Goodell's NFL Vision Fades, And The Replacement Refs Are Lost

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The situation with the scab officials has grown so bad, so profoundly ugly, that Roger Goodell has resorted to a charade as his No. 1 strategy. His league, once the best sports league anywhere, has become a laughingstock and Tuesday the NFL commissioner demonstrated he is willing to add to the farce.

Goodell is in deep now, past the point where he can recover without an irrevocable stain. And barely 12 hours after one of the more regrettable officiating calls in NFL history, he proved he'll use instant replay to go even deeper.

After a review of the final play on "Monday Night Football," according to an NFL statement, Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate should have been called for pass interference for shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields and the game should have ended. That's quite the admission. There's also no allowable replay for such a call.

Enough for protecting Shields, Roger. Start protecting the shield that you have sworn to protect. Despite what your eyes told you Monday night, despite what a nation's eyes told it, the NFL statement also explained there was not "irrefutable" evidence to overturn the referee's ruling that Tate had caught Russell Wilson's desperation pass for the winning touchdown.

On the field, of course, chaos ensued. One official signaled touchdown, while another signaled touchback for an interception. C'mon. M.D. Jennings intercepted the ball. On simultaneous possession, tie goes to the receiver. Yet only by a lame, most-liberal interpretation was that simultaneous possession. You know it. I know. Everybody knows it. Jennings jumped up, cradled the ball against his chest. Tate went for the ball, got a hand in there, but it wasn't until the two fell to the ground did Tate really get into a good wrestling match. And with the world watching and — yes — $300 million in legalized gambling money swinging in the balance, the officials blew the call.

If Goodell believes he can find comfort in the grayest of interpretations, he is sadly mistaken. Bad calls. Missed calls. Misinterpretations of rules. Wrong yardage walked off. Hesitancy that looks like incompetence. There is plenty of irrefutable evidence and it screams that he and his owners have blundered badly.

You know this is a matter of the emperor's NFL wears no clothes when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who has an opinion on everything, went on the radio and said he didn't see the play and had nothing to add. Goodell, the owners, their minions can keep up the charade, can keep telling themselves that matters aren't beyond desperate. But the truth is they have lost their most important asset. They have lost their credibility. Everybody else sees it. The NFL has lost its competitive integrity, too.

Goodell has only one move now: Convince the owners to immediately end the lockout of the NFL officials. Damage has already been done. Goodell will never fully recover from his miscalculation that he could slip even three weeks of scab officiating past football fans. But soon enough, the question will become can he recover at all? Moments define a man's career. And this one stands to define Goodell.

And for what? The No. 1 disagreement is referees want money put into a pension. The league wants a 401(k). The referees want a ratification bonus. The league doesn't want it seen as payback for lost wages. So the league, worth $10 billion, has jeopardized its integrity for an estimated $16 million in concessions. That's nuts. Goodell and the owners could take off their expensive suits, their expensive shoes and empty their pockets of walking-around cash and bridge that gap.

"I feel bad for these poor guys who come out of Division III," analyst Steve Young said on ESPN. "The game is so fast, so much faster than they've seen in their whole lifetime. It's impossible for them to get it right. Absolutely impossible.

"We built something great … the greatest sport in the history of man in my opinion … and we're not surrounding it with partners competent enough to do the same job everyone else has who put the time and effort in over a long period of years. We're dragging it down. The NFL is too good for this."

I quote Young, not only because he is a Hall of Fame quarterback, he is one of the most astute football men around. Forget the profanity-laced tweets from players. Believe a sober voice like Young.

You see 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh twice granted video challenges when neither should have been allowed. In the Lions-Titans and Bengals-Redskins games, officials walked off too much yardage on penalties. At Tennessee, with 16 seconds remaining, there was mass confusion over whether Nate Burleson caught a pass. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo fumbled twice and both were missed until Tampa Bay's Greg Schiano challenged. Oakland's Darrius Heyward-Bey sustained a neck injury after a helmet-to-helmet hit by Pittsburgh Ryan Mundy, who was not penalized. Patriots fans have their list .... on and on.

The NFL, sworn to safety, is in trouble. The rhythm of the game is gone. So is the composure. The regular refs aren't perfect. Far from it. But the lack of respect for their replacements is beyond troubling. Every call invites an argument. With every argument a brawl threatens to erupt. Patience isn't worn. Patience is gone. In Bill Belichick's case, he was right to demand an explanation of that decisive field goal Sunday in Baltimore. He was wrong to put his hands on official Esteban Garza.

It's a freak show now. And everybody's watching. Only they watch the way they watch Lindsay Lohan. It's like when kids throw the ball around the dining room china. You know a shattering disaster is next.

Look, these are Division III refs, Arena League refs. Nobody is smarter than the guy with a beer in one hand and his flat-screen TV remote control in the other. There is no such luxury for these guys. The speed of the NFL is incredible. There are so many intricate rules executed in a matter of seconds. These guys are used to making calls in front of 3,000 people. How about 70,429? You think that call in Seattle wasn't intimidating?

"The NFL is a very fast game," said UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni, who coached at Western Connecticut and coached in the NFL, so he knows the difference. "You've got to officiate it in real time. The [regular] NFL officials have a hard job to do, when they're on point, when they're working and are sharp. My heart goes out to the replacement officials who haven't experienced that level of football, the speed in which things happen, how quickly things can get carried away. If there are some missed calls and a few messes out there, I can understand how it happens."

I felt badly for the replacement officials, too, when the Patriots' Brandon Spikes tweeted, "Can someone please tell these [expletive] zebras Foot Locker called and they're needed back at work!" It was disrespectful.

I don't feel sorry for Roger Goodell and the NFL owners and their charade. Not one bit.

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