I’m a huge fan of NFL football. I have been my entire life. I’m a Packer fan, but I’ll watch any NFL game. I’ve just always enjoyed the final product that much. My dad’s a Bears fan, but I can remember as a kid watching lots of different games with him Sunday afternoons and Sunday nights – Broncos, Steelers, 49ers. As a family, we always had the Lions and Cowboys games on TV during Thanksgiving gatherings. Me (a Packers fan), my dad and brother (Bears fans) and my uncle (a Colts fan) would watch the games together, regardless of who was playing. You see, it didn’t matter who was playing. We just loved football.
When you became NFL commissioner, I thought you were a great choice. I may have been slightly biased. I’m a PR guy. You started as a PR guy. It gave all of us PR guys the thought, the hope, that we could actually have a sports management job at some point in our career. Of course we were dreaming, but you gave guys like me hope. Your first few years as commissioner, you showed that my initial instinct about you was right. I thought you did a great job.
Through three games of this season, you now have me questioning you as a good commissioner. Actually it’s not a question. You’re blowing it. You’ll now be remembered for this more than any of the good you’ve done for the league. This situation with the lockout of the NFL refs has shown a different side of you. It’s not an issue of bettering the game. It’s an ego situation for you (and your owners).
Last night was the most embarrassing situation I’ve seen from the NFL, ever. Worse than bountygate, even worse than when you locked out the players last summer. Last night directly affected the outcome of a game. It affected records. It affected standings. It could affect the playoff picture. And you caused all of this by allowing it to get to this point. Sure, you answer to owners, but you’re also supposed to be a negotiator, someone who looks out for the best interests of the league when owners get focused only on themselves and their team.
Roger, I’m not just talking about that final play, when I say it was an embarrassing situation. You remember, it though, right? The final play? Green Bay safety MD Jennings intercepted Russell Wilson’s hail mary, but your officiating crew gave the touchdown to Golden Tate, a receiver who shoved Packer cornerback Sam Shields to the ground (I believe that’s offensive pass interference, but what do I know?), then got one hand on the ball that Jennings held in both hands and cradled against his chest (that’s possession based on my understanding of football…). No, I’m going further back – the roughing the passer call against Green Bay linebacker Erik Walden (he hit Russell Wilson as the ball was leaving Wilson’s hands – clean hit) and the pass interference call against Shields when he was defending Sidney Rice against a pass down the sideline (Rice actually interfered with the pass on that one, grabbing Shields’ collar and pushing off his head). Those were both blown calls that extended and influenced (via field position…) Seattle’s penultimate and final drives of the game. And it’s not just me saying those were the wrong calls. Jon Gruden, Mike Tirico, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer agreed with both. The whole game was poorly officiated, but those really stuck out as having great influence over the outcome.
It was a slow buildup to this point over the course of the season. The first two weeks showed mistakes, some being fairly large; however, this third week of the season was by far the worst. The replacement refs have affected game momentum (and by extension, games, to a degree) and last night they finally affected the outcome of a game. You affected the outcome of a game.
What you’ve done, what you’ve allowed, and your owners have allowed, is an erosion of the integrity of the game. This isn’t the game we all came to love. Sure, last night’s game directly affected me as a Packer fan, but it goes beyond the Green Bay fan base. The NFC West will be very competitive this year, so so an extra win for Seattle has implications for San Francisco and Arizona. And who knows which team will be affected by poor officiating next week? They had a noticeable affect on the Baltimore-New England game Sunday night too.
You’ve also insulted our intelligence as fans. Don’t tell us there’s no noticeable difference between the real refs and the replacements. We’re smart enough to see it. That’s a slap in the face.
But what can we do as fans? You have all the power. You and your owners. We can’t stand up to that. Or can we?
We actually can, to a degree. As long as you see no change from the fans, you won’t feel any need to change – “they keep watching, why change? Why cave in to the refs?” Well, guess what? I’m not watching anymore. Not until you bring back the real refs that we, as fans, deserve. I’ll read about games online or in the newspaper. I’ll get my information from sources where you don’t get a cut of the advertising money. Christmas is approaching. I have a lot of fans I typically buy NFL merchandise for as gifts – brother, dad, fiancee, future father in law, future nephews, friends, friend’s kids. They won’t be receiving anything having to do with the NFL from me. They’ll get other gifts this year. Maybe I’ll put my money toward the NBA or Major League Baseball. You won’t be receiving any of my money until this ends.
Sure, I’m only one guy, and even with encouraging my friends to follow my lead and take a stand, it won’t be noticeable to you. It’s a small group, not even a blip on your radar. But that doesn’t matter to me. The integrity of the game matters to me. The professionalism. The accuracy. The accountability. I won’t be a part of this mockery. Call me when you bring the real refs back.