COMMENTARY — The sporting world’s spotlight is shining brightly on the National Football League’s current labor stalemate with its officials/referees association. Why? Because the new guys are terrible.
Here’s just a smattering of some of the social media comments in the past couple of days from NFL fans after a clear interception was ruled a touchdown in the Seattle-Green Bay game on the league’s biggest stage, Monday Night Football:
- (With a picture of a jubilant Brett Favre) “You mean interceptions are now touchdowns? That’s it, I’m coming back.”
- The 3 Stooges heads Photoshopped onto NFL refs heads with the caption, “Next Week’s Replacement Refs.”
- (With a picture of two NFL replacement refs) “After further review, the runner did not touch second base. Touchdown Celtics.”
- (With a picture of the game-ending play in Seattle) “New NFL rule: You can catch the ball by catching the guy who caught the ball.”
So, like most fiascos, there is a lesson to be learned here. Let me illustrate.
A couple of decades ago, I was a young sports writer, just out of college, covering high school and college sports in northern Idaho. I’m not from Idaho, nor did I particularly enjoy my time up there, but it was my first real job out of college.
One of the local high schools, a small school with less than 200 students, had established a strange, but impressive tradition of being a powerhouse in tennis. This school competed against much bigger programs and won a majority of its matches. It was amazing to me because the school was located in an isolated area with no big-city tennis clubs or academies, no real affluence or even indoor courts, which are almost a necessity in northern Idaho given the weather.
Somehow, with a brilliant coach and dedicated athletes, this school succeeded against all odds.
The summer I arrived, this school fired its football coach after another dismal season with no wins. They competed, but couldn’t get a victory, losing five of eight games by three points or fewer. The school’s administrator told me they just needed someone to get them over the hump, to get them three more points, so to speak.
So he offered the job to the smartest guy he knew, the tennis coach.
This tennis coach, who I’ll call Will Cantwell, was flattered. But he knew nothing of football. He didn’t even watch football. He was a tennis guy. So he turned the job down. But the administrator persisted and finally Coach Cantwell relented.
He said to himself, “Coaching is coaching. I’ll study hard, read everything available, go to a seminar or two and get myself ready.”
It was an unmitigated disaster.
The team wasn’t fundamentally sound. The players could hardly tackle. The coach missed on basic coaching maneuvers. His team managed the clock poorly, had no rhythm and made silly gaffes. On one memorably bad play, the coach called for a fake punt on a fourth and 15 from his team’s own 6-yard line.
They ran the play and got the first down, but the play was nullified as they were in an illegal formation. So, facing fourth and 18 from the 3-yard line, they ran the SAME PLAY. The opponent, this time alert to the possibility of a fake, knocked the pass away easily and took over at the three. They scored on the next play.
The season was one miscue after another and the team that had been so close to winning the year earlier, lost every game by at least 14 points.
And while Coach Cantwell returned to tennis and created a great legacy for himself on the hard courts, I imagine he still feels bad about his one attempt at being a football coach.
The moral of the story, for both the NFL and for the small school in Idaho, is this: Don’t try to put people where they don’t belong.
The NFL is using referees who have very little experience. Meanwhile, the league quibbles over a few dollars with the guys who are good at being officials.
Coach Cantwell was an exceptional tennis coach who didn’t belong on a football sideline.
The replacement refs may be good at many things, but officiating professional football isn’t one of them.
Imagine putting me in a doctor’s office. I think I could take your blood pressure and I might even enjoy giving you a shot, but good luck getting treatment. It would be an epic fail.
There’s nothing wrong with trying something new, but we must recognize when it just isn’t working. I am no doctor. I didn’t train for that. I lack the knowledge and experience to do it.
Most doctors would struggle doing my job as well. They, too, lack the knowledge and experience.
So let’s allow the doctors to doctor, the sports writers to write and, for heaven’s sake, let’s let the real NFL officials officiate.
Andy Griffin is a sports commentator and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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