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Volume 3, Number 11
November, 1998

View From the Cheap Seats Officiating? What Officiating?

by Dave Lind

The most powerful team in the NFL chose the Indianapolis Colts to make a statement last weekend. Their gutsy, never-say-die attitude helped erase a 21-0 first half deficit and prevented the hard-luck Colts from pulling away and cementing an upset that would have been a season-maker for a troubled young franchise. But by taking over the game late in the first half and continuing to assert themselves throughout the rest of the game, the team that may well decide who your next Superbowl Champion is proclaimed loudly and strongly that the San Francisco 49ers will not be allowed to lose!

Unfortunately, the team doing the proclaiming was not the 49ers, per se, (Though it could be convincingly argued that they are in the employ of the DeBartolo empire), but instead was a team of 7 gray-haired, pot-bellied, part-time NFL referees.

Now, lest you jump to the wrong conclusion, the point of this column is not to further berate the NFL's already beleaguered officiating crews, no matter how much they may deserve it. No, in my humble opinion, it makes about as much sense to complain about bad officiating as it does to complain about the weather. Bad officiating is as much a part of the game as the forward pass and it's been around longer, so we'd better just live with it.

No, the issue we wish to address in this forum is not that of mere bad officiating, it is that of the flagrant favoritism that has been shown toward the NFL's glamour franchises for as long as I have been watching football (and that's some time, you know). Specifically, I am talking about the league's current flagship franchise, the (Glorious) San Francisco Forty-Niners, and I offer up as Exhibit A the recent Colt's-Niner's debacle.

To anyone who may have any lingering doubt as to which team's color's were being worn underneath the black-and-white striped tunics of that game's "Referees" all you would need to do would be to rewind the tape and look at the end of that first half. With the Colts holding a commanding lead, the Niners had driven deep into Colts territory and seemed poised for a score. Suddenly, a Steve Young pass is picked off in the end zone and returned out to the...but wait, there's a flag. The referee's are huddling, what could they be discussing?

Ladies and gentleman, unbeknownst to he NFL we at the SCROOMtimes were able to slip a tiny microphone in the shirt pocket of one of the unsuspecting referees at that game and were able to record their ENTIRE conversation. You will now read, for the first time anywhere, the transcript from that huddle late in the first half.

Whistle: TWEET!

Ref 1: Wow, some game, eh?

Ref 2: Anybody know the score?

Ref 1: We're down, 21-10.

Ref 3: Get out!

Ref 4: No way! To the Colts?

Ref 1: Yep. It's almost half time too.

Ref 2: Wow. This could be a back breaker. Good thing you threw that flag, Bob.

Ref 3: Yeah, nice toss. What's the call, anyway.

Ref 4: Actually, I'm not sure if there even was a penalty. I doubled up on my Viagra this morning and I thought there were snakes in my pocket so...

Ref 1: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, we've gotta do something here, or the Colt's are gonna get the ball and it could be all over for us. Any suggestions?

Ref 3: How 'bout the old standby?

Ref 2: PI? Who do we call it on?

Ref 3: Eeney, meeney, miney...

Ref 1: Aw, hell. Let's just call in on the guy who picked it. Serve him right.

Ref 2: Good. Alright, let's break. Ready?

All Refs: Gooooooo NINERS!

But the refs were not finished there. No, sir. By the end of the day they would call at least two more phantom pass-interference penalties, one negating another interception and the other setting up the game-ending field goal. They were also were the difference on the JJ Stokes TD grab, ruling that even though he came down out of bounds and even though the laws of physics dictated that there was no reasonable way in HELL that he could have landed in bounds without the aid of a helicopter and team of Navy Seals that, dammit, the Niners needed those points and that's all that matters!

Now, we would like to be able to tell you that our microphone had also managed to record the post-game debriefing in the official's locker room. We had hoped to learn more of the depth and breadth of this Niner-friendly officiating conspiracy, but alas, our microphones shorted out not long after the champagne corks started flying and the hoots and hollers of revelry began. But we mustn't judge them too harshly, they did, after all, just earn their paychecks.
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