"Protect the shield."
That is what the NFL and its stone-faced commissioner Roger Goodell tell its players. After Monday night's debacle between Green Bay and Seattle, the NFL should be embarrassed by the product it put on the field. Replacement referees have completely sacrificed the integrity of the game.
In case you've have been living under a rock for the past 12 hours and haven't yet seen the final play of Monday's game: clear-cut offensive pass interference on Seattle wasn't called, followed by an interception that was ruled a touchdown. To be perfectly clear, the final play was not reviewable, but anyone who has ever watched football knows that what occurred last night was an atrocity.
Perhaps Packers coach Mike Mike McCarthy summed it up best when he said: "I've never seen anything like that in all my years in football."
The bungled call is a by-product of a disastrous labor dispute between the NFL and its regular officials. Essentially, officials want to be paid full-time -- as their colleagues in other pro sports are -- by an infinitely rich league that seemingly won't budge. The result of the stalemate has been painfully long games (averaging nearly 25 minutes longer than through Week 3 of 2011) and an abundance of wrong calls (seventeen of 21 coach's challenges have resulted in overturned calls).
The NFL, through all of the turmoil, still boasts excellent ratings, which are actually up from a highly successful 2011 season. Those who say they will not watch -- and I am guilty of this as well -- still do. If, however, Goodell and his friends in the league office want to prove that their entire operation does not solely revolve around profit, it can -- and will -- fix what is quickly spiraling into a laughable season. The overwhelming downside if they don't is really quite simple. Remember, this is still only September. Imagine, for a moment, the outcry in January. With these hopelessly outclassed officials, aka replacement refs, at the helm in the playoffs, would fans not dismiss the entire season with an asterisk the same way they do Barry Bonds' home run record? Would they not view the entire 2012 season the same way they view Lance Armstrong's career?
At its core, the NFL has a truly great game that, right now, is being tarnished with an inferior product that is merely calling itself pro football. Goodell, meanwhile, has a deep responsibility to himself, the fans, the teams, the players and all of those who came before to make this right.
Last night demonstrated painfully clearly that there is no substitute for the professional referees' expertise. The league must return to the negotiating table immediately, and the refs should be paid for maintaining the league's integrity. If Goodell wants to protect the shield, nothing else matters.
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