There are plenty of interesting story lines that will play out during Super Bowl week in Atlanta, but none as delicious as the one currently playing out in New Orleans.
NFL lawyers were in federal court Monday trying to fend off a lawsuit filed on behalf of two Saints season-ticket holders who want NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to take action to mitigate the harm done by the notorious no-call in the NFC title game that almost certainly cost their team a place in Sunday’s big game.
Perhaps, in some perfect alternative universe, there would be something that could be done to reverse the injustice that resulted from the inability of a whole bunch of veteran officials to see a pass-interference violation that was obvious to just about every one at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the millions of fans who watched the game on television.
The Saints almost certainly would be playing the New England Patriots at the other Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a few days if the NFL had an adequate system for correcting flagrant and critical officiating errors in real time.
When receiver Tommylee Lewis was mugged by cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman at the 7-yard line, the Saints should have been in a position to run down the clock and kick a game-winning field goal that would have been not much longer than a college extra-point attempt.
The NFL lawyers pretty much conceded all this in their court filing Monday, which is not something that often happens at the beginning of a lawsuit of such national interest, and yet they were able to do so because the facts of the matter are so obvious and the likelihood of the plaintiff’s case succeeding is so slim.
Of course, there really is nothing that can be done at this point to make things right. The only thing the NFL can do is make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
It’s just nice to see the most arrogant league in professional sports exposed for its ridiculous short-sightedness and incompetence.
This certainly isn’t the first time that a major sporting event has been altered by human error. Baseball umpire Don Denkinger had to live down a bad call that might have changed the outcome of the 1985 World Series. Orioles fans still cringe at the missed fan-interference call by umpire Rich Garcia that probably cost the O’s Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series.
Calls like those eventually persuaded Major League Baseball to adopt a video replay system that has all but eliminated the possibility of such an egregious mistake staining a pennant race or postseason game.
The NFL has a challenge system, too. It just has some huge, incomprehensible holes in it.
Even though pass interference has been statistically proven to be the most impactful penalty in the sport, it is not — at least not yet — reviewable, while the 5-yard penalty for having a subbed-out player not cross the sideline before the snap can be confirmed or overturned by video replay.
How stupid is that?
The answer: Not as stupid as the fact that the NFL has known for a long time that something like this could happen and chose not to do anything about it because it is more concerned with the predictability of the three-hour network TV window than the integrity of the competition.
Now that the bad-officiating doomsday scenario has finally played out, there was nothing for the league to do but fall on its sword and admit that its officials screwed up badly. Not that the admission does any good now, but you can bet the league has been suitably shamed to the point of instituting some form of review for major penalties at its next rules conclave.
The saddest thing about this situation is that the league already has the technical ability to prevent the officials from embarrassing themselves like that, and it wouldn’t really require the coaches to throw those silly red hankies onto the field.
There are league officials observing from the press box or broadcast level at every NFL game that have access to replay and are capable of alerting officials immediately that a call was grievously incorrect. They just aren’t allowed to do that, so — in this case — all the officials got together and realized that nobody else saw the play clearly and helped send the wrong team to the Super Bowl.
Indeed, how stupid is that?