A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this piece about the NFL's on-going labor dispute with its game-day officials who are currently on strike. I tried to be cute and joked that we wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the regular NFL officials and the replacements that the NFL hired to officiate its games in the wake of the impasse.
Well, after some of the things that I've seen and read regarding the job that replacement officials have been doing over the first two full weeks of preseason games, I now have a new found respect for the guys on strike.I didn't notice too much stuff in the Steelers first preseason game against the Eagles, other than maybe the replacements being a bit unsure of themselves and having one too many mini-conferences. But then I heard other news from around the league, like the preseason game involving the Raiders and Cowboys, where, at one point, Tony Romo had to help the officials spot the football.
The link in the above paragraph is from an ESPN article regarding the problems that teams have been having with replacement officials in their preseason games. The article goes on to point out a play in the Cowboys' second preseason game this past weekend against the Chargers, where Chargers' safety Eric Weddle was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit during a play that resulted in an interception for San Diego. Everyone knows that the ball should have been given back to the Cowboys 15 yards further up the field than where the previous play started, right? Well, not according to the replacement officials who were doing that game:
"On a pass to Cowboys receiver Andre Holmes, Chargers safety Eric Weddle was flagged for an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit. Chargers linebacker Donald Butler came up with an interception on the play. But after an extended discussion, the officials gave the ball to San Diego and then marked off the personal foul against the Chargers for the illegal hit. But the ball should have been given to the Cowboys, with the penalty against the Chargers marked off from the previous spot."
I don't think that I've ever heard of anything like that in a football game, preseason or otherwise. Can you imagine if that would have occurred during a regular season game?
Speaking of the regular season, if Sunday night's game against the Colts was a real game played in October or November, all we'd probably be talking about this week is the apparent blown call on the Andrew Luck touchdown run in the first half. On a fourth and goal play from the two yard line in the second quarter, Luck took the snap and ran around left end for the score. However, he started an "I'm a quarterback so don't hit me" slide about two yards away from the goal line, and even though he made it into the end zone untouched, the score shouldn't have counted. When an NFL quarterback slides feet first, he's giving himself up and it's illegal for any defender to hit him at that point. The plus for the defense is that the ball is supposed to be spotted right at the start of the slide. Since it was fourth and goal, the Steelers should have been awarded the football at the shadow of their own goal line. However, the officials on the field called it a touchdown, and the call was upheld by the guys in the replay booth. Yes, I know that the replay officials were not replacements, and why they didn't recommend to the referee that he should review the play is beyond me. But for it to have even been called a touchdown in the first place was very puzzling and quite alarming, especially since Luck's pre-end zone slide was pretty obvious to just about everyone who saw it.
I don't know if the striking NFL officials had any leverage before the start of the preseason, but with each passing mistake made by the replacements--including the ref facing away from the camera while announcing a penalty Sunday night--they gain more and more of it.
Not all football players can make the jump from high school to college or from college to the pro ranks. Maybe the same holds true for football officials. Even though I joked about it a couple weeks ago, it probably won't seem so funny if this stuff continues into September.
Hurry back, regular NFL officials, you're obviously the best in the world at what you do. And I really mean that this time.