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NFL PLAYOFFS | J.A Adande

Upon Further Review, Refs Not Culprits

January 07, 2003|J.A Adande

The replays can indicate the officials were wrong, the NFL can acknowledge that the refs blew it and it still won't change one basic fact: The New York Giants lost to the San Francisco 49ers.

Not just in the final result, which isn't subject to protest. They lost in their actions because they couldn't hold a 24-point lead and they couldn't snap the ball to their holder.

I refuse to blame their demise -- or take away from Ohio State's stirring Fiesta Bowl victory against Miami, for that matter -- because of mistakes made by the officiating crew.

These high-profile plays can and should lead to a reevaluation of the NFL's review system and the introduction of instant replay to college football.

But they'll never make the games mistake-proof. Nor will they change the way 99% of games have been decided: by the players on the field.

We can utilize every technology at our disposal, from infrared motion detectors to Matrix-style rotating camera shots, but eventually human judgment is going to enter the equation. It could be in the wording of the rule book (i.e., the tuck rule) or the placement of cameras.

We're coming off one of the best football weekends ever, with the Pittsburgh-Cleveland game giving us a hat trick of ESPN Classic-worthy games, and everyone's talking about the officiating.

The refs went from a footnote to a headline Monday when the NFL issued a news release that said the Giants should have been allowed one more play at the end of their 39-38 playoff loss at San Francisco Stadium on Sunday.

The Giants set up for a 41-yard field goal with six seconds remaining. After a bad snap, holder Matt Allen rolled to his right and threw a pass. Rich Seubert was open near the goal line but was dragged down by 49er defensive end Chike Okeafor.

Even though Seubert is a guard who wears a lineman's number, 69, he was an eligible receiver on that play because he'd notified the officials before the game that he would man the outside position on field goals. Another offensive lineman, Tam Hopkins, No. 65, was also downfield. He was called for being an ineligible receiver.

But the officials made it seem as though the ineligible receiver penalty -- which to anyone watching the game appeared to be against Seubert -- nullified any pass interference.

In reality, the league said Monday, pass interference should have been called, resulting in offsetting penalties and a replay of the down.

At his news conference Monday in New York, Giant Coach Jim Fassel said, "I knew right at the time it was pass interference. There was so much commotion at the end that there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn't challenge it. I couldn't do anything. I tried to talk to them a couple times when they were fumbling with the clock and they wouldn't listen. They said that they should've done it.

"It is part of what you have to live with. Do you like it? Absolutely not. Because we are the ones that actually end up suffering. But that is the way it is. That's the way it is."

If I'm the Giants, though, I'm agonizing over the inability to stop the 49ers or pick up a few more first downs to run time off the clock. I'm fretting about the touchdown pass Jeremy Shockey dropped. I'm chastising Shaun Williams for his two meltdown personal fouls that nullified 15-yard penalties on San Francisco's Terrell Owens.

But the NFL needs to ask itself if the replay official didn't require a second look at the game-ending play. Fassel was helpless because only the officials can initiate a review during the final two minutes of a half. If the end of a game is so confusing that the referee has to explain it -- as was the case Sunday -- then maybe the officials should have to look at it as well. The NBA, in its first season with instant replay, got one policy correct right out of the box: any basket that comes at or near the end of the period is reviewed.

But even if the officials had reviewed the Giants' play, they wouldn't have been allowed to retroactively make the pass interference call. The list of reviewable plays includes sideline and end zone calls, passing plays and other "detectable infractions," such as a runner ruled down by defensive contact or the number of players on the field.

There's no provision for judgment calls, such as pass interference, but there should be. If an official can make the judgment call at full speed, why not let him try in slow motion?

A college replay system with that provision might have made champions out of the Miami Hurricanes.

When Ohio State's fourth-down pass in overtime to Chris Gamble bounced off Miami defensive back Glenn Sharpe's helmet and Sharpe wrapped up Gamble in the end zone, it appeared the Hurricanes had preserved their seven-point lead.

The official standing right by the play initially signaled incomplete. Then signaled holding, and finally pass interference was called by another official.

I think the official saw Sharpe hugging Gamble, saw the red lights on the television cameras, then felt almost 78,000 pairs of eyes in the stadium staring at him ... and decided he had to call something.

Later, field judge Terry Porter said, "I replayed it in my mind. I wanted to make double sure it was the right call."

If he can replay it in his own mind, from one angle, why not replay it on a multi-head VCR with various angles?

So he blew it, but not as badly as the Hurricanes. Earlier in the drive, they let Ohio State pick up a first down on fourth and 14.

If you want to win championships, come up with a stop on fourth and extra-long, or get a good long snapper.

Those strategies will never change ... no matter how much the technology improves.

*

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com.

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