The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the few teams not to be victimized by replacement referees so far. In fact, Eagles fans like myself may owe them for calling back a clinching touchdown by the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 16. However, if the Green Bay Packers' 'loss' to the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 24 doesn't end the regular referees' lockout, it may just be a matter of time before Philadelphia - and countless other teams - get robbed of wins next.
The prayer around the NFL is that the mistaken call of a Seahawks' Hail Mary winning touchdown will finally trigger a settlement. But if that isn't enough, then it may take more drastic measures - and it might be time to include a players strike/walkout among those options.
The idea that players or whole teams could refuse to play until the real referees return may have seemed laughable, especially after last year's players' lockout. It still might be laughable, but if there's no deal this week, perhaps more and more pundits - if not players - could start talking about it as a last option. And if the idea starts to fester and grow like a virus, it could then take one or two more controversial finishes and blown games to make some players start looking into it.
Packers' guard Josh Sitton was the first to bring up the idea on Twitter after the loss in Seattle, Tweeting that "The NFL needs to get the refs back bfr we strike and they make no money!" Since he Tweeted it right after Green Bay's loss, it probably won't be taken that seriously, given that it was in the heat of the moment. But if more players, pundits and officials start discussing it outside of the heat of the moment, then there might be a groundswell to at least make it an option.
Despite their respective 1-2 records, the Packers and New England Patriots could still afford to go 1-3 by actually refusing to play next week if there's no deal, after replacements robbed them both this past weekend. If any team is arrogant enough to believe they could force a deal by sitting out, it might be the Patriots - and owner Bob Kraft already dug deep to help end last year's lockout. They might as well do it now while there's still time to recover from a forfeit or two, if the NFL would really call such a bluff.
Of course, a players' walkout/strike and team forfeits is the absolute last nuclear option right now - which is perhaps unfortunate. Yet if the call in Seattle isn't enough to end this thing right now, there are only a few other truly drastic outcomes left that would tip this over.
Right now, it seems only two other extreme events would be enough to force everyone to the table. One of them is that a player gets severely injured or even paralyzed in a game the replacement refs can't control. There was real fear about that on Sept. 23, when Oakland Raiders' receiver Darrius Heyward-Bay suffered a neck injury and there wasn't even a flag thrown.
The other extreme worst case scenario would be for referees themselves to be the target. Patriots' coach Bill Belichick will soon be punished for grabbing a ref's arm, after the controversial loss to the Baltimore Ravens. But if a coach or player did something like shove - or even punch - a replacement ref after an awful call, it would be the final nail in the coffin of their legitimacy.
Punching and assaulting a referee is one of the gravest taboos in all sports. But the more frustrated players and coaches get, the more their dwindling restraint with these illegitimate officials would get chipped away. They are mostly still too worried about fines to even speak out against the refs, yet after a few more weeks and a few more blown games, all it would take is one hothead to finally snap and set off the powder keg. And more and more of them could be created with every passing week.
If a blown game isn't enough to end this lockout, then there really aren't any more nightmare outcomes that would make the NFL budge, other than player walkouts, truly crippling injuries or actual physical conflicts with replacements. Fans could always refuse to attend or watch themselves, but that ship sailed long ago.
At this point, if the Packers-Seahawks ending doesn't get things back to normal, then more drastic acts of rebellion will soon become legitimate options. And right now, the only other worst-case scenarios left that could actually make an impact would make the blown call in Seattle look like part of the NFL's golden age. But if this goes on for weeks and months more, those scenarios might start looking very realistic.
By then, some might start to wonder if forfeiting games and/or risking lengthy suspensions might actually be worth it to end this lockout. Of course, that train of thought could end before it really begins by reaching a settlement - yet the NFL has not been good at that approach so far.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Eagles since he was eight years old.
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