We all want to believe we're living in important times; that the moments we observe are profound and historic. That leads us to overvalue the moments we experience firsthand and diminish those we don't. Even with that bias in mind, though, it's tough to imagine many more significant blown calls than the one that concluded Monday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.
Your scene, briefly: With time running out and Seattle trailing 12-7, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson lofted a desperate Hail Mary heave into the back left corner of the end zone. His receivers were outnumbered 5-2 by Packers defenders, and as the ball dropped toward the knot of players, only Golden Tate could leap for Seattle. Three defenders, including safety M.D. Jennings, simultaneously leaped behind Tate. Jennings appeared to grab the ball first, and as he fell to the turf, Tate shoved an arm in to get a hand on the football. When they landed, Jennings had the ball cradled in his arms, while Tate had Jennings cradled in his.
The replacement referees – the beleaguered, maligned replacement referees – had three seconds to make a call that would decide the game.
One signaled touchdown. Another signaled for a touchback. Of course.
Yes, two different referees made two different calls. But the referee making the touchback call quickly changed his to a hometown-friendly touchdown as soon as he saw his colleague lift both hands in the air.
Armando Galarraga losing his perfect game on a blown call. Kent Hrbek lifting Ron Gant off the bag and getting him called out in the 1991 World Series. Colorado getting five downs against Missouri in 1990. Diego Maradona using the "Hand of God" to lead Argentina over England in a World Cup match. Brett Hull scoring a Stanley Cup-clinching goal with his skate in the crease in 1999. Terrible calls, all, some of them altering championships.
The Seattle Screw ranks right there with all of them, not just because of the way it changed a game, but the way it could change our perceptions of the NFL as a whole. There is not a sane, unbiased observer alive who could argue that the replacement referees are doing even a competent job; blown calls, misjudgments, outright ignorance and, now, game-altering mistakes have fundamentally altered the game of football in 2012.
So here it is: The NFL has a chance to tell us all exactly what it thinks of us as fans. Are we merely cash-spouting drones, reliable if occasionally cranky sources of perpetual income? Or does the NFL actually care about its on-field product enough to take a financial and public-relations hit and end the lockout of its official officials?
Announcers, even the ones on networks most often perceived as in the thrall of the NFL, are now as outspoken in their criticism as any indie fire-typing blogger. Will the coaches and players step up and say this inferior product won't stand? Or will they keep quiet, bathing in the flow of dollars that, obviously, will continue to pour in no matter what absurdity happens on the field?
We'll look back on this play as the pivotal one in the story of the referees' lockout. Whether fans look back on it as a pivotal moment in understanding their true importance to the NFL is now up to the league.
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