As the page turns from conference championship-game fallout to Super Bowl week, the most controversial story of the NFL postseason keeps finding more fuel.
The latest wrinkle is a report from ESPN that there is concern in NFL circles with the realization that all four officials who oversaw the Los Angeles Rams‘ win over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship live in Southern California.
The Rams’ win last Sunday was aided by a blatant missed pass interference penalty at a critical moment and has since resulted in a firestorm of fallout. The non-call has been almost universally derided and considered to be one of the worst blown calls in sports history.
Report: NFL admits it ‘f- – – ed up’ the call
The NFL admitted privately to the Saints that officials “f – – – ed up the call,” according to the report.
The report from Adam Schefter states that the Saints don’t believe that the crew of Southern California residents had any bias in calling the game and that nobody in the league is publicly concerned that the game was fixed, but that some in league circles are concerned with the optics of it being allowed to happen in a game involving a Los Angeles team.
NFL let this ‘slip through the cracks’
“The NFL put [itself] in a bad situation,” an anonymous officiating source told ESPN. “This is stuff that has to be taken care of prior to game. It’s just guys not thinking of what’s going on, nobody doing their checks and balances.
“The league is usually pretty much on top of it. This is one that slipped through the cracks.”
Entire crew lives near Los Angeles
Referee Bill Vinovich lives in Newport Beach, down judge Patrick Turner lives in Lakewood, side judge Gary Cavaletto lives in Santa Barbara and back judge Todd Prukop lives in Mission Viejo, according to the report. All four cities are in or around Los Angeles County.
Cavaletto, who was responsible for the call on the play in which Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman violently ran through Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis before a Drew Brees pass arrived, initially told NFL officiating head Al Riveron that it was a “bang-bang play,” in a postgame meeting of officials, according to the report.
The room went silent when they watched the film and realized how badly they missed the call, according to the report.
Fallout continues to dominate NFL storyline
The NFL ended up moving officials from their downtown New Orleans hotel to a suburban location after the game as a precautionary measure.
The story has largely dominated the NFL discussion even as Super Bowl LIII between the Rams and the New England Patriots approaches.
Shadow from NFC championship will linger
Some have bemoaned the outpouring of criticism coming from the New Orleans community that has included billboards around Super Bowl LIII host site Atlanta and player complaints ranging from receiver Michael Thomas calling for a do-over from commissioner Roger Goodell to defensive end Cam Jordan wearing a message of protest on his T-shirt before Sunday’s Pro Bowl.
But the outcry isn’t going away and is likely to cast a shadow over the Super Bowl that will be remembered in some circles as tainted. The Saints and their fans believe that they belong in the Super Bowl. And they have a legitimate gripe.
With stakes this high and a mistake this egregious, the NFL will long be saddled with the shadow of the 2019 NFC championship game.
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