By Shyam Sundararaman
I was at CenturyLink Field for the most memorable Monday night football finish of all time. Years from now I will be able to tell my grandkids that I was in the stadium the day that Cedric Benson scored a Packer touchdown, Golden Tate made a play, the NFL’s credibility sank to its lowest low.
Here are my thoughts:
a) Before I lay into the NFL and the officiating, here’s a primer: No single play decides or defines a football game. A football game is a series of discrete events, any one of which can have a disproportional impact on the outcome while still not deciding the outcome all by itself.
So, while the final play cost the Packers the win at that point, the Packers did not lose just because of that play. Eight sacks in the first half, drops by Jones, Driver and Finley, other officiating errors and the improper and inadequate usage of timeouts by Mike Mccarthy were all also responsible for the Packers losing the game. (The timeouts particularly bother me. What is Mike going to do with the two he never used? Roll them over for next week against the Saints?)
The Packers had some opportunities to seal the game and did not. Let’s never forget that.
b) Watching the game in the stadium was surreal to say the least. The quarterback of my team got sacked EIGHT times in one half of football, and that was not even the third or fourth biggest story during and after the game. I was telling my friends how we may live another 70 years and never see that happen again.
c) The refs didn’t just become part of the game towards the end. For a long time, THEY WERE the game. There was extraordinary tension in the air during the game as fans of both sides had no handle on what the referees were calling or not calling. A rowdy and energetic group of Seahawks fans sitting behind me would yell out GENIUS call and BULLSHIT on back-to-back calls which looked the same. We were joking in the stands on how we should have had the refs on our fantasy rosters as they had called for more yardage than the players combined. At certain junctures it even felt like the coaches were asking their players to try deep passes or illegal holding just so the refs would screw up and the yardage gained or stopped would be substantially more than thru a more traditional play. There were tons of flags thrown, valid interceptions negated and an extraordinary uneasiness through the game that nothing the players did mattered. Anyone who thinks the refs just screwed up one late call or only made mistakes in the fourth quarter did not watch the whole game or is a replacement ref.
Above everything else this is a bad place to be. Officiating a football game or any sporting event is hard. Humans have and will make mistakes and there will be games when the team you root for will feel the brunt of the mistakes. I get that. But that is not where the NFL was on Monday night and that is not where the league is right now. It is more like politics when who counted the votes and printed out ballots played a larger role in the outcome than the voters. It’s like having your day determined by which side of the bed you got out of. Everything about the night felt arbitrary. No sport can survive that.
d) If you, like me, are heaping scorn on the refs, do not forget to hate the Packer management rank and file as well. The Packers’ ownership is also to blame for the incompetent referees. Let us not forget that Roger Goodell reports to the owners and the Packers’ CEO and COO can (along with Bob Kraft and Zygi Wilf and every other owner whose team got jobbed by incompetent replacement refs) resolve the dispute with the original referees’ union. At this point it is not important or relevant who’s right and who’s wrong. Greed is good until the brand loses credibility and on Monday night, the league lost the trust of a loyal fan base for a very small piece of the very large NFL revenue pie. Was it worth it? The Lingerie football league just released this:
e) I am just enough of an adult to realize that the gods are busy and to pray to them only for things that really matter and not for things related to my real and fantasy sports teams. I am also hypocritical enough to break that when the situation is dire. With the Seahawks facing 4th and 10 with 11 seconds on the clock, my palms were in prayer pose, my eyes were half-shut and I let out a small prayer “Dear God, may the Packers make a play and not lose this game.”
If only I’d said the right prayer…
We’ll be fine come Sunday. Go Pack, Go….