Replacement officials have been a disaster, but regular referees make mistakes, too

Brian McIntyre
Shutdown Corner

The Seattle Seahawks' 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers on "Monday Night Football" will forever be remembered for its controversial ending, with the replacement officials blowing several calls down the stretch. From a phantom defensive pass interference penalty on Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor that led to the Packers' lone touchdown of the night, to an equally bad pass interference penalty on Packers cornerback Sam Shields, to a missed offensive pass interference penalty on Golden Tate, who had pushed Shields out of the way to haul in the "game-winning" touchdown.

While everyone clamors for a deal to be struck that will end the NFL's lockout of the real officials, Monday night also serves as a reminder that the regular officials, while better than the replacements, are not impervious to mistakes. For example, Monday night's on-site officiating supervisor was none other than Phil Luckett, who botched the coin toss in overtime of a 1998 game between the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Monday's game might not even be the worst display of officiating in a game involving the Seahawks. On Dec. 6, 1998, New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde was stopped short of the goal line on a quarterback sneak, with only his helmet crossing the plane of the goal line.

The referees ruled a touchdown on the field and there was no instant replay, let alone high-definition images from multiple angles that we're accustomed to today to overturn the ruling. The decision cost the Seahawks a playoff berth, head coach Dennis Erickson lost his job, and in the following offseason, NFL owners voted 28-3 to institute instant replay.

And then there's Super Bowl XL, where several controversial calls, including a fictional holding penalty on Sean Locklear in the fourth quarter, negated an opportunity for the Seahawks to take the lead over Detroit native Jerome Bettis and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Locked out referee Bill Leavy, who worked that Super Bowl, admitted that his crew made game-altering mistakes during the 2010 offseason.

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"It was a tough thing for me. I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that," Leavy said. "It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly...I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better."

Twitter wasn't around for Steve Hutchinson & Co. to lash out or demand public apologies from the league.

Currently locked out referee Gene Steratore made one of the more inexplicable calls of the 2011 season, ruling that an obvious forward pass from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick had traveled backwards, resulting in a fumble that was recovered by the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles challenged the play, had the ruling reversed, and kicked a field goal to extend their lead to 27-0 in the third quarter. A month later, veteran NFL official Jeff Triplette botched the explanation of the overtime rules, falsely stating that both teams "must have an opportunity to possess the football and score."

The most recognizable regular NFL referee is Ed Hochuli, a former NFLRA president who in 2008 ruled that then-Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler had thrown an incomplete pass, when in fact the ball had slipped out of Cutler's hands and went backwards, a clear fumble that was recovered by then-San Diego Chargers linebacker Tim Dobbins.

[Larry Fitzgerald: Fans will turn TV off if NFL doesn't get referees back fast]

Replay correctly overturned Hochuli's ruling, but league rules did not permit awarding the ball to the Chargers and the Broncos retained possession at the Chargers' 10-yard line, a loss of 9 yards. Two plays later, Cutler connected with Eddie Royal for a 4-yard touchdown pass and the two would connect again on the two-point conversion that gave the Broncos a 39-38 win over the Chargers. Both teams finished 8-8 on the season, with the Chargers winning the tiebreaker due to a better divisional record.

So while a resolution to the lockout will be welcomed with open arms, the return of the regular officials will not serve as a cure-all for the officiating situation. There may be fewer debacles like what has taken place through the first three weeks of this season, and players and coaches may be less inclined to try and intimidate the part-timers, but there will still be questionable calls on Thursday night, Sunday and Monday night that players, coaches, fans and observers take issue with.

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