I typically reserve this blog for my writing-related and -inspired musings, but something else is on my mind this foggy Seattle morning. Those who know me well understand how much I love football, and how loyally I follow my beloved Green Bay Packers. In those rare, rare instances when I manage to have a life outside of my writing career, I love nothing more than to gear up in my green and gold, and watch my boys lead the league not only in scores and stats, but—more importantly—in positive role modeling, exemplary sportsmanship, and off-field player conduct.
This still-young 2012-2013 NFL season has been marred by faulty officiating–a result of the league’s ongoing dispute with its referees over pensions and pay, and the subsequent decision to bring in replacement referees from Division Two college football until the strike is resolved. We football fans have watched this season with winces and grimaces as the replacement refs have made a myriad of bad calls, and the talk amongst us has been largely dominated by worries about the inevitable moment when this egregious officiating would cost a team a game, or worse, result in a terrible injury.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend the Seattle-Green Bay game in person here in Seattle, fully armored in my green and gold. The mood at the stadium was electric, and loud as hell. It was a beautiful night and though a few intoxicated asshats heckled me on my way to the game, I was pleased, and not at all surprised, to see that the vast majority of fans on both sides were laughing and mingling together, all of us excited to watch what was sure to be a great game of football. One mean little drunk girl yelled “Fuck the Packers” at me, and I calmly responded with “Such ugly words from such a pretty girl. We don’t use that kind of language in Green Bay.”
Sparking my intense Packer pride, I was delighted to see nearly as many Green Bay fans as Seattle ones filling the stadium and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, that congenial vibe quickly deteriorated as we watched one after another shockingly bad call on the field. I’m not alone in saying that I’ve never seen a game filled with so many incorrect rulings—on both sides. The Packers got away with a few, as did the Seahawks. One need only watch a 30-second highlight reel of last night’s game to see the many bad calls that plagued all four qaurters.
It seemed that a Packer win was in the bag despite a valiant defensive effort from the Seahawks, with a score of 12-7 and seven seconds left in the fourth quarter. Most of the fans had already exited the stadium to make a cleaner break for their cars and cabs. As I made my way down the stands, I stood to watch the final play of the game near the sidelines, flanked on each side by two police officers as captivated by Seattle QB Wilson’s hail mary pass as I was. I watched Packer M.D. Jennings catch that ball, and could not absorb the disbelief when the replacement refs–not unanimously, I might add–ruled the play as resulting in a Seattle touchdown.
Here’s the official rule for plays such as what we saw last night with seven seconds left in the game: “If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.” With those guidelines in mind, go watch a replay of the catch on youtube (like this clip here; pay close attention to the two refs who can’t come to a consensus, with one ruling a touchdown and the other clearly ruling an touchback), and watch Jennings make first contact with the ball, and maintain control all the way to the ground. The visual footage is clear and plain, and indisputable. Those out there who argue that the call was sound are blatantly accepting a falsehood; if it were otherwise, ESPN would be talking about something else this morning, and headlines across the country would not be devoted to this widely controversial game ending.
Some Seahawk fans—likely the drunkest ones—hooted and hollered like maniacs, with one angry dude actually getting up in my face aggressively enough that the sheriff at my side had to get between us and escort him away by the arm. I’m feisty, but I swear–all I did to incite the drunkey’s rage was come dressed in my green and gold. But the majority of fans on both sides knew the truth of what we’d just seen, because it was undeniable, and as groups of us walked out of the stadium and into the Seattle streets, we all discussed the obvious mistake that had just been made. What we’ve all feared finally came to pass, and the replacement referees cost my team the game. It goes without saying that losing one early-season game is by far preferable to any player losing his season, career, or even his life to a serious injury. My hope is that the controversy surrounding last night’s ending will draw a spotlight on this frustrating and dangerous situation in a way that sufficiently protects teams and players. Football is a rough sport; we rely on the NFL higher-ups and officials to keep the players safe and keep the culture of the league respectful and respectable.
After an entirely sleepless night (those who know me also know that insomnia is nothing new for me, but insomnia due to a single football game is indeed a new development), sunrise brought a flood of text messages and phone calls from family and friends who wanted to talk about the controversy and hear what it was like to be there, so close to the action in person. Some have said that this disgraceful departure from whatever integrity the NFL had left is causing them to boycott the season and stop watching the remaining games. For my part, I plan to keep watching the rest of the season, but perhaps only in the way we watch a circus performer walk the high-wire without a net—because there’s a part of us that is simply waiting to see him fall.