If ever there was a franchise that was owed make-up and deserved a gift victory, it is the Seattle Seahawks.
On Monday night the Green Bay Packers lost a game they should have won when Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was awarded possession of a ball he didn't appear to have. It was a horrible game-ending call, a humiliation for the NFL only made worse by the fact that two officials standing beside the play looked at each other and made opposite calls. One said interception, the other called touchdown.
It was probably the worst game-ending call in the NFL since the day the Seahawks stood on the wrong side of an official throwing his hands in the air and signaling for a touchdown that never happened. This was back in 1998 and the score was given not to a Seattle receiver but New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde – who lay on the ground, firmly in the grasp of Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy and two yards short of the end zone.
And yet head linesman Earnie Frantz said touchdown.
And the rest of the NFL screamed in shock.
So much so that the NFL approved permanent use of instant replay at its meetings the following spring.
"Oh man I was mad," former Seahawks cornerback Shawn Springs said Tuesday morning. "I saw it clearly. I was standing right there. He never got in the end zone."
If anyone is going to understand how the Packers feel today, it is going to be the Seahawks players who were on the field in the Meadowlands that December day in 1998. They had flown across the country desperately needing a win to keep fading playoff hopes alive. Few expected them to beat the Jets, who were coached by Bill Parcells and were having something of a dream season. It seemed an impossible task.
The Seahawks were delighted to be ahead 31-25 with 20 seconds left. And delight turned to euphoria when Testaverde tried a five-yard quarterback sneak on fourth down and found himself wrapped in Kennedy's arms. Several Seattle players jumped in celebration as Testaverde crumpled down on the two, clearly tackled.
They didn't even pay attention to his attempts to wriggle the ball over the goal line; he was obviously already down.
Then came the touchdown signal and in that one motion everything – the victory, the playoffs, all their dreams for that season – were gone. They finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Had they won, they would have likely been 9-7 and a wild-card team. The call was that costly.
"It's so [bleeping] tough," Springs said. "You put in all that work for 60 minutes in a game and it's blown on that. You put too much into it. It's too dangerous out there. It's too hard.
"If I'm going to lose, I want to lose because I made a mistake, not because of someone else's mistake."
Springs grew angrier as the memories flooded back on Tuesday. He was driving and all the talk on the radio had been about what happened in his old team's home stadium just a few hours before. He went on to play for another 11 years after that day in the Meadowlands. He won awards. He played in playoffs. He made millions more in salary, but the injustice he felt that afternoon has never gone away.
"I was ready to walk off the field with a win," he said. "It's almost like [someone] slapping you in the face. It's like there's this … dude and he's jumping up and slapping you in the face and you're saying, 'What's this dude's problem?' It was that impossible to believe."
No one should expect much sympathy from Seahawks fans for the victory their team didn't earn. Those too young to remember the Testaverde play probably do recall Super Bowl XL in which a Darrell Jackson touchdown was waved off for a dubious offensive pass interference call and a long gain to the 1-yard line was called back for a questionable holding call. But at least those plays were subjective – judgment calls that could have gone either way. There was nothing subjective about Testaverde's touchdown. He clearly wasn't in. And there was little subjective about Monday night's play. Tate did not come down with the ball.
If anything, the Testaverde play should serve as a reminder that even the regular officials get many plays wrong. Those clamoring for the league to bring them back should remember that these men too have botched plenty of calls and cost teams games.
Credibility has always been a question with officiating. It always will be.
But in costing one of the league's flagship franchises a victory on prime-time television, the NFL has set itself up for a firestorm that will be hard to suppress. If the Testaverde call forced the NFL to add replay against the better wishes of its executives, imagine what Monday will do for the locked-out officials. Back in 1998, the victim was the lowly Seahawks who carried little clout. This time it was the mighty Packers. Such slights do not sit long.
"I'm still mad about that game," Springs said of 1998.
At least in Monday's ineptitude the Seahawks got a make-up call.
Too bad it came 14 years too late.
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