Before the stakes are raised, and emotions take over fully, now would be a good time to discuss officiating Hating on officials is common across all sports. And its accepted. If there are two rules in sports commentary they are 1) all broadcasters are blow hards and/or bias. 2) all officials are incompetent and/or bias. You can be better than this. Here is a handy guide to how to overcome this:
Officials are held to a higher standard than players. They could call a game that is almost perfect, but fans and talking heads will focus on one bad call. Or perceived bad call. For example, in the Packers 2009 Wild Card Game vs The Cardinals. Aaron Rodgers played brilliantly. He threw for 423 yards, and had five total td’s (one rushing). In a way, it was a coming out party, which lead to a Super Bowl and a MVP award the following two years. In that game, Rodgers had two key mistakes. The first was his interception on the first play of the game. He should have just thrown the ball away. The second was the first play of overtime; Greg Jennings had gotten open over the top, and Rodgers overthrew him, by a foot or two. If completed, it was likely a touchdown and at worst, they would have been in field goal range. Any throw that far downfield is difficult but it was one that he normally makes.
Fast forward two plays later, and Rodgers was sacked and fumbled. The Cardinals scooped and scored and the game was over. On the play, Rodgers appeared to be facemasked, albeit ever so slightly. Should a penalty have been called? I am not sure. Regardless, more people recall the alleged mistake of the referee for not calling that penalty and are harder on that official than they are of Rodgers errant throw that would have won the game. It still gets mentioned to this day on Twitter. While, I have never seen the Rodgers overthrow mentioned.
Aaron Rodgers makes errors every game. Every player does. Officials do too, but for whatever reason, fans expect 100% accuracy when it comes to officials.
Understand the Rules
Rule books are written in plain language. They aren’t intended to confuse, or be opaque. You can find them right here. Not only are the written rules important, but so is the intent of the rule. The spirt of the rule. And yet while any discussion regarding the rules takes place, its as if fans and commentors know them inside and out even though they haven’t read a single rule, nor have every tried to understand them. The best recent Packers example is the TJ Watt sack of Brett Hundley last year in the 4th quarter. Many Packers Fans thought it should have been a penalty because of the helmet to helmet contact . While, the new rule this year changes that, last year and prior to helmet to helmet contact on a ball carrier was legal. One could have made an argument that he was a passer and that is why it should have been called, but if he was a ball carrier the play was correctly called, and many fans contended that all helmet to helmet contact is illegal. Even when confronted with the rule book, or an explanation from and official, they still didn’t believe this. Fans can be willfully ignorant.
Just as important is the intent of a rule. Almost all rules, from illegal formation, to the catch rule has a basis of common sense behind it. Illegal formations are there to prevent deception, so it may not always be called 100% strictly. A catch involves more than just two feet down, otherwise, there would be unintended consequences like a too many fumbles.
Every Play is Different
It is important as an official to be consistent as possible on all fronts. From your mechanics, to how you treat situations to your standard for a call. In baseball, its okay for an umpire to give the low strike as long is it is applied all the time. But where this gets tricky is on action plays, that are inherently different. No two plays are exactly the same. The best example of this was the nauseating commentary about the Zach Ertz touchdown in the Super Bowl. Consistency regarding the catch rule is what people complained about. “It was the same thing as the Jesse James Play!” or “Dez caught it!” they shouted. But in reality the they were far different. Ertz had turned up field running and then jumped into the end zone, while the other two plays involved players that were going to the ground as they caught the ball.
The Corey Clement touchdown in the Super Bowl however, seemed to be inconsistent with most rulings during the year. However, in this case, the ruling was based on the prior rulings being too liberal with reversals. So while this was inconsistent, it was essentially the correct the way, and how it should have been called. Mistakes happen and (in this case Al Riveron the replay official), inconsistencies may arise simply from that.
Calls are Gray
As much as we would like to think every single call is black and white, they aren’t. There are many calls that are gray. Calls such as holding, pass interference, even personal fouls, involve a judgment on the official’s part. Deep down, we all know this. But to a fan, every gray call should be black or white. If your team is black, the call should be black. If your team is white, the call should be white. And if one or two of these calls go against your team, then your team is getting hosed. In this case, this line of thinking seems to be the greatest amongst other teams fans in the NFC. The Vikings and Bears fans are obvious but more recently, Cowboys fans have also joined this fray. They use the gray calls that went against their team while playing the Packers as evidence that officials are bias for the Packers. Don’t be like those fans.
Also. Its hard. NFL players are big and fast. No matter how many officials are on the field, seeing plays that are that fast is hard, and obtaining the proper sight lines through 22 bodies is even harder. Criticizing a call, or discussing a call, is never a bad thing. It should happen. Officials should be held accountable, like players and any other profession. And of course, they can impact games. But is just part of the game that has to be just has to be dealt with. And by in large, they are
However, I reserve the right to take this back during the season if the Packers lose a game due to a poor call.
Disclaimer: I am an ice hockey official and have been for around 17 years, officiating over 1000 games at various levels. While I have never officiated football, I sympathize with officials in general, in all sports. And have developed very thick skin.Originally from Glidden Wisconsin, Jason Straetz is a lifelong Packers\' fan, who has lived in Maine for over 30 years. He is a writer for packerstalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @jsnstz