Those who were surprised to see the Seattle Seahawks on the top side of their controversial 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers on "Monday Night Football" may not be aware of NFL history. When it comes to games that forced officiating reform, the Seahawks have been the Forrest Gumps of the NFL -- they've been in the middle of things to an interesting degree, and are 1-2 in those games that affected officiating like few others.
You know about the fact that Golden Tate's probably-not-a-catch play at the end of that Green Bay "loss" forced the NFL to capitulate in its lockout of the real officials, but let's go back to 1998, when instant replay wasn't in the game and really should have been.
With 20 seconds left in their December 1998 game against the Seattle Seahawks, the New York Jets had one down left from Seattle's 5-yard line, and a 31-26 deficit. On that last play, Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde -- who had thrown an amazing 63 passes in the game -- called his own number on a quarterback sneak. Stadium replays seemed to indicate Testaverde was stopped short on the play, but the score was called, and the Jets won, 32-31.
Referee Phil Luckett was made infamous for running that officiating crew, but he didn't signal the touchdown on that play -- head linesman Earnie Frantz did. Frantz somehow decided that Testaverde's helmet was an acceptable substitute for a football.
"People told me it looked like it wasn't in," Testaverde said after the game. "I got knocked around and sometimes you can't see the refs. There were a lot of questions whether I was in or not, which is all the more reason for instant replay."
The Seahawks could not have agreed more.
"It makes you sick," Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson said. Told what the play showed, he said, "It makes you even sicker."
At the 1999 owners meetings, instant replay was re-instituted by a 28-3 vote. There had been a wonkier version years before, but the NFL knew something needed to be done again.
"[Frantz] called it right away and signaled," Luckett told the Washington Post after the game. "There was a pileup, but the head linesman had already called a touchdown for the ball breaking the plane [of the goal line]."
The 1998 Seahawks missed the playoffs, and Erickson was fired after the season. Former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Holmgren replaced Erickson, not knowing that he himself would later become involved in a higher-profile officiating snafu.
As for Luckett, he was an officiating supervisor in last Monday's Seahawks-Packers game. So, there's that.
"I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better"
There are those in Seattle, and around the country, who still believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers' 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL in February, 2006 had an odor from the start. From Ben Roethlisberger's 1-yard rushing touchdown that was inconclusive even on review, to the phantom holding call on right tackle Sean Locklear that took a potential 98-yard touchdown drive away from Seattle, the calls made by the officiating crew in that game created a tapestry of suspicion that persists to this day. Some believe that the refs were told to call the game tight on the Seahawks and loose on the Steelers, a concept which exacerbated the mistakes Seattle made in the game.
Years later, head official Bill Leavy admitted that he blew at least two calls in that Super Bowl.
"It was a tough thing for me," Leavy said when he returned to Seattle to go through the rules changes for the 2010 season at the Seahawks' facility. "I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game and as an official you never want to do that. 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. I know that I did my best at that time, but it wasn't good enough. When we make mistakes, you've got to step up and own them. It's something that all officials have to deal with, but unfortunately when you have to deal with it in the Super Bowl, it's difficult."
Former VP of Officiating and current Fox Sports blowhard Mike Pereira went on the NFL Network two weeks after the game and insisted that all the calls were great, setting up a dog-and-pony show the Three Stooges would be proud of. Pereira even said that Leavy was wrong in admitting that he was wrong years later (which is typical), but Leavy at least manned up and told the truth -- or, at least his version of it.
After the game, Holmgren acidly remarked that he didn't expect to be facing the zebras as well as the Steelers. The NFL, usually quick to apply discipline when its officials are attacked in that way, did not fine Holmgren. Holmgren resigned from the NFL's Competition Committee, and his empty seat was taken by Matt Millen for a time -- which wraps the entire episode up rather nicely.
The NFL, through its spokesman Greg Aiello, classified all the calls in the game as "close, but correct." But at the 2006 owners meetings, Competition Committee co-chair Rich McKay said that a new rule would be instituted by which officials would actually have to see a hold -- not the effects of it, such as a player going to the ground -- to call it.
"We've got a big section in our book that will be on blocking clarifications and dealing with holding," McKay said. "Not changing the rule, but re-writing the rule so everyone has a clear understanding."
As to the call on Locklear, McKay deferred comment, perhaps due to his longtime professional relationship with then-Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell.
"You know, that's one call ... I'm not going to be the one to -- I leave that to Mike Pereira."
In 2006, offensive holding calls plummeted 33 percent, from 868 in 2005 (including declined and offsetting) to 570 the following year. However, defensive sacks didn't go up to any appreciable degree (1,163 to 1,181) which leads one to wonder if there was just as much holding going on. In truth, Super Bowl XL changed the ways in which several penalties are called, and every officiating crew calling a Super Bowl from now on will be on point -- don't do what Leavy's crew did in the league's biggest game of the year. Don't create a situation that requires a public apology.
This time, in lieu of a public apology, the NFL will give you the officiating you've always had. Let's hope that's an acceptable substitute.
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