Gene Steratore got a standing ovation on Thursday Night Football – and then he got booed. Most people will forget his name by next week and that’s a good thing. Calling an NFL game is hard work. Most of us hard core fans believed that we could do the job. We scream at our flat screens each week about some call the ref missed. And then came the replacements. In the movies, this scenario always works out well. The bands of misfits have some miraculous turning point that makes them lovable and they become the best. Never happened in this real life situation. Instead, we had a Monday Night Football game featuring the Green Bay Packers, NFL royalty that made everyone second guess the NFL product. A deciding call (or at least one of the calls – two were made on the field) gave the game to the up and coming Seattle Seahawks, confusing even the most casual fan. The call came down to simultaneous possession. The wrong team won the game and everybody from the paper boy to the President weighed in on the drama.
How fitting that the push would come down to a single call where one side clearly had the ball in their hands. The refs have that “integrity of the game and experience” thing on their side of the argument and they clutched that ball to their chest just like Green Bay Strong Safety M. D. Jennings held that ball he intercepted on that Hail Mary heave by Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. The 121 hard working, experienced game callers weren’t asking for much money, just control over how they received that money: 401k vs Pension. They debated the shift from part-time work to full-time NFL employee. The money was really chump change to the league. But the brass considered it an ideological issue – not a financial one. Both sides had valid points, but it began to feel like the rich against the rest of us. While the owners were standing on principle, the players were falling like flies in mismanaged contests where the regular rules didn’t seem to apply. And boy, as a group of fans we didn’t like that. [For info on the agreement, check out John Clayton's 5 Things to Know about the NFL Ref Deal.]
I believe that the NFL official referees are like the lines painted on the highway. People use them every day to keep cars safe and traffic moving smoothly, without paying much attention to their width or how straight they are. They work well and maintain order. But what if those lines were erased on a dangerous stretch of highway? All hell would break loose and somebody would get hurt – just like the drama that unfolded during the 48 regular season contests played under the replacement rules.
Today, the refs have flown to Dallas, TX to vote and will most likely approve the plan before them. They will meet through Saturday and then fly to their respective game sites. This weekend, the coaches can keep more of those red flags (and their fine money) in their pockets. The yelling doesn’t bother the seasoned pros who have heard it all before. As a matter of fact, I bet it’ll sound like music to their ears.