NFL Officiating: Perfectly Imperfect

Charles HoweCorrespondent IAugust 6, 2010

CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 08: Referee Ed Hochuli #85 confers with umpire Chad Brown #31 during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals at Soldier Field on November 8, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cardinals defeated the Bears 41-21.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As a Steelers fan, I catch a lot of flak from Seahawks and Cardinals fans, as well as Steelers haters.

In Super Bowl XL, did Darrell Jackson push off in the end zone? I believe he did; his arm extended knocking Chris Hope slightly backward.

Did Sean Locklear hold James Harrison? It looked like Locklear had his left arm across Harrison’s body. I’ve seen that called holding hundreds of times.

Was the low block called against Hasselbeck when he was trying to tackle Ike Taylor a bad call? I believe it was.

I also like to point out that Roethlisberger was blocked in the back during the interception return that led to Seattle’s only touchdown of the game. No flag was thrown on that play.

In Super Bowl XLIII, did Woodley commit a block in the back on Harrison’s 100 yard interception return for a touchdown? It’s a close call either way. Woodley’s right hand is definitely on the shoulder of Hightower. It’s possible that his left hand was on Hightower’s back, but it is impossible to tell. However, if you call that a block in the back, you have to call Sean Morey’s block in the back during Steve Breaston’s long punt return. Both of Morey’s hands were squarely on Gary Russell’s back: no flag.

Should Holmes have been called for a 15 yard penalty for his celebration after the game winning touchdown? Yes. The only thing I can say about that is that he waited so long to use the ball as a prop that the officiating crew was already setting up for the extra point. They should have seen it, but they didn’t.

Did Kurt Warner fumble? Yes. Woodley began stripping the ball before Warner’s arm started moving forward. By definition, that is a fumble. I thought the play was close enough to merit an in-depth review in the replay booth. But you have to remember that inside of two minutes, there are officials upstairs that review each play and buzz the crew on the field if they believe it deserves a second look. Being that the play resulted in a change of possession; the Steelers could not take a quick snap to try to beat out a possible review. There was plenty of time to look at the play upstairs and it was obviously decided that the call didn’t need to be taken to the booth.

I find it odd that the people expect the Super Bowl to be officiated any differently than any other game. The officials are people and as such are subject to human error. They have to make split second calls in real time. They don’t have the benefit of telephoto zoom or super slow-mo replay except in the case of a challenge. Errors are going to be made. To illustrate my point, I have been thinking about bad calls from playoff years past. Following is a short list of controversial calls that I can think of off the top of my head.

1976 Playoffs: Trailing the Patriots, Ken Stabler threw a deep pass that fell incomplete on fourth down. Unfortunately for the Patriots, there was a flag on a phantom roughing the passer call. Stabler took advantage of the second chance and eventually scored the winning touchdown.

1995 AFC Championship: Kordell Stewart stepped out of the back of the endzone and came back in to catch a touchdown against the Colts. There was no flag. The Steelers won the game.

Thanksgiving 1998: The Lions and Steelers went into overtime. Jerome Bettis called tails on the toss.  The coin came up tails. The official said Bettis called, “heads, tails.” and awarded the ball to Detroit. The Lions won the game.

1999 Playoffs: Behind with less than a minute remaining in the game, Jerry Rice caught a pass, but Scott McGarrahan stripped the ball and Bernardo Harris fell on it. The officials ruled that there was no fumble.  Four plays later, Steve Young threw the game winning touchdown

1999 NFC Championship: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers season came to a screeching halt when Bert Emanuel's first-down catch late in the game was ruled to have hit the ground. Replays showed the ball was clearly in Emanuel's grasp when it hit the ground.

Super Bowl XXXV: Jesse Armstead took a Trent Dilfer interception for a touchdown that was called back for defensive holding. The NFL later admitted the call was wrong and apologized.

2001 Divisional Playoffs: Oakland at New England… Tuck Rule, enough said.

2001 AFC Championship: After the Patriots chose to have the Steelers re-punt the ball after an illegal procedure penalty; the ball was placed on the wrong hash mark. On the ensuing punt, Josh Miller was incapable of punting the ball inside of the 30 as he had on the penalized kick. The punt only makes it to mid-field and Troy Brown took it to the house. The Steelers lost the game by seven points.

2005 Divisional Playoffs: Troy Polamalu intercepted Peyton Manning. Tony Dungy challenged the play because the interception would have effectively ended the chances of a Colts’ comeback. The play was wrongfully overturned. The Colts scored a touchdown on that drive and nearly came back to win the game. The Steelers managed to hang on to the victory. Later, the NFL admitted that Polamalu’s interception should have stood.

Super Bowl XLII: Amani Toomer pushed off on a long completion during the Giants game winning drive

Bad calls are a part of every sport. They have been since the beginning of organized competition. As long as humans are making the calls, they will remain a part of sports. Even if officials were replaced by precision robotic officials, there would be cries of “faulty equipment”. Some bad calls and missed calls are more heinous than others; however, it’s a part of the game. Sometimes your team catches a good break, sometimes it gets shafted. But championship teams find a way to overcome bad calls. People might tell you that your team got lucky; but, did you ever notice that good teams get lucky often?