Morrissey: Replacement referees should provide comic relief
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org September 3, 2012 8:32PM
Officials converse during the first half of a preseason NFL football game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Updated: October 5, 2012 6:17AM
There is something very pleasurable about a stodgy, self-important organization finding itself with an employee who can belch the alphabet at office parties.
I know I’m in the minority on the subject of the NFL’s replacement officials, but be honest: There’s a part of you that is looking forward to the show as the regular season approaches. You’re anticipating earnest fill-ins doing a slapstick routine while Bill Belichick looks on in horror.
Thanks to the intractability of the league and its regular officials in contract negotiations, this season will start with people who have no business being on an NFL field making calls that could decide games and seasons. Therefore, it is wrong, wrong, wrong to make light of something so serious, especially when there are billions of dollars in illegal bets riding on officials’ calls each week.
So, no, it’s probably not a good thing that the same guy who might have been a streaker in Week 1 last season could be throwing flags for the Colts-Bears game Sunday.
OK, that’s a complete exaggeration of the situation. The replacement officials who will start this season have been officials at other levels, though most have not worked at the higher tiers of the game. This isn’t Major League Baseball, which can call up Class AAA umpires in a pinch without viewers noticing a great discrepancy in performance. The NFL couldn’t simply pick up the phone and call officials employed by the SEC or the Big Ten. Those people have their own games to officiate on Saturdays. That wasn’t going to work for Sundays.
So the league hired Division II, Division III and Arena League referees to take the place of its regular officials, whom it has locked out in a contract dispute.
The NFL is a multi-billion-dollar corporation that takes its responsibilities as a venerable American institution so seriously you’d think it had been Paul Revere’s wingman. You can imagine the embarrassment it must feel at the thought of having Jim Carrey show up in black-and-white stripes every week. But that’s what happens when you’re so bottom-line-oriented that you obsess over everything and everybody, including the game officials.
That’s how you end up with a referee announcing a call with his back to the camera during a preseason game. That’s how you get a group of flop-sweating officials huddling interminably to figure out what the correct call is.
That’s how you get a ref botching the coin toss at the Hall of Fame Game. Phantom unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties. A coach having to tell the officials the rules about a delay-of-game penalty in the final two minutes. That’s entertainment.
I know: terrible. The NFL is Serious Business. But I can’t shake the feeling that it deserves this for all the years of stuffiness, of ex-commissioner Paul Tagliabue carrying himself as if he were a head of state, of the league acting as if it’s an extension of the nation’s war on terror.
So in a league filled with detail-tortured coaches, a former Lingerie League official will be blowing a whistle. These guys are going to get killed. The hen is in the wolf house.
It recalls the “Seinfeld’’ episode in which Kramer gets fired for shoddy work at a corporation where he isn’t actually employed.
Boss: “These reports you handed in, it’s almost as if you have no business training at all. … I don’t know what this is supposed to be.’’
Kramer: “Well, I’m, uh, just trying to get ahead.’’
Boss: “Well, I’m sorry. There’s just no way that we could keep you on.’’
Kramer: “I don’t even really work here.’’
Boss: “That’s what makes this so difficult.’’
There’s something about watching an accident in progress that fascinates us. It’s somebody else’s nightmare, not ours. I make no apologies for saying I’m going to sit back and allow myself to be entertained by these replacement officials. My guess is that there will enough mistakes made in any given game that both teams will be able to say they were robbed.
When the real officials return, we can all agree how much we missed them and how good they are at their jobs. Then we can get back to suggesting they get their eyes checked.
Bears kicker Robbie Gould has called the replacements “clueless.’’ When a kicker can be so brazen and have anybody listen, you know the officiating is epically bad.
Enjoy this while it lasts. Bad will never look so good.