Bad officiating not news until it hurt N.Y. teams

In the era of the information highway, one thing hasn't changed from the days when news went across the country on teletype machines at 66 words per minute.

It's still true that things that have a New York connection have more impact than things that happen in, say, Indianapolis.


Just check the Indianapolis Colts' last two home victories.

They beat the Seattle Seahawks, 17-15, on Oct. 2 with the help of a blown call after Seattle blocked a field goal, only to have the officials give the ball back to the Colts.


That play got little attention around the country. It was a different story last week when the officials appeared to make a bad spot and ruled the New York Jets were an inch short on a fourth-down play that killed their last drive in a 28-25 loss to the Colts.

On the same day, Herman Moore of the Detroit Lions ran 27 yards after his knee was pushed to the ground, setting up the field goal in overtime that beat the New York Giants.

Suddenly, after two games involving New York teams featured controversial calls, officiating became a national story. On ESPN, two ex-quarterbacks, Joe Theismann and Phil Simms, blasted the officials and the topic became the subject of many stories that revived the instant replay debate.

What was overlooked is that this isn't new. Teams around the league have been complaining all year about the officiating.

"It's the worst I've ever seen," more than one team official said recently. They don't want to be identified, though, because the league metes out fines for knocking the officials.

Of course, complaining about the officials goes back to the days of Pop Warner.

It's also difficult to judge if the officiating has really gotten any worse, because the NFL shrouds its officiating operation in secrecy.

They don't allow officials to give interviews except to a pool reporter after games. When they admit mistakes to teams, they even tell them not to comment.


Jerry Seeman, the director of officials, insists the quality of officiating hasn't declined. He says that if instant replay had been brought back, only 27 calls would have been overturned in the first half of the year.

He admits some mistakes -- such as the Moore play in the Giants game and the blocked punt in the Colts game -- but says not all controversial calls are wrong. He said Moore did make a catch in the end zone of the Giants game when one official correctly overruled another.

He also rejects theories advanced by some team executives that morale among officials has declined because of the negotiations over a new contract. He also said there have been no problems with his strict training regimen, although some team executives have suggested it has made the officials uptight.

Seeman calls it a "master training program" designed to eliminate errors.

He also defends the secret way the league deals with the officiating.

"We handle things professionally with the coaches and teams on a confidential basis," he said.


The result, though, is that the NFL gives the impression that it has something to hide about its officiating program.

He's back

Buddy Ryan will be in Philadelphia today.

Does anything more need to be said?

Even Norman Braman, who fired Ryan after the 1990 season and has since sold the team, will be watching on his satellite dish from Miami when Ryan's Arizona Cardinals take on the Eagles.

"I don't want to say anything on the record that Buddy could use to motivate his team," Braman said.


Ryan contends the Eagles could have won 10 championships in a row if Braman had kept the team together. He overlooks his 0-3 playoff record in Philadelphia.

There are even plenty of subplots. Brian Baldinger and Antone Davis of the Eagles and Eric Swann of the Cardinals have accused each other of delivering cheap shots in their games last year.

In what was viewed as a veiled threat, Ryan said, "If you're going to try to end somebody's career, you've got to worry about your career, too."

Bashing Baltimore

At the meeting in Chicago last week, the owners discussed another way to block Orioles owner Peter Angelos from buying an NFL team.

Since H. Wayne Huizenga, the Miami Dolphins' owner, already owns baseball's Marlins and the NHL's Panthers and Dan Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steelers owner, wants to buy baseball's Pirates, they talked about passing a rule that would only allow owners already in the NFL to own teams in other sports.


It's uncertain, though, whether such a provision would be legal.

Meanwhile, they seem to be doing a good job of persuading the Rams to go to St. Louis instead of Baltimore. The Rams' lawyers already have been there, and former Sen. Thomas Eagleton said that Rams president John Shaw even asked him whether St. Louis had any gourmet restaurants to match those in San Francisco and New Orleans.

Eagleton said he replied, "Well, in some respects, we're a raucous Des Moines."


This is the time when losing teams start to have internal strife.

With the Houston Oilers at 1-7, owner Bud Adams said last week, "I don't think the run-and-shoot offense works anymore."


Kevin Gilbride, the offensive coordinator, replied, "He signs the check, so he has the right to say what he wants to say."

In New York, where the Giants have lost five straight, there were the usual tabloid headlines when coach Dan Reeves said the Giants weren't as effective as the San Francisco 49ers in dealing with the salary cap, a not-so-subtle shot at general manager George Young.

Young brushed it all off.

"Dan tends to be straightforward and he's frustrated, but this isn't a big issue."

Dueling the Don

The possibility of a Miami-Dallas Super Bowl got a bit more intriguing last week when Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer needled Cincinnati Bengals coach David Shula after Shula objected to Switzer comparing the Bengals to Iowa State.


Switzer, who said the Iowa State remark was in the context of not taking the team lightly, said, "Some of my assistants told me dTC that when he was with the Cowboys, he was a very immature person."

Don Shula, David's father, won't forget that remark the next time the Dolphins play the Cowboys.