By Steve Williams
With 20 years of experience as a football official, I would like to share my thoughts on the most famous non-call in the history of the National Football League.
You know the one.
I understand the argument some make about a loss shouldn’t be blamed on one bad call and that a team has plenty of chances through the course of a game to overcome it, but on the other hand, I also believe if the egregious error in the NFC championship game had been corrected, the New Orleans Saints, rather than the Los Angeles Rams, very likely would have played New England in the Super Bowl Sunday.
And in this day and age, with the technology we have and replay already in place, it’s absolutely ridiculous that the obvious pass interference by the Rams defender wasn’t corrected immediately.
As a result, the NFL’s biggest game of the year was tainted before it even started. My time officiating was spent on the TSSAA level plus working a lot of youth games at John Tarleton Park and throughout the area. While I didn’t call on the college or pro levels, 20 years of blowing the whistle and throwing a flag gives one a pretty good understanding about the fundamentals of officiating and puts me ahead of the average Joe who has never worn the stripes.
For the record, I also was a high school basketball, baseball and softball official for 25 years, and though the rules are different in each sport, there are a rule of thumb or two, if you will, that are utilized across the board when it comes to officiating.
The most important is known by officials on all levels all across the country and can be summed up in four words: Get the call right!
It’s a shame that officiating principle wasn’t put into practice in this year’s NFC title game.
As late as last Thursday, 11 days after the non-call and three days before the Super Bowl, many folks were still talking about the pass interference by the Rams defender that even the average Joe could have flagged, not to mention the penalty for helmet to helmet contact on the defenseless receiver that also occurred on the play but was not called.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell finally spoke publicly about it too and said the league would discuss expanding the use of replay, which now cannot be utilized on judgment calls. I understand there’s not enough time for all questionable judgment calls to be reviewed, but if Goodell wants to make a constructive change, he should put a replay referee in the press box who could buzz the crew on the field when an egregious error has been made.
If any crew member on the field in that Saints-Rams game had knowledge of the shocking mistake, play should have been stopped and an official timeout taken for the crew to get together and discuss what actually happened. Then the correct call should have been applied and the game resumed.
Usually on a pass down field, there are multiple officials refereeing the play. Sometimes an official who is a little farther away and not the primary official on the play can see and judge what happened more accurately.
In all the sports I’ve officiated in, we considered ourselves the “third team” on the field or court. And our No. 1 objective was to get the call right.
The best feeling I always had in officiating came after getting with my partners, discussing the play and what we had seen and getting the call right, even if it meant changing the original call. That teamwork, I found, is appreciated by players, coaches and fans.
Just think of how much it would have been appreciated by Saints fans and NFL fans in general two weeks before Super Sunday. Fans of the Rams may have not liked it at first, but I believe they would have accepted it with little or no fuss.
And officials across the country would have thought: “They did their job. They got it right.”