Blown call Monday night an embarrassment for NFL

Green Bay Packers fan Mike LePak holds a

Green Bay Packers fan Mike LePak holds a sign on Lombardi Avenue in Green Bay, Wisc., in protest of a controversial call in the Packers 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks Monday night in Seattle. (Sept. 25, 2012) (Credit: AP)

There may be no better barometer of the NFL's sweeping popularity in this country than the outcry over that ridiculous officiating gaffe on the deciding play of Monday night's Packers-Seahawks game.

The sweeping reaction hit everywhere. It was the lead story Tuesday on the "Today" show. It was a big deal on "Live With Kelly & Michael." Websites usually devoted to politics and world events devoted large chunks of cyberspace to the story. And yes, even President Obama weighed in.

It was everywhere.

"NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon. -bo" Obama tweeted. Even Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan riffed off the blown call to draw an analogy to Obama's presidency.

Insane.

But that's how important the NFL has become to so many people, and why what happened Monday night in Seattle is so critical to the essence of this great game. With replacement officials botching the final play of a game that could mean the difference between making the playoffs and being shut out of the postseason, the NFL is risking the integrity of its brand and the loyalty of its customers. It is risking the public trust that is so essential to its success.

Commissioner Roger Goodell often invokes the saying "Protect the shield" when referring to the sanctity of the league, especially when it comes to disciplining players and coaches for misdeeds on and off the field. But by failing to resolve its financial differences with the NFL Referees Association and therefore failing to put out the best quality officials, the league is violating its own credo.

Monday's incorrect call on the winning pass from Russell Wilson to Golden Tate, a play that should have (A) resulted in a penalty on Tate for offensive pass interference and (B) been ruled an interception by Packers safety M.D. Jennings, was the perfect storm of all that has gone wrong here. The league has trotted out substandard officiating because of its failure to negotiate a new deal with the unionized officials, and a game was decided because of that collective incompetence.

That's not to say the regular officials always get it right. They don't. But the overwhelming body of evidence over the season's first three weeks, in which the replacement officials have proven to be overmatched, suggests the league is not living by the same standards it expects out of its players and coaches.

"My biggest fear was that this was going to cause some people to get hurt," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said Tuesday at the launch of his RUSH for Literacy campaign in Manhattan. "I didn't look at it in the fact that it could cost people [wins]. There are so many ramifications. You could have jobs [lost] because their team didn't make the playoffs because of a call."

It wasn't only the final play they got wrong Monday. There was a call of pass interference against Packers cornerback Sam Shields that should have gone against the Seahawks' Sidney Rice. There was a blown roughing-the-passer call in the fourth quarter that negated an interception by the Packers deep in Seattle territory. And a missed pass-interference call on the Packers in the final minutes.

Other games also have been impacted. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, wondering if the Ravens' winning field goal Sunday night could be reviewed, risked a fine for trying to stop an official while leaving the field to demand an explanation. Broncos coach John Fox was fined $30,000 and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio $25,000 for berating officials over questionable calls in last Monday night's Broncos-Falcons game. In nearly every game, there are skirmishes and scrums among players who are not adequately controlled by the officials, a clear risk to player safety.

The NFL's former director of officiating, Mike Pereira, an analyst for Fox, put it very simply: "If you're a player, a coach, an owner or a fan, I think you deserve to see the best officials.''

That's the bottom line, and that's why there has been such a national outcry over what happened Monday night. Right now, we are not seeing the best, and it is showing.

Hopefully, the groundswell of criticism from the Packers-Seahawks game makes this the tipping point in negotiations aimed at a new deal. The two sides have spoken the last several days in an attempt to make headway on key financial points, and negotiations continued Tuesday in New York.

The NFL needs to give a little more, and the officials need to ask a little less, and hopefully they can meet in the middle. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case, with reports Tuesday night citing an unwillingness by the NFL to make further concessions. That's bad news for players, coaches and, most importantly, you, the loyal consumers.

Enough already. It's time to make a deal. Now. It's time for the NFL to act according to its own words: Protect the shield.

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