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NFL’s Fail Mary Call Is Deliciously Dramatic, Yet Deadly Detrimental

Richie Whitt's 'Sportatorium' | CBSDFW.COM
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I was 6 years old when I learned a tough-but-true life lesson:

Referees suck.

In Super Bowl V back in 1971 my Dallas Cowboys led the Baltimore Colts, 13-6, early in the 4th quarter and were driving for the clinching touchdown. On a run to the Colts’ 2-yard line, running back Duane Thomas rolled over and left the ball on the ground after the refs’ whistle. After a sudden scrum, Dallas center Dave Manders emerged and calmly flipped the ball to an official, who – inexplicably – pointed in Baltimore’s direction, awarding the Colts possession of the “fumble.”

These were the days before instant replay. But it was exactly the day that I realized life wasn’t fair.

Final score: Colts 16, Cowboys 13.

Still today, the horrible call haunts Cowboys fans. And players.

“It wasn’t a fumble,” then-Cowboys’ tight end Mike Ditka said recently. “I was on the ground, right beside the guy who picked up the ball. And the guy who picked up the ball was our center. If we score there we win and history treats us all a little better. It still makes me sick to my stomach.”

This is not an attempt to defend the replacement referees in last night’s controversial Fail Mary in Seattle. The Green Bay Packers were absolutely robbed of a victory when officials somehow awarded a simultaneous catch and a game-ending touchdown to the Seattle Seahawks’ Golden Tate.

I’m just saying – just reminding – that there have been worse calls on bigger stages in the NFL.

Ironically, one of those calls – a phantom offensive pass interference on Seahawks’ receiver Darrell Jackson – helped the Pittsburgh Steelers beat Seattle in Super Bowl XL.

None of this excuses the detrimental drama in Seattle. The first final-play, game-winning touchdown in the 43-year history of Monday Night Football has set off a firestorm of criticism of the NFL, commissioner Roger Goodell and the regular officials. As it should.

I can take Kevin Ogletree stepping on a ref’s cap in the end zone, an extra timeout improperly given or a bad judgment or three. I’m not a big “protect the shield” guy, but what happened last night was worse because it impacted the standings. Green Bay is 1-2. Should be 2-1. That is, in fact, a disaster. The Packers led 12-7 when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson launched a desperation pass from the 40 into the end zone.

Even before the chaos, Tate blatantly shoved Packers’ cornerback Sam Shields in the back, and into the ground. I know refs let a lot of things go on Hail Mary’s, but that’s as obvious an illegal move as I remember.

And, Tate – cheating, lying punk that he is – said afterward of the shove: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That was, of course, only seconds after he talked of “honoring God” by never giving up and playing to the final whistle. What a disgusting fraud of a chicken.

Packers’ cornerback M.D. Jennings rose above the mass of bodies and came down with the interception, clearly clutching it to his chest with both arms. Tate, struggled to get 1 arm over Jennings’ arms. But somehow that was enough to convince one referee to signal touchdown while another signaled for a stop of the clock, which had already expired.

There was no discussion amongst referees, yet after a long booth review of – what I’m not sure? – the touchdown was approved by officials who are not replacements but rather full-time NFL employees.

The result left the Packers 1-2 and Tweeting mad. It made a mockery of the refs, whose opposing hand signals looked more like they were performing a very out-of-sync version of Y-M-C-A. It also gave us a first: a quarterback throwing a game-winning interception. It turned millions of Packers’ bettors into sore, broke losers. And it made even Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones turn a blind eye to the pitiful proceedings.

“Didn’t see it,” he claimed this morning on his weekly radio show on 105.3 The Fan. “I cut it off just about halftime.”

Yeah, right.

Just like NFL fans will boycott games.

And just like – even when the suddenly beloved real refs return – there’ll never be another blown call.

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