Monday, February 2, 2009

Stripes

What is about to be said does not give credence to those arguments about fixes and favoritism in the league offices of professional sports. unless we’re talking about what happened in the tennis world two-plus years ago, 99% of those theories are ludicrous as they come from impartial fans who cannot separate their emotions from the fact that their teams found more ways to screw up to lose a game.

What is about to be said does not diminish the efforts, difficulty and accuracy of those who are charged with placing law and order in the games we love. Referees, line judges and other officials who have to enforce the rules and penalize the rule breakers typically make more than they miss and you couldn’t ask any of any of us to do their jobs and expect sterling results.

Most importantly, what is about to be said is neither a copout for the Arizona Cardinals or a “lucky shot” by the Pittsburgh Steelers. They gave us a very good battle that once again proved that you don’t need the big names and superfluous commercials to make for an exciting show.

However, Super Bowl XLIII, while thrilling and heart-attack inducing, featured the absolute worst officiating in the history of the championship game.

Sometimes, those games in sports that are considered some of the poorest in terms of officiating aren’t always about the amount of calls made or missed. In fact, many of those games just featured poor play and scrums between players who don’t like each other. This has nothing to do with the amount of yellow flags thrown as many of them were a result of ‘Zona shooting itself in the foot with holding penalties against the offensive line. Also, Pittsburgh, for how notoriously ugly they play in a game, played a mostly clean game.

Mostly.

First and foremost, despite being Defensive Player of the Year and ending the first half with a play for the ages, James Harrison should have been ejected and fined for essentially punching Aaron Francisco in the neck on a punt return (best clip available). I couldn’t care less what color the jerseys were or the popularity of the player. Harrison took a cheap shot as he pinned Francisco down to the ground to prevent him from blocking on the punt. He may be one of the nicest guys on the planet and is certainly a player you would want on your team. Yet, this was one of those plays that many Steelers-haters will unfortunately use to label him as a thug, if that’s not the case already. How can such a dirty tactic – which typically would lead to a game dismissal during the regular season – not be given the ultimate penalty is beyond understanding.

Even the White House should have put in a call to the officials at Raymond James Stadium on that one.

Moving on from that horrendous display, there were a handful of other plays in the second half that the Competition Committee and the officials will look into during the offseason:
  • The tuck rule made (in)famous in the Divisional playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots became an issue in the third stanza when James Farrior appeared to have sacked Kurt Warner as the Cards’ QB was throwing the ball. It was ruled a fumble, but overturned thanks to Ken Whisenhunt’s challenge (one of two successful red flags). The letter of the law states that the ball must come past the passer’s belt buckle before leaving his hands in order for it to be a fumble. Uh… whoisiwhatsit? An obscure rule that no one still have a full understanding of has caused much havoc this decade, hasn’t it?

  • The roughing the passer and placeholder (placeholder?!?!) penalties should be considered on a case-by-case basis and SB43 only added more fuel to the fire. Armchair offensive linemen as ourselves may have view those penalties as protecting the QB (or holder?!?!), however, we have this assumption that a defensive player in full motion can stop his motion on a dime 100% of the time. When you’re fighting through several individuals of 250 pounds or more of every single play, it’s rather hard to expect that someone will maintain their balance, no matter how phenomenal of an athlete he is. Not too long ago, those plays were what were considered a part of football.

  • The safety that wasn’t that eventually became a safety: if an offensive player cannot be pulled completely to the ground after a few seconds and several defenders (and in this case, immovable offensive linemen trying to hold their blocks) are impeding progress, the play essentially ends as there is not much more forward progress. However, when Willie Parker was trying to move beyond the Steelers’ own endzone, the ball somehow crossed the line, which allowed Pittsburgh to avoid the safety, though his body was clearly still in the end zone. Huh? This is one of those scenarios where you ask yourself, “is it the body first or the ball”?
Again, let it be known that ‘Zona hurt itself with their excessive holding on the offensive line as they could not consistently handle the blitz packages from Pittsburgh. Let it be known that the Men of Steel proved that while the offense isn’t exactly a barnburner, they are the masters of The Big Play in this league. Let it be known that the remaining penalties are indisputable. Finally, let it be known that the best teams find a way to overcome mistakes and despite a record 18 penalties in the Super Bowl, neither team’s players resorted to pulling a Bart Scott in defiance of all the extra yellow on the field.

It may not be much of a surprise that there was some controversy in regards to the officiating as there were a few more ‘high-profile’ missteps in 2008 than in previous seasons. And this Scribe has and still believes that the NFL officials do far more right than wrong on a regular basis (for some really bad work, wait until March Madness in a few weeks).

However, the Super Bowl is supposed to be the showcase for not only the best teams in the postseason, but a showcase of the best the NFL has to offer from their players, coaches and team officials to the leaders of all aspects of league operations. The league essentially holds our minds and weekends hostage for five months because they bring us ‘drama’ so that we can all appreciate its final meaningful display before hibernating until the late summer. Unfortunately, in the signature event to the world, we did not get the best of the men in stripes last night.

And now... back to your regularly scheduled Scribe; less frustration, more celebration. Coming up, "just a lil' bit of hoop".

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Impressive column. You make several good points.

The Watchman said...

I haven't heard criticism of the officiating in SB 43 save for your article but I must say that I concur with your assessment. From Hochuli's fiasco back in Week 2 to this poorly officiated championship game (somewhere between the head-scratching whistles there was actually an entertaining game played, at least), the NFL did not have a terrific officiating year. I'm glad you mentioned how officials usually get a bad rap due to partial fans because this is certainly true, but national events like the Super Bowl - particularly when one has no real rooting interest - actually allow one to view a game through the lens of impartiality. When even through this lens the officials appear to be performing poorly, one must acknowledge the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the officials had a terrible game. In SB 43, they did.

Jason Clinkscales said...

Gracias, folks.

Some people in the Internets have brought up the officiating and several media heads have glossed over it. One of my favorites in the business (and a cool guy, too), Michael Silver made something of the officiating and talked about how the press box sarcastically made calls anytime 'Zona touched the ball. I got to say that what the officials don't see, we don't miss from the press box.

However, because there wasn't a penalty that completely altered the final score, they have more or less let it be. Plus, there's a school of thought that says "well, we can't have controversy on our biggest stage", which is somewhat off considering that in every other sport, officiating/umpiring ALWAYS comes to light in their championship battles.

This was an entertaining game for sure, but far from a classic as many would lead us to believe.