February 01, 2009
It will go down as one of the most thrilling Super Bowls of all time. But, as has become all too common in the NFL, an officiating controversy threatens to overshadow the stellar play on the field.
On the final Cardinals play from scrimmage, as the team was driving for a potential game-winning score, Kurt Warner turned over the ball after his arm was hit by LaMarr Woodley. The play was ruled a fumble, and it may have been. Or it may have been an incomplete pass. The problem is, there was no official replay review to take a closer look at the ruling. Instead, the Steelers got the ball, knelt down for the win and earned the sixth title in franchise history.
Frankly, it's remarkable that there was no booth challenge to review the play. It was certainly close enough to warrant a look from upstairs. In all probability, the call on the field would have been confirmed. But why not appease the masses and nip any talk of controversy in the bud? (If the call had been overturned, Arizona would have had the ball on the Pittsburgh 29-yard line, certainly close enough to have had a reasonable shot at scoring a last-second touchdown.)
It was a night marred by questionable calls, but the game managed to make everyone forget about the disparity in penalties (106 yards for the Cardinals against just 56 for the Steelers) with its thrilling finish. And then came the unreviewed call. It's especially interesting that the play went without a second look considering the Cardinals correctly challenged two plays during the game (both of which should have been easy calls on the field but were botched by the refs).
The 11 penalties whistled on Arizona included a preposterous roughing the passer penalty on a play that wouldn't have been uncommon in touch football. That came on a drive that saw two personal foul penalties on the Cards, one of which gave the Steelers another chance to score from the goal line. For the evening, 18 penalties were called, the third-most in Super Bowl history. A missed call may have proven enormous also. After Santonio Holmes' game-winning touchdown catch he did an imitation of LeBron James' chalk move. Using the ball as a prop is an automatic 15-yard penalty on the kickoff.
Officiating controversies became way too prevalent in this league this season. Ed Hochuli's premature whistle dominated headlines in the early season and a missed delay of game penalty in the divisional playoffs aided in a Baltimore Ravens win. It's too bad a great Super Bowl followed down that path and may be marred by a decision that would have been easily remedied by a simple booth review.
"We confirmed it was a fumble. The replay assistant in the replay booth saw it was clearly a fumble. The ball got knocked loose and was rolling in his hand before it started forward. He has to have total control."
Pereira is a stand-up guy and I'll take his word that the play was a fumble. (Even though it looked like an incomplete pass to many.) However, the issue isn't that the ruling was incorrect, it's that the replay official didn't take a more in-depth look at the play to confirm the ruling and to appease the fans that were waiting for a review.
It seemed like a no-brainer. There were dozens of less-questionable plays that were reviewed by the replay booth this season. And in the biggest game on the world's biggest stage, some guy decides that one look was enough?
On NBC, Al Michaels suggested that there wasn't any doubt the play would be looked at in the booth. He was as stunned as anyone when the Steelers knelt down for the victory.
For what it's worth, Kurt Warner thought it was an incomplete pass too. In his post-game press conference he said:
"I was really surprised on that one because I was definitely moving my arm forward to throw the ball. I thought I'd almost gotten the ball off, so yeah, it does surprise you that in that kind of situation - five seconds to go to decide the Super Bowl - you would think it was something they'd do. But maybe somebody saw it clearly."
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