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All NFL referees, veterans or replacements, have one thing in common

On Sports
Rochester Business Journal
August 31, 2012

With the annual greatest moment in the history of sports about to start, anxiety and excitement are gushing from everywhere. What's that? Oh, it's the beginning of the National Football League's regular season, which is why millions of people are sitting on pins and needles, even having trouble sleeping at night. They're nervous wrecks about how their beloved teams will do this fall.

Many questions are left to be answered regarding teams' draft choices, trades, players recovering from injuries and so on. As this is written, though, there is a huge dark cloud hanging over the entire league: the NFL locking out referees and using replacement refs to officiate games.

From what I can see, anybody who even knows what the letters NFL stand for is having a fit, believing with certainty that very few, if any, of the guys now out there in stripes know what they're doing.

Green Bay defensive back Charles Woodson-no, we're not related-told NBC that "there's going to be a lot of bad officiating going on until they catch up to the speed of the game."

Well, guess what, Charlie: NFL officials have been missing or blowing calls since footballs were inflated and not stuffed. It doesn't matter whether Moe, Larry, Curly or a 20-year veteran is making the calls; they all make mistakes. Yeah, sometimes instant replay corrects a blown call, but not always.

It happens in every game every season in every sport-well, except for one, which I'll get to in a minute. Pro football is played in fast-forward, and there have been too many referees who couldn't keep up with a 320-pound tackle, let alone a speedy wide receiver.

With 22 players on the field and all of them on the move, there's no doubt that football is the most difficult game to call, except maybe for a false start by an offensive lineman. Offensive linemen don't have to keep their hands on their chests as they once did and there's a lot of bumping when a defensive back is covering a wide receiver running a pass route.

Concentration is a must, and there's no doubt in my mind that the NFL has had refs whose minds wander and who couldn't remember where they parked their car when the left the stadium after a game.

Take Jerry Markbreit, who discussed the replacement refs with the Chicago Tribune and said he could see "how inept they are." Given that Markbreit was a football referee for 36 seasons, 23 in the NFL, I wonder if he blew any calls. Correction: I wonder how many calls he blew.

This takes me back to the 1999 season when the Buffalo Bills lost a playoff game to the Tennessee Titans, 22-16. Remember the so-called "Music City Miracle"?

When the Bills took the lead and kicked off, Titan Frank Wycheck threw the ball-it was ruled a lateral-across the field to Kevin Dyson, who ran down the sidelines untouched to give the Titans the win on the last play of the game. The officials ruled that the only thing that counted was where the ball was in relation to Dyson, not where Wycheck's body was.

Of course, nobody in the NFL has expressed concern about the replacements making poor calls or no calls. Commissioner Roger Goodell told the media, "We think they'll do a very credible job" in the regular season. Maybe by next week, before the regular season starts, the NFL and the Referees Association will have come to a contract agreement regarding-what else?-money.

Every team sport on the planet has to deal with human error, and most of the players in those games will fake something to get a ruling against an opponent or bend a rule if it gives them an advantage and they think they can get away with it.

The one exception is ... professional golf. Players on the PGA Tour don't need an official keeping an eye on them for 41/2 hours because if they break a rule, they call it on themselves. They're not trying to get away with anything.

As I've said before, has anyone ever seen an NBA player tell the referee, "Sir, I fouled him, which is probably why he missed the shot, so he should be sent to the free throw line"? Ever seen a defensive back tell the referee he was guilty of pass interference? The answers are no, no and you never will.

Veterans will blow calls and new guys will blow calls. At least you'll have somebody else to blame if your team stinks.

Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.

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