NFL’s fans must demand changes to prevent costly officiating errors
There’s no way around these cold, hard facts:
- Sunday afternoon, the officiating cost the New Orleans Saints a trip to Super Bowl LIII.
- There’s nothing that’s going to happen that will change that.
There is little to salve that wound, other to recognize that the Saints aren’t the only team to lose a big game because of dubious calls or no calls.
In 1999, officials failed to call a fumble on Jerry Rice late in the fourth quarter of the Wild Card game between the Packers and the 49ers. The drive continued, culminating with Steve Young finding Terrell Owens for the game winner as time expired.
More recently, the Dallas Cowboys were involved in controversy in back to back seasons.
Dez Bryant’s apparent catch at the Green Bay one yard line was overturned. Had Dallas scored, they would have advanced to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 1995.
The next year, facing the Detroit Lions in a Wild Card matchup and trailing 20-17 in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys would be flagged for pass interference. The call was announced, and then reversed without explanation.
Dallas would come back to win 24-17, denying the Lions their first playoff win in more than two decades.
Like I said, it’s little salve. No one wants to hear how someone else got robbed right after they’ve just been through it.
But stick with me. The point is that the National Football League has had this happen repeatedly and there has never been sufficient pressure from fans across the country to improve officiating.
Every time one of the controversies occur, there is momentary outrage and then the next game happens and we all move on to the draft and free agency.
My message to Saints fans is that it goes deeper than not watching the Super Bowl in two weeks. That’s easy.
Preventing this from happening again has to be the goal. Improving the quality of officiating as well as the replay and challenge systems can’t wait.
Based on the outcry over the officiating in both championship games, and the ensuing attack on the legitimacy of the champions, the NFL should have a credibility issue on its hands.
The last thing the league wants is for fans to begin to question whether the results each week can be trusted. Once that happens, football may as well become pro wrestling.
Saints fans are the most passionate in the NFL. Green Bay may be the only other city in America that is so tightly connected with its team.
Now the passion has to be put to use in a different way.
You can’t get the change you want without knowing what you’re asking for. So what are we asking for? Your list may be slightly different than mine, but I offer these for your consideration.
- Increased accountability for officials by making transparent evaluations of correct and incorrect calls. How many calls do officials get wrong each season (penalties both called and missed)? What are the individual statistics for each official?
- A complete review of the replay system that focuses on making making sure that coaches are able to challenge pass interference calls (as they can in the Canadian Football League).
- Allow replay booth officials to intervene when they see an obvious missed call on the field, regardless of time/situation.
- Support players being made a part of the the NFL’s Competition Committee.
- Post-game sessions between officials and the media to review significant calls within the game.
- Following the NBA’s lead by allowing fans to interact with officials through an independent Twitter account.
The Competition Committee, made up of owners, team presidents, general managers and coaches, has resisted change to the replay rules that would expand challenges to cover pass interference (Sean Payton was named a member in 2017).
Changing their minds will take a show of force by fans.
Emailing and calling the league office is one place to start.
Call the Saints headquarters as well. Tell Gayle Benson and Coach Payton that you expect them to support change.
Flood social media with missed calls, particularly this one.
Make it a public relations nightmare.
And lastly, the biggest statement of all. When the home opener rolls around next fall each and every Saints fan should refuse to enter the Mercedes-Benz Superdome until the end of the first quarter.
Let the cameras show that same sea of people from last Sunday filling Champions Square and the streets surrounding the dome instead of in their seats as the game kicks off.
Show the NFL that you’ll move on but you won’t ever forget what happened with 1:45 standing between the Saints and the Super Bowl.
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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…