Refs Don’t Win Games (or Lose them)

25 Sep

I played soccer when I was five. After my team won a few games, we lost a game. I got in the car with my parents, and I proceeded to tell my dad that we lost because the refs were bad at their job. He quickly informed me that you never lose a game because of the Refs. He told me that if we had done what we were supposed to do or were better at the game, we would have won. He said it in such a matter-of-fact way, that I immediately changed my tune.

My dad did not tell me to not complain about the refs. In fact, I never remember him doing so in all my years of having refs in a variety of sports and games. I do remember him showing me the foolishness of attempting to blame the incompetence of my team and me on refs. It became so ingrained in me that my first thought when people complain about the refs is that they must not be smart enough to realize the opportunities they had to win.

Now, Marc and I were involved in an event where if the Ref did not effect the outcome of the game, he certainly would have had we come closer to challenging. When a non-existent rule is called upwards of 15 times in a game, all on one team, then you know there is an issue. But that isolated instance aside (and the others like them, Tim Donaghy), I think the conclusion is correct.

Now, I watched the Green Bay-Seattle game. I will start by saying that neither of these teams tickle my fancy, and I would have quite content to see them both lose (or if they can keep the Saints out of the Playoffs, both win). I love football, but other than the NFC East, I really like to cheer for teams in the AFC. Having said that, the game was horribly officiated in the sense that bad calls were abundant, particularly Pass Interference on both sides. Granting Rodgers the first down on that replay seemed impossible.

My goal is not to list the litany of mistakes made by the refs, as I am sure if I received such scrutiny in my job, I, too, would be a failure. There is a reason why schools usually consider a 90% to be an A. Perfection just isn’t happening. Neither the old refs nor anyone else would call a perfect game.

It is easy to realize that missed calls are always part of the game, but the main issue with new refs should be things like flow of the game, ability to communicate through dialogue with the players, and things of that nature. Nevertheless, I still think my dad’s point rings true. While Tate definitely interfered with that pass, I have seen blatant Pass Interference on hundreds of Hail Mary’s in my football watching days, but never once have I seen it called. Why the sudden desire to be strict now? Because the “real” beef people have is the interception-touchdown call.

Sidebar. I think the Refs made the correct call on the last play. The NFL isn’t a game of 500 in elementary school, where the person who catches it the “best” gets the points. The offensive player clearly has the advantage in the rules. The defender in this case, M.D. Jennings (which doctors should confirm is an awesome name), clearly had the ball better. But before he hit the ground, Golden Tate (who has an even better name) also acquired possession. They both had it when hitting the ground. This isn’t a test of who had the ball more, but rather did the offensive player have it before possession was established [in case you were wondering, establishing possession requires controlling the ball, having two feet, and making a football move]. I submit he did. End of sidebar.

Regardless of where you fall on the last call, the Packers were aided by an incredible number of bad calls. All three scoring drives would have been cut short without questionable calls on third down. Their offensive line is the Swiss cheese of the NFL. Clear issues abounded during that game. If Jennings had just knocked it down as Chris Berman and Tom Jackson have been preaching on NFL Primetime (or, its current iteration as The Blitz), the game would be over.

Aaron Rodgers was never held to 12 points last year (when they got 14 the one time, they lost). This year with significant aid from the Refs, he was held to 12. The Packers put themselves in a position to be beat by one call, and they were. While I understand that one call affects games, I think that is a far different thing than deciding them. I have a friend who is an ardent fan of Ohio State. He blames a bad call on the opening kickoff for Ohio State’s loss in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.

Clearly we can see that such a call may have affected the game, but it did not decide it. No singular play decides a game. Did Boston College only win against Miami because of Doug Flutie’s pass? No, if they had not played well the rest of the game, that play would be meaningless. Any time you leave it up to one play, you leave yourself open to such a possibility. Green Bay, even if they were the victims of a terrible call, put themselves in that spot.

I think Mike McCarthy has had the proper response. He’s clearly upset, just as anyone would be naturally, but he is not taking to blaming. This is the one chance at success, in my opinion. Because I believe that blaming someone else and not accepting personal accountability is a sure way to become less effective. But that will have to be another post.

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