotten even worse with NFL officials than they were in 2018. As a fan, I can only hope I don’t have to read that article.