Here’s the deal, football fans: NFL officials are going to mess up. Calls will be missed. Others will be made that shouldn’t have been.
Even the league knows that _ and it wants to make sure you remember, too.
“Certainly there have been some calls we wish had not caused so much attention,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson said in a telephone interview Friday. “When things are going 100 mph, at game speed and with game pressure, sometimes mistakes are going to be made. When it comes to officiating, fans apparently tend to be less forgiving.”
Thanks to a handful of eyebrow-raising calls in these playoffs, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s mention of a proposal to start hiring some game officials as full-time employees, the men in black-and-white striped shirts are a topic of conversation heading into the Ravens-Patriots and Giants-49ers conference championship games Sunday.
“We’re never completely satisfied. We certainly think we can do better, and are certainly hoping all the crews remaining will do better in the games upcoming,” Anderson said. “We want to make sure that the whole officiating body is performing at the highest level. We would prefer to have calls … not take center stage for the entire next week.”
Mike Pereira was NFL vice president of officiating from 2001-09, and nothing ate at him more than the prospect of a blown call in the Big Game.
“That’s always a concern. The eyes of the world are upon you. The Super Bowl is clearly your most important game for a lot of reasons, including how officiating is going to be perceived,” Pereira said. “I went through all those Super Bowls where, I mean, I sat in the operations booth and I was nervous as a cat, because you know you’re in the spotlight, and you just beg not to be a part of the discussion when the game is over.”
In the Giants’ 37-20 upset of the reigning champion Packers last weekend, there were a couple of rulings that stood out: A phantom blow-to-the-head penalty on New York defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora, and a “He fumbled the ball; no, wait, he didn’t; upon further review, we’ll stick with no fumble” call on a play involving Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings.
Both benefited the Packers and both baffled plenty of observers.
The Jennings call drew the most notice.
“I thought the officiating was really on a roll, and then it got to the game in Green Bay. And that obviously painted a different picture,” said Pereira, who appears on Fox’s NFL telecasts. “You had a lack of a replay reversal that 99 percent of the country, including me, thought would be reversed.”
And yet, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, “I doubt there will be any explanation at all” from the league.
Among other curious calls this postseason were the whistle that brought action to a halt before the Lions got a chance to return a fumble in their 45-28 loss to the Saints, and a lateral by the Steelers mistakenly thought to be an incomplete forward pass in their 29-23 overtime loss to the Broncos.
The good news for the league is the outcome of those games weren’t affected. But there have been other, more pivotal, officiating decisions in postseasons past.