For every action, there is an equal and opposite overreaction.
Sir Isaac Newton didn’t put it quite that way, but that’s because he died 285 years too soon to witness the conclusion to the Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers game eight days ago.
As most of the civilized world knows by now, the Seahawks benefited from a bad call or two at the end of their dramatic 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers in a nationally-televised Monday night football game on Sept. 24.
Working in the absence of the locked-out regular NFL officials, replacement refs missed receiver Golden Tate’s push-off of a Green Bay defender prior to hauling in Russell Wilson’s 24-yard touchdown pass on the game’s final play. A simultaneous catch was ruled on the reception, although Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings may have established control before Tate latched onto the ball.
As expected, the play generated widespread furor and probably spurred a settlement that brought about the return of the regular NFL officials last week.
Not content with expressing their ire, some observers contended that the NFL should have reversed the outcome of the Monday night game and awarded the victory to the Packers.
Since the controversy occurred on the last play, the reasoning goes, it would be relatively simple to nullify the reception. If the Packers won, justice presumably would be served.
Wrong. One of the guiding principles of American sports is that judgment calls can’t be reversed after the fact.
That principle has been weakened by the widespread use of instant replay as an officiating tool. The key word, though, is “instant.”
If a judgment call is reviewed and upheld, it should be immune from further challenge. The officials may have used bad judgment on the game-ending pass, but it was their judgment nonetheless.
As my colleague Rob Burns noted, changing the outcome would open a Pandora’s Box that could never close.
Could the Seahawks then lay claim to a Super Bowl championship in 2006, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were the recipients of several questionable rulings? How about baseball’s 1985 World Series and the blown call by umpire Don Denkinger that helped lift the Kansas City Royals past the St. Louis Cardinals? Has the statute of limitations been exhausted on American appeals for a 1972 Olympic basketball gold medal?
The Packers might have had a case for a reversal had the officials misinterpreted a rule on the final play — such as granting the Seahawks an extra timeout before time expired.
The officials didn’t make that mistake in the Monday night game. Another crew of replacement officials had two weeks earlier in the Seattle-Arizona game, but the Seahawks didn’t take advantage of the additional opportunity.
The most shocking aspect of the quality of officiating during the lockout was just how frequently the replacement refs misapplied — or didn’t even seem to know, in some cases — the rules. One crew stepped off 27 yards on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Seahawk fans have become extraordinarily defensive in the wake of the controversy, with most arguing that the Hawks have been on the other end of bad officiating more often than not.
While two wrongs never make a right, two Seattle arguments contain some validity.
The controversy at the end overshadowed an exceptional Seattle defensive performance, particularly during a first half in which the Hawks sacked Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times. Bad call or no, the Seahawks played well enough to win.
Moreover, one has to wonder if the outrage would have been quite as heated had the Seahawks (or another non-marquee team such as the Kansas City Chiefs) been victimized instead of one of pro football’s most popular franchises.
The Seahawks, incidentally, could be hurt by the return of the regular NFL officials.
During the Pete Carroll coaching regime, the Hawks have morphed into one of the league’s most penalized teams. Their pass coverage sometimes escalates from bump-and-run to second-degree-assault-and-plea bargain. They are more likely to be flagged for their physicality by officials who know what they’re doing.
While most sports labor disputes are avoidable, the NFL officiating lockout seemed particularly unnecessary.
This isn’t the National Basketball Association or National Hockey League, where some franchises have legitimate financial concerns. The NFL is rolling in dough, begging the question of why it had to play hardball with a group of part-time employees such as the officials.
Even so, matters could have been worse.
National Football League administrators could have permanently outsourced their officiating operations to someplace like Venezuela. And they could have heeded the wishes of a misguided few and unwisely reversed the outcome of the Seattle-Green Bay game.