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THE NFL / T.J. SIMERS

Compiling Officials' Mistakes Is a Full-Time Job

November 09, 1996|T.J. SIMERS

Made three bad calls this week, and although that would be a good week for an NFL referee, you would think an NFL executive and rules-minded fella like Jerry Seeman would respond to telephone messages.

"What do you want to talk to [the NFL's director of officiating] about?" asked his secretary on the first call.

World peace.

"He's in a meeting," his secretary said after the second call. Apparently, even off the field the officials have to confer to determine how they are going to handle every situation.

"He has your message," his secretary said after the third call, and it became apparent Seeman would rather be charged with unsportsmanlike conduct than respond to questions about his crews' troublesome performances this season.

Talk about throwing a flag: If you were having the kind of year many of Seeman's officials are having, you would no longer be working. Pro football has been victimized by incompetence this year, and whereas the sport has always had its ups and downs with officials, this year's results have been shameful.

Monday night football alone has produced a lowlight film:

--Green Bay's Don Beebe caught a pass on the bounce, then was allowed to get up and run for a touchdown after having been downed by San Francisco's Marquez Pope.

--San Diego's Tony Martin never made it to the goal line but an official, standing right there, signaled a touchdown.

--In last Monday night's debacle in Oakland, the game began with a Raider defender tackling tight end Shannon Sharpe before he caught the ball. Again, an official was standing right there, but he allowed another Raider defender to intercept the pass without indicating a penalty.

Throw in last Sunday night's call in New Orleans--the referee ruled San Francisco quarterback Steve Young in the grasp of a defender, thereby negating a fumble--and the list of botched calls goes on and on.

And the criticism, largely muffled by the threat of fines, is becoming audible.

Lindy Infante, Indianapolis coach: "I don't know what they have against us. If we've done anything to upset anybody who's wearing a striped shirt, we apologize."

Ray Rhodes, Philadelphia coach: "I just think that when you go down there and play, you have to play not only the Dallas Cowboys, but . . . also the officials. . . . They do get all the calls. All the calls."

Bobby Ross, San Diego coach: "I just don't see the level of consistency" in the officials.

Jimmy Johnson, Miami coach: "Obviously, I'm not happy with calls. At times, we've sent [complaints] to the league. I get tired of them calling me and saying they made a bad call, so I don't even send them in."

Raider quarterback Jeff Hostetler: "The officiating stunk."

Jim Tunney, a former Los Angeles-area school superintendent and longtime NFL official who is now giving motivational speeches around the country, had Vince Lombardi and George Halas yelling at him but acknowledged that things are not going well for today's officials.

"I'm not very happy with it," said Tunney, who works on an NFL committee charged with the task of reviewing officials and making recommendations.

"The communication among the crew should be better and moving more quickly. I watched the same conference you watched in Monday night's game and I don't know what they could have been talking about."

Tunney believes the NFL lacks the necessary experience, and in some cases, leadership required from its referees, who head each crew. In addition, he said, too many officials tried to "hang on" after growing old and out of shape, and now an influx of young officials has added to each crew's inexperience.

"Ask anyone on the street if a 66-year-old man should be officiating and the answer would be no," Tunney said.

"We had a whole bunch leave after the 1994 and 1995 seasons and brought in a number of new officials. In my judgment, it takes four to five years for a really good Division I official to really see and understand the game.

"You take that call earlier this season with the Jets' Keyshawn Johnson catching the ball in the end zone [against Washington] and then the ball being taken away from him. The side judge made that call and he was a rookie. He just doesn't see those things where he's coming from and it just takes time. There's just a lot of inexperience in the league right now."

So why not full-time NFL officials?

"Rich Garcia made a call between Baltimore and New York where that kid caught the home run ball and he's a full-time official," Tunney said of baseball's American League championship series. "Remember the last game of the World Series and the argument at second base and the tag wasn't there? That was made by a full-time official. I just don't think full-time officiating is the answer. You have to work games to get better and there are no games, no scrimmages during the week."

Are there any better answers beyond more experience?

Tunney, who last refereed in 1991, said the game needs instant replay.

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