That sweet sound of summer echoes through the ballpark as bat meets ball on a mild summer evening. The batter, praying for a hit as the pitcher wishes for anything but, watches as the sharply struck ball sails high… and foul! The fielder, ranging into foul ground, thinks he’s got a shot at it. All eyes focus on the crowd as the fielder dives in, glove up, looking to make the play. “OUT!” exclaims the umpire as the fielder reemerges from the gathering of fans. One fan holds up a prized souvenir as the fielder scampers to his dugout with an empty glove. It only took one replay to confirm what almost all of us saw with the naked eye… he never caught the ball. The only opinion that matters at that point however, is the umpire making the call.
Why open an article about football with a baseball story? It’s a widely held belief that baseball has been slow to embrace replay, citing “the human element” of the game. Umpires and referees are the people charged with enforcing the rules of the game on the field of play, and they can make mistakes as well. Replay could help, as it does in football, but it’s not perfect either. In football, replay still doesn’t get every call 100% right to the satisfaction of 100% of viewers. How about the so-called “Calvin Johnson Play”… now how was that not a touchdown again? Those referees, those umpires rely on good judgment gained through their experience in making those tough calls. Then they’ve gotta stick with it, why, because an unsure official helps no one. So as I sat there, watching a reply over and over of a player being called out, when he very clearly wasn’t; my mind drifted toward the upcoming NFL season and the earlier announcement that the league will begin hiring and training replacement referees as talks between them and the National Football League Referees Association have stalled completely.
With the very real possibility of replacement referees officiating the 2012 NFL season, why aren’t players like Denver Broncos linebacker Joe Mays as concerned as I am? “If you go out there and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played and control what you do, the refs don’t really have too much say-so in it if you’re playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” says Mays. I beg to differ strongly with that opinion! I remember a game in 2008, Broncos near the Chargers’ end zone looking to punch it in! Enter Ed “Guns” Hochuli. As the play occurred, then Broncos QB Jay Cutler dropped back to pass and completely lost the ball, which was picked up by Chargers linebacker Tim Dobbins. With Cutler’s back to Hochuli at the time, Guns blew his whistle deeming the play an incomplete pass. Replay would show that it was a fumble, but the damage was done. The play had been blown dead. To make matters worse, the team that recovered the “fumble” didn’t even get possession of the ball because the whistle was blown! Apologies from Hochuli aside, that’s a veteran referee and former NFLRA President blowing that call… what would happen if one of the replacements is in a similarly hairy situation? Coaches can coach and players can play, but the league should be aware that the officials are more than an ancillary part of the game, and do what they can to resolve the current impasse between the NFL & the NFLRA.
Follow the conversation & contact Joseph Haas via Twitter @JerseyHaas
*** Original publishing date 7.4.2012; the NFL season would start with replacement referees on the field. ***