The Officials Are All Right

Editor’s Note: Jeffrey Lebowski III is the nom de plume of a man whose nom de guerre happens to be the most interesting man in the world. I was critical of the first part and skeptical of the second part, but as he explained, ‘the Big Lebowski is One, the Dude is Two, and I’m the Third, fairly obvious.’ When I suggested that’s not how ‘the Third’ worked exactly, he responded simply, ‘Capitalizing.’ As for the other part, he claimed he’d never ‘run a marathon because it was on his way,’ except for when he delivered the news of Athens’ victory, but that ‘they got the rest of it right.’ I can confirm that JLIII is one of the best fantasy football players in the world and that he uses a strategy he calls ‘force of will.’ JLIII doesn’t always write football columns, but when he does, he writes them for the Banana Stand.


The Officials Are All Right

Well, this was going to be a more convincing column before that atrocity of a final drive on Monday night, but I’m standing behind the replacement officials. Sure, that last play cost me an undefeated season with my juggernaut squad, Obsolete Vernacular, but, hey, that’s why you bat the ball down. If you catch it, then a guy can do what Golden Tate smartly did and simulate simultaneous possession.

I feel like I’m back at the Salem Witch Trials. Have people forgotten how bad the regular officials are? Have they forgotten that plays like this are the reason commentators have been arguing for full time officials? I may have missed something in the negotiations, but I don’t believe that’s on the table.

If you have forgotten, the officiating was so bad in Super Bowl XL that when you google ‘Pittsburgh Seattle Super’ the third possible search category appends the word fixed.

Apparently nobody remembers Calvin Johnson’s stolen game-winning touchdown. The ruling on that play was so absurd the comically evil and surprisingly incompetent Bill Polian is quoted as saying ‘those of us who know the rule understand that’s the call’ at the same time that the NFL was supposedly admitting they missed the call in one of those clandestine communiques to the Lions.

And suddenly everyone has developed collective amnesia as to just how difficult officiating is in general. Maybe the NFL and college basketball crowds don’t overlap at all because college basketball referees have either lost track of the difference between a block and a charge or the definitions of the two violations were actually switched in secret and revealed to no one but the guys calling the games.

For background, I called the refs from the 2010 Elite Eight game between Duke and Baylor wanting to know if they were embarrassed about how lopsided the officiating was in that contest. One of them sheepishly replied that David Stern – after viewing the tape and seeing how biased it was in favor of the bigger market team – had immediately contacted them and offered contracts for the 2011 NBA season.

Officiating is brutally difficult. Does that mean that the NFL should have the best officials on the field? Yes. Does that mean the replacement officials have been as bad as people are saying and deserve the avalanche of personal criticism?

When you consider all of the high profile officiating gaffes from posterity, it seems pretty obvious that the biggest difference between these refs and the real ones is simply the label ‘replacement.’

Perhaps some of these self-important blowhards have forgotten that by definition a sportswriter is someone who wasn’t a good enough athlete to make it in sports and wasn’t clever enough with words to make it as a writer.

An Uninteresting Man 

I’ve been a reluctant fan of Cris Collinsworth, mostly because, when it comes to NFL color guys, he represents the lesser of several excruciating evils. That was until his commentary on Sunday Night Football crossed the line. Sports commentary is a job that requires criticism by definition and the absurd salaries paid to college and professional coaches appear to include a type of hazard pay. Basically, they’re being compensated to endure the burnings in effigy.

I’m not sure the same thing applies to these officials.

After snarking at them the entire game, Collinsworth stated that “these officials are clearly not competent to officiate at this level.” That may be true, but to make that kind of statement while the images of actual people – the refs – are being shown on national TV naturally opens Collinsworth up for evaluation of his own performance.

I watched the game with a very attractive young lady who told me emphatically that Collinsworth sounds like an asshole. I disagree, at least in part. Collinsworth is the annoying guy who sounds like he’s used to being the smartest guy in the room. Sadly, for both Collinsworth and his colleagues, he probably is the most intelligent guy most of the time.

The color commentators for NFL games got the job because they’re former NFL players. Obviously someone who hasn’t played at the NFL level isn’t capable of understanding the acts being performed in such rarified air. It’s evidently a different job than actually being a head coach, which GMs and owners have pretty much unanimously decided former players aren’t smart enough to do.

If I’ve learned anything about football from watching these telecasts, it’s that you’ve got to run the ball and play defense to win and that punting is the greatest moral victory that can be achieved on this earth.

As you can probably guess, I fit firmly in the stats are for losers category, especially if by ‘stats’ you’re referring to meaningless, cherry-picked, non-predictive historical artifacts, and if by ‘losers’ you mean NFL color guys and coaches who punt on fourth-and-one from the opponent’s 40-yard line.

So, my question: Is Cris Collinsworth competent for his job?

On Sunday night, Collinsworth continued his sniping even once it became clear the officials were doing a pretty good job, and by ‘pretty good job’ I mean calling it the way the normal refs would.

Collinsworth’s biggest rants related to pass interference. He’d been told by the Baltimore players that they’d prepared for a physical game where the refs didn’t call illegal contact, holding, and whatnot. That’s a somewhat bizarre statement because the arbitrary enforcement of pass interference is one of the reasons people have been calling for full time refs.

The Ravens are one of the few teams in the NFL with decent coaching – or with good enough players that their coaches can’t hold them back – so the mention of the Eagles game is just churlish excuse-making for a bad loss. (This is 2012. Who loses to a team quarterbacked by Michael Vick?)

Or, and possibly more likely, it was a benign, throwaway line that Collinsworth latched onto and blew way out of proportion.

Anyway, the Ravens and Patriots were pretty chippy in the beginning, and Collinsworth blamed this on the officials. Collinsworth suggested randomly throwing flags and assigning penalties, at which point the blond sitting next to me flipped her hair, and, with a stage whisper exhale, condescended to inform us that you can’t penalize someone for a personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct unless they’ve actually committed such a violation. A bunch of grown men milling around and acting like little kids doesn’t quite rise to that level.

Then, contrary to Collinsworth’s theory of the game, the officials were fast and furious in their flagging of the different pass interference penalties. If there was an argument to be made on this score, it was that the officials were actually a little overzealous in calling illegal contact, but Collinsworth was still raving at the end that “this was like a game from thirty years ago.”

In case Cris Collinsworth is wondering, he’d be at the bottom of the food chain in most rooms I’ve ever been in.

Peter King Doesn’t Understand the Wild Card

I’m not supposed to mention Peter King for obvious reasons, but I’m doing it anyway. I mean if this is Humiliate People for Being in Over Their Heads Week, well, is there a more apropos target in all of sportswriting?

King is a notorious shark-jumper whose version of who-you-know-not-what-you-know journalism hasn’t been relevant to the NFL scene for years. But is he even competent to fill that role?

Last week after opining that the officials weren’t up for the job, King decided to let us in on his thoughts about the baseball wild card (because if you follow Peter King, you want to know his feelings on random minutiae that he’s even less qualified to talk about than football).

Evidently, he doesn’t like it, and, just to prove his point, he feels the possibility of the A’s having to face Jered Weaver in the wild card game is a fatal flaw.

Let’s ignore the fact that the new wild card rules are spectacular and a huge boon for baseball. We can even forgive his thesis, even though playoff baseball is based on asymmetrical pitching matchups and small sample size issues. The part that makes his diatribe blatantly incompetent is that the odds of the A’s and Angels meeting in the wild card game are virtually zero. The Angels are not going to qualify, and if they do, it would most likely be at the expense of the A’s.

I walked into the back room of an unnamed establishment in Riyadh last week and was surprised to find a naked Saudi prince with an open copy of Sports Illustrated that wasn’t the swimsuit issue. He told me they had discovered this thing called American football, but that wasn’t even the best part. The best part was Peter King. They were taking a shot for every mixed metaphor and removing an article of clothing per non sequitur. Needless to say, that’s a pretty fast route to a drunken orgy.

Please, SI, save us from this kind of puerile and sanctimonious drivel. He’ll get another job. People with absolutely no sense of humor are in constant demand to write CBS comedies. Two and a Half Men is always hiring.

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