The Zebras & the Playoffs
by Rick Rockwell
Should the National Football League (NFL) use referees, officials, or other arbiters of the rules this weekend in the conference championship games?
Sure, that appears to be a snarky and disrespectful question. So let's rephrase: Should how the officials (known to many of us snarky football critics as "zebras") call the game decide a championship? Should the officials decide who gets to play in the Super Bowl this year? The league must think this is alright. The sorry performance of its so-called officials last week certainly speaks to this. Poor or inconsistent officiating was obvious in both the Giants-Eagles contest last week and the Steelers-Chargers game.
Here's what the league needs to decide: Should officials call offensive linemen for holding? Should defensive backs be called for holding? Should players be called for interference?
Given how some of the divisional playoff games were called last week, the league might as well not have officials calling any penalties, because only the most obvious fouls merited flags. And if a casual viewer can spot these uncalled holding fouls on television, how obvious must they be on the field?
Sure, seemingly almost every year we complain about the officials, and not much is done. Many say, let the teams play, forget the penalties. (Which returns us to the opening rude question.) Perhaps that would be the best solution. Because the league shouldn't have one group of officials enforcing a different standard of the rules from other groups. But when it comes to interference and holding, some games (the Titans-Ravens match-up from last week) seem to have refs going by the book and in other games the refs seem to be wearing blinders.
And in the Eagles-Giants game, New York's Coach Tom Coughlin actually intimidated one group of officials into withdrawing a penalty, although replays showed an obvious infraction. How times have changed.
There's a classic NFL Films clip of Coach Hank Stram from Super Bowl IV, arguing an interference call with a ref on the sideline. Not only does the ref put Stram in his place, but he mentions that the coach should get off the field of play or he'll get called for a penalty too. And Stram was only a few inches over the sideline. Compare that to Coughlin last week, at least five yards out on to the playing field, if not more, castigating the officials who cowered and then picked up their flags meekly.
After that, what credibility did those officials have with anyone?
This is the same lack of credibility the league has on this issue. The league says there is no difference in how officiating crews call games in the playoffs. Many observers who have been watching regular season games for 17 weeks though can see an obvious difference come the Second Season.
This column is not asking for more penalties (please see the opening question again). No, the request is: how about some uniformity in how the rules are applied? Or maybe, some honesty about the shift in how the rules will be applied in the playoffs. That's the least we can ask from the folks who are supposed to bring a sense of justice and fair play to the games.
Conference Championships Office Pool Predictions
Ravens at Steelers (Steelers)
Eagles at Cardinals (Eagles)
Last Week: .500
2008 Playoffs .375
2008 Season: .612
For those who asked, wild card playoff teams are determined by picking two teams in each conference which have the highest winning percentage but did not win their specific divisions. The Baltimore Ravens in the American Football Conference (AFC) and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC are the two wild card teams that have survived the first two weeks of the playoffs.
Playoff TV Schedule:
For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:
New York Giants
National Football League
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The Zebras & the Playoffs