No-TD call, stonewalling reflect badly on league


During their game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh earlier this season, the Ravens had a first down taken away from them, even though the chain gang had moved the sticks. Later that week, coach Ted Marchibroda got a call from the league office, admitting the officials had made a mistake.

That's the way the NFL likes to handle its officiating mistakes: behind closed doors with no fanfare.

Since the Steelers won the game in a rout, that gaffe got little attention.

The NFL has a "speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil" policy on officials. It bans public criticism, doesn't allow the officials to give interviews except to a pool reporter after the games and it rarely publicly admits a mistake has been made.

Since the majority of the bad calls get little public attention, this policy enables the league to publicly claim the officials are doing a good job.

But some calls are so poor that the league can't sweep them under the rug.

That's what happened Sunday night when the officials made two mistakes on the same play: Keyshawn Johnson's apparent touchdown catch over the Redskins' Tom Carter with 8: 01 left in the Jets-Washington game.

They ruled Johnson had interfered with Carter and that Carter stripped the ball from Johnson for an interception before Johnson got possession.

The replays showed they were wrong on both counts. Johnson didn't interfere and he got both feet down for the touchdown.

This came right after the Jets' Fred Baxter caught a pass, took four steps and fumbled the ball out of bounds, only to have the officials rule no catch.

Since the game was on national television, involved a New York team and because the Carter-Johnson play was the turning point in the Redskins' 31-16 victory, the fiasco got quick attention from the league.

Jerry Seeman, the league's director of officials, admitted to Jets coach Rich Kotite on Monday that the game officials blew the call.

According to Kotite, Seeman "acknowledged it was a touchdown."

The league usually waits until Thursday to confirm to teams that mistakes were made.

But the league immediately went into its stonewalling mode.

A league official wouldn't even confirm Kotite had talked to Seeman, much less confirm Seeman had agreed it was a bad call.

"By policy, we don't comment on calls on judgment," the spokesman said, "The evaluation process is confidential."

There are some team executives who think the process is part of the problem. They've had hints that morale is down among the officials because Seeman's nitpicking style isn't popular with the officials. But there's so much secrecy surrounding the process that it's difficult to judge.

The one certainty is that this will revive the debate about bringing back instant replay. The league experimented with it in the exhibition season, but it would take 23 votes to revive it for the regular season.

The major complaint about instant replay is the delays it causes. Even without replay, the officials spent over six minutes debating the Johnson call Sunday night. With replay, they might still be looking at it.

Marchibroda doesn't sound too enthusiastic about it.

"Replay's a funny thing. I was for it to begin with. but I wouldn't want it to affect the tempo of the game. If it affects the tempo, I'd be against it," he said.

Noting the touchdown Pittsburgh was incorrectly awarded against his Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game last year, Marchibroda said: "I was hurt as much as anybody last year, but what are you going to do? Everybody makes mistakes."

So how does Marchibroda evaluate the state of officiating?

With the deadpan style of a stand-up comic, Marchibroda said: "Oh, I think it's good," as reporters burst out laughing at his Monday news conference.

Marchibroda has learned one thing. No matter how bad the officiating is, the league doesn't want anybody making critical comments about it.

Seething in St. Louis

They weren't happy in St. Louis when the Rams lost to their old team, the Cardinals, Sunday.

One St. Louis fan who made the trip to Phoenix, Seth Felman, screamed at the Rams after the game: "Don't even come home. Don't ever come home. This was the payback bowl and we didn't pay back."

A St. Louis columnist wrote: "This was the most embarrassing loss in the history of St. Louis professional football. The pits. The dark side of the moon. The end of the earth as we know it. You can't get any lower than this and that's saying something."

Meanwhile, Arizona owner Bill Bidwill figures he might as well make some money out of the dislike the St. Louis fans have for him. He's going to bring his team to St. Louis for an exhibition next year.

"I've been back there many times. They recognize me. I haven't been back with a beard, though. I didn't leave with one, either," Bidwill said.

He even suggested he should get the credit for the building of the new TWA Dome in St. Louis.

"I put the whole thing in motion [by leaving]. They could have named it after me. But I'm not upset about it," he said.

On the road

The New England Patriots have a white sign with red block letters in their locker room that reads: "Prove You Can Win on the Road."

The Patriots, who come to Baltimore Sunday, have lost four straight road games dating back to last year.

Coach Bill Parcells said: "I've always felt if you're a good team, you can play well anywhere."

Pub Date: 10/02/96

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