For the first three weeks of the NFL regular season, the replacement refs — who worked the games while the NFL and its regular refs hashed out a new labor agreement — were a nuisance. They often looked confused, made mysterious calls, and dragged out the games, their puzzling performances providing some early season comic relief.
But after the replacements missed an obvious offensive pass interference call on a Hail Mary pass at the end of the Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks Monday Night game on September 24, and ruled that Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate caught the disputed pass for a winning touchdown even though Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings seemed to clutch, and intercept, the ball first, all hell broke loose. Twitter exploded: “This is NOT the league we’re supposed to represent,” wrote New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. President Obama weighed in: “NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs’ lockout is settled soon. -bo,” he tweeted. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came under a torrent of criticism for locking out the regular refs: two days later, they were back on the field.
The replacement refs fiasco was just the latest issue to detract from the NFL’s on-field product, which continues to shine. Another dramatic, fiercely competitive Super Bowl, a 21-17 win for the New York Giants over the favored New England Patriots, ended up being overshadowed by controversies like the replacement refs, the New Orleans Saints Bountygate scandal, and evidence that football can cause long-term brain damage. Fortunately, the replacement refs are something the league no longer has to deal with.
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