Wednesday, January 15, 2003

ZEBRA ZEBRA CHARLIE NINER: I mostly dig Gregg Easterbrook, he's a little too cutesy and self-referential sometimes--you know, Flaming Thumbtacks, Jersey/A, Indigenous Persons, etc.--but overall I enjoy his stuff. And I agree with what he has to say about the recent criticisms of NFL officials:

That flags should not fly on decisive plays numbers among the strangest contentions in sports. Of course officials shouldn't make bad calls on the final play, but they shouldn't make bad calls in a scoreless first quarter, either. Running into the kicker is illegal. It's illegal during a scoreless first quarter and it's illegal on the decisive play of overtime. Don't want a flag? Don't break the rules.

It would be one thing to argue that Dwayne Washington did not run into the kicker or that the Miami defender did not hold the Ohio State receiver -- that is, that the calls were wrong. But Pittsburgh can't argue this, because Washington plowed into Joe Nedney plenty good. If you made an officiating instructional tape to show what constitutes running into the kicker, you couldn't pick a better play as an exemplar. The Miami holding question is not as open-and-shut. TMQ thinks it was indeed holding, but has certainly seen the same action before without yellow floating by.

At any rate, the notion that officials should ignore penalties on game-deciding plays -- essentially, that everything becomes legal when the outcome is on the line -- is what's "ludicrous." Want to legalize running into the kicker? Start a campaign for that. Don't tell me it should be legalized only when your team is trailing in overtime.

It's equally "ludicrous" to contend that when flags fly on decisive plays this means the officials, rather than the players, are deciding the game. If the zebras had allowed Dwayne Washington to do something illegal, wouldn't that be deciding a playoff game in Pittsburgh's favor? If officials at the Fiesta Bowl had allowed defensive holding when Ohio State faced fourth down in overtime, wouldn't that be deciding a championship game in Miami's favor?

There are examples of bad calls that decided games, including Vinny Testaverde's 1998 Phantom Touchdown given to the Jets on a last play against Seattle and the Phantom Interference in the 1998 Buffalo-New England contest. For the latter, the Bills were flagged for interference in the end zone on a Hail Mary on the final play; the Pats scored on their bonus down to win, while replays clearly showed their Hail Mary receiver was never touched. That call was "ludicrous" because it was a bad call. But if there had been interference, of course a yellow hanky should have sailed. Just because it's the deciding play does not make infractions temporarily legal.

TMQ admires those officials who throw flags on the decisive downs of big games, so long as their flags are correct. These admirable officials don't stop doing their jobs just because they might be criticized. Also, they have to live with people like Bill Cowher using them as scapegoats for a team's inability simply to win on the field.

He's also attacking SUVs over on TNR, which I hope inspires some kind of defense from the Reason guys or somebody. Just so I could read it and enjoy it--I don't really have a horse in the moral content of SUVs contest.

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