In the worst officiating debacle since the 1972 Munich Olympic Games -- when incompetent game and table officials literally robbed the United States men's Olympic basketball team of a gold medal -- the National Football League became the laughingstock of professional sports on Monday night. The incident occurred when on-field replacement officials and league-employed replay officials botched a last second call on a "Hail Mary" pass by Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson which was clearly intercepted by Green Bay Packers defender M.D. Jennings. The botched call and the absolute farce that followed, resulted in a 14-12 Seahawks win over the Packers in a game that will be discussed for weeks and weeks, especially if it ends up having an effect on the playoff positioning for the Packers.
The controversy began when officials overlooked a blatant offensive interference call when Seattle's Golden Tate leveled Green Bay's Sam Shields as a 24-yard pass made its way towards the end zone as time expired and Green Bay leading 12-7 in a nationally cablecast Monday Night Football game on ESPN. Clearly, Jennings, the Packers' safety, leapt up and intercepted the ball, then fell to the end zone as Seattle's wide receiver Golden Tate attempted to grab and wrestle the ball away. As they fell in a pile up, the backfield referees scrambled to gain position to make a call. Inexplicably, one referee signaled a touchback (the call for an intercepted ball in the end zone) while another signaled a touchdown as he clearly viewed the ball in the hands of Jennings. The referee signaling the touchdown then over-ruled his colleague and the Seahawks fans and players burst into celebration as ESPN broadcasters gasp in disbelief.
To make matters worse, the play was placed under review by league instant replay rules and the off-field officials were put in position to reverse the inaccurate decision made by their colleagues. With only the 'eye-in-the-sky' as a means of over-turning and correcting the bad call, the decision rendered by the instant replay officials inexplicably agreed with the on-field call. Total mayhem broke loose as media commentary ripped the referees to shreds (Note: former NFL referee Jerry Austin, an on-air consultant, later explained that replay officials in the booth cannot rule on possession).
As chaos broke loose in sports bars, living rooms, casino sports books and, certainly 345 Park Avenue -- the NFL's HQ in New York -- multiple media reports, reverse angles and basic common sense confirmed the NFL's worst nightmare as the ball was most definitely in the hands of Jennings, the defender, and the game should've ended as a 12-6 Green Bay victory.
The Seahawks and their home fans celebrated the victory as the dejected Packers left the field in utter disgust but, under NFL rules, the Seahawks were entitled to kick a PAT (point after touchdown). The game officials summoned the Packers back to the field while the Seahawks players and coaches continued celebrating their fortunate, albeit unfair, victory. Eventually, after returning to the field, searching through equipment boxes, locating game helmets and assembling 11 defenders, the Packers watched while placekicker Steven Hauschka kicked to the ball through the uprights to make the final score 14-12, Seattle.
After the game was ruled as a Seattle victory, social media sites and on-air sports commentators lambasted the replacement officials and the NFL, many calling it an embarrassment to the league, once thought-of as the model for efficiency and credibility in all of sports. Even the NFL's owned and operated channel, the NFL Network, took the league to task. ESPN was worse.
"For 10 years, the commissioner's office has been coming into the NFL locker rooms and saying, 'we will do anything to protect the shield. Anything! We will exhaust every opportunity to protect this brand. It's ironic, that you, the NFL, is what's screwing this brand up right now," said former NFL QB Trent Dilfer on the postgame show on ESPN.
The Monday Night Fiasco came a day after New England Coach Bill Belichick grabbed the arm of an official after the New England Patriots lost 31-30 to the Baltimore Ravens.
The NFL locked out its regular officials in June after a collective bargaining agreement expired. The league hired and trained replacement officials for all preseason games and for the first three weeks of the regular season. After an uneventful first week of play, there has been growing criticism over the way some games have been called, including a total meltdown of effectiveness in a Monday Night game last week between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, won by Atlanta 27-21.
On Monday, the NFL issued fines of $30,000 to Broncos Coach John Fox and $25,000 to Denver offensive coordinator Jack Del Rio for their verbal comments on the officiating last week. On Sunday replacement officials admitted making two mistakes in Minnesota's victory over San Francisco.
Earlier Sunday, the NFL players' union sent an open letter to team owners calling for an end to the lockout.
"Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity," the NFL Players Association wrote. "This affirmative decision has not only resulted in poor calls, missed calls and bad game management, but the combination of those deficiencies will only continue to jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game that has taken decades to build."
To that end, let us introduce NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith to Nostradamus.
Follow Terry Lyons on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@DigSportsDesk