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Raising a Yellow Flag

If Ever a Case Could Be Made for Instant Replay, the Exhibits Below Are Compelling Evidence

January 24, 1999|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What will be remembered most about this NFL season?

A short list would have to include the convincing comebacks of Cunningham, Chandler, Flutie and Testaverde, the dominance of Davis, the magnificence of Moss, the recuperation of Reeves, the flowering of the Falcons, the debut of "The Dirty Bird," the volume and velocity of the Vikings and the glorious (he hopes) exit of Elway.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 26, 1999 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 4 Sports Desk 1 inches; 12 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro football--Umpire Hendi Ancich was misidentified in a photo in Sunday's edition.

It may also be remembered (fans hope) as the season in which the owners finally threw up their hands in exasperation and decided they could no longer live without instant replay.

As much as anything, the season was defined by a series of blown calls by officials, or is the most memorable moment in a nationally televised Thanksgiving Day game supposed to be a botched coin toss?

A sampling of the questionable calls that helped define a season:

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1 Oct. 18: After overcoming a 31-17 deficit to pull even with the winless Indianapolis Colts, 31-31, the San Francisco 49ers were driving late in the game at San Francisco when a Steve Young pass was intercepted in the end zone by Tyrone Poole. But Poole was called for pass interference, and the resultant 27-yard penalty set up Wade Richey's 24-yard field goal with five seconds to play, giving the 49ers a 34-31 victory and keeping them tied with the Atlanta Falcons at 5-1 atop the NFC West.

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2 Nov. 15: Trailing the Dallas Cowboys, 35-28, at Tempe, Ariz., after overcoming a 28-0 deficit, the Arizona Cardinals faced fourth and goal at the Cowboy four with four seconds to play. Quarterback Jake Plummer, who passed for 465 yards, lofted a high fade pass into the end zone toward Rob Moore, but defender Kevin Smith crashed into the receiver and knocked the ball away as time expired. The Cardinals claimed pass interference--and two officials seemed to be in perfect position to make the call--but no flag was thrown. Plummer charged the officials as they left the field, later saying he had told them, "You've got to step up and make that call." The NFL agreed, later telling the Cardinals that a penalty should have been called. The Cowboys ended up winning the NFC East by one game over the Cardinals, who took advantage of their own fortuitous call in their season finale to make the playoffs and won at Dallas, 20-7, in a wild-card playoff game.

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3 Nov. 27: With the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions tied, 16-16, at the end of regulation at Detroit, referee Phil Luckett tossed a coin to determine which team would get the ball and the Steelers' Jerome Bettis called heads. Heads it was, but Luckett said he heard tails. The Lions took the kickoff and positioned themselves for Jason Hanson's 42-yard field goal and a 19-16 victory. The Steelers never recovered, losing their final five games and missing the playoffs. The following Monday, the NFL announced its first changes in the coin toss rules in 22 years. Among the changes: The visiting captain calls heads or tails before the referee tosses the coin, instead of when the coin is in the air.

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4 Nov. 29: Trailing the Buffalo Bills, 21-17, late in the game at Foxboro, Mass., the New England Patriots caught a break when receiver Shawn Jefferson was mistakenly ruled inbounds on a fourth-down sideline reception, giving the Patriots a first down at the Buffalo 26 with six seconds to play. On the next play, the Bills' Henry Jones was called for pass interference against Terry Glenn in the end zone with no time remaining, giving the Patriots one more play from the Buffalo one. Drew Bledsoe passed to Ben Coates for the winning touchdown. Then, with the Bills already in the locker room, kicker Adam Vinatieri ran in for two points against no opposition. Replays showed that Jefferson caught the pass out of bounds and that Jones did not interfere with Glenn. "We were robbed," Jones said of the Bills' 25-21 loss. Owner Ralph Wilson of the Bills, fined $50,000 for complaining about the officials, ripped into Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, saying Tagliabue had no business "lecturing" him. "The commissioner . . . contends that criticizing a call has 'destructive and corrosive effects on the game.' " Wilson said. "What's more destructive and corrosive--errant calls in front of millions of viewers, or my statements of opinion?"

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5 Dec. 6: Vinny Testaverde's five-yard quarterback sneak on fourth down was ruled a touchdown with 20 seconds to play, giving the New York Jets a 32-31 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at East Rutherford, N.J. Replays showed that Testaverde had been stopped short of the goal line, but head linesman Earnie Frantz ruled otherwise. Later, the NFL's director of officials, Jerry Seeman, told Seahawk Coach Dennis Erickson that Frantz had mistaken Testaverde's helmet, which was white, for the ball, which was brown. "God's playing

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