Many of the millions of us on the periphery of the televised-football spectacle must wonder if it’s been considered worth it for officials to devote an ever-growing number of minutes (or, as it sometimes seems, hours) per game to reviewing calls, often at coaches’ behest, especially when the guys in stripes still wind up with the wrong ones.
Maybe the masters of TV sports consider these interminable reviewing intervals to be necessary suspense-builders: something like the bygone drama when game-show contestants would sweat it out while contemplating the agonized answer they’d finally give to Regis Philbin.
In any case, for what it’s worth, the consensus at the bar at Buckley’s in Lower Queen Anne Saturday night (Oct. 29) was that the refs blew one with gale-force intensity on a play that might’ve figured big in a game the University of Washington Huskies won anyway (42-31) against Arizona. How did our collection self-appointed experts know this? Because we looked at the replay more times than many folks have seen the Ralphie Parker movie. Every time we saw the replay our conclusion was the same: Michael Hartvigson had the damn ball.
After I got home I saw the play in slo-mo several more times on late-TV news. Know what? Michael Hartvigson had the damn ball. Sunday morning when I turned to page nine of The Seattle Times sports section I wasn’t surprised to see a nearly half-page Dean Rutz photo over a cutline reading: “UW’s Michael Hartvigson appears to have control of the [damn] ball as he stretches for the end zone but the officials ruled it incomplete and the call was upheld after a review.”
The wrong call didn’t have any lasting consequence as the Dawgs scored three plays later. The same may not have been true for the Seahawks Sunday (Oct. 30) as they witnessed plenty of dubious ref calls that could’ve been genuine game-changers in losing at home 34-12 to Cincinnati.
Reasonable observers could say no sports call has “lasting” consequences because it’s just a game. Granted — but it’s also just a game that’s supposed to be officiated fairly and correctly, unlike, say, just off the top of my head, the 2006 Super Bowl. In the immediate aftermath of the Seattle Seahawks having repeatedly received the wrong calls from refs, the web went viral with criticism, much of the carping on the order of: “I’m not a Hawk fan but Seattle got jobbed.”
Then, adding something like insult to larceny, the head ref from that game became contrite (in Seattle, yet) albeit more than four years later.
This is from Doug Farrar of Yahoo!Sports, Aug. 7, 2010: “There are those in Seattle, and around the country, who will go to their graves believing that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL had an odor to it from the start. From Ben Roethlisberger’s one-yard rushing touchdown that was inconclusive even on review to the phantom holding call that took a potential 98-yard touchdown drive away from Seattle, the calls made by the officiating crew . . . created a tapestry of suspicion that persists to this day.
“Some believe that the refs were told to call the game tight on the Seahawks and loose on the Steelers, a concept which exacerbated the mistakes Seattle made in the game.
“More than four years after the fact, another voice has been added to the choir calling that game a mess of bad decisions. Head official Bill Leavy, in Seattle to go through the annual rules changes production on behalf of the NFL, started his presentation by addressing what he called ‘the elephant in the room’:
“‘It was a tough thing for me. I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game and as an official you never want to do that. It left me with a lot of sleepless nights and I think about it constantly. I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better.
“‘I know that I did my best at that time, but it wasn't good enough. When we make mistakes, you've got to step up and own them. It's something that all officials have to deal with but, unfortunately, when you have to deal with it in the Super Bowl, it's difficult.’”
All right, so nobody expects a mere ref, as imperfect as the rest of us, to have to go to his grave bearing remorse about his officiating. On the other hand, if fans are going to be subjected to play scrutiny seemingly the length of a Shakespeare play (possibly the one with "out, damned spot"), they’d at least seem to have the right to rise as a Greek chorus and demand of the all-powerful zebras:
“Then at least make the right [damn] call!”