As he always does during Super Bowl week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell switched to interactive mode Thursday to deliver his State of the Union address in Atlanta.
These are always interesting events. After he speaks, the commissioner opens the floor for questions and it usually doesn’t take long for the process to devolve into a parry as the media pokes at signs of disunion and Goodell defends the empire.
As you might expect, the major topic of debate this time regarded the blown pass interference calls by the officiating crew near the end of the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans.
We say “blown” as opposed to “missed” calls because even the NFL has admitted the egregiousness that essentially ended the Saints last hope for what might have been a game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation. Remember, the league fined Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman nearly $27,000 for his actions.
The incompetence of the officiating crew eventually propelled the Rams to the Super Bowl and sent Saints coach Sean Payton spiraling into a Netflix and ice cream pit that took him days to escape.
Since Super Bowl week began, details have increasingly emerged about the human toll the bad call exacted. Saints fans were crushed. The organization felt assaulted. The league was embarrassed.
But Robey-Coleman, whose crushing hit on Saints receiving Tommylee Lewis caused the commotion, has been paying a more personal price.
He said he has been receiving death threats on social media from the cadre of miscreants who invariably pounce on incendiary situations to spew their special brand of hatred.
“There was a little bit of everything,” said Robey-Coleman. “I mean, it wasn’t anything that I really paid attention to. I think it was just a fake page that was online by somebody that was probably bitter and didn’t like the call and they said something on Facebook or Instagram or something. . . . I ignored them and moved on.”
Robey-Coleman has been told people are prepared to “f—k him up at the [Atlanta airport].” Another said he should leave town because “he might not see tomorrow.” One promised Robey-Coleman’s house would be burned down.
“Being in L.A., I’m pretty safe,” he said. “I know my whereabouts and I feel like if I’m in a situation where I feel threatened or feel endangered, I’ll tell the organization.”
At one point, offered a ringing retort to those threatening him:
“Wolves do not concern themselves with the opinion of sheep,” he said.
Of course, it was Goodell in the sheep’s clothing and the pack was extremely interested in his opinion about what happened, why it happened and whether it would ever be allowed to happen again.
“We will look again at instant replay,” said Goodell. “There have been a variety of proposals over the last, frankly, 15, 20 years on whether replay should be expanded. It [as of the moment] does not cover judgment calls; this was a judgment call. The other complication is that it was a no-call.
“And our coaches and clubs have been very resistant, and there has not been support to date, about having a replay official or somebody in New York throw a flag when there is no flag. They have not voted for that in the past.”
It is very typical of the human race to wait for something bad to happen before proposing a fix. For the NFL, this was a bridge collapse, an infectious disease breakout. This was an avoidable event brought to bear by ineffectual advance planning.
Once it became clear – and it was immediate – that officials had overlooked both pass interference and helmet-to-helmet infractions, there no recourse via replay or on-field consultation to overrule the call.
“Whenever officiating is part of any kind of discussion postgame, it’s never a good outcome for us,” said Goodell. “But we also know our officials are human, and that they’re officiating a game that moves very quickly, and that they have to make snap decisions under difficult circumstances and they’re not going to get it right every time.
“We have worked very hard to bring technology in to try to make sure we can do whatever’s possible to address those issues. But technology’s not going to solve all those issues. The game is not officiated by robots. It’s not going to be. But we have to continue to go down that path.”
As we’ve mentioned, this was not an inconsequential error, one that happened in the middle of the game and had no significant impact on the result. This human error changed the game’s history, yanking one team out of the league championship game, dropping another in it.
ESPN reported earlier this week the league is considering allowing coaches to challenge a limited number of judgment calls, mandating a loss of a timeout or playing time if they are ruled incorrect. Goodell would not confirm this.
“My role is to make sure the competition committee understands that this is critical for us to analyze, to evaluate and to try to see if there’s a better solution than what we have today,” said Goodell, who confirmed he’s spoken to Payton, Saints ownership and the league’s director of officiating, Al Riveron.
“We understand the frustration of the fans, and we certainly want to address that,” said Goodell. “It’s a play that should be called, and we’re going to do everything we can going forward to improve.”
It is clear the NFL’s competition committee, on which Payton sits, will look hard at ways to prevent something like this from ever happening again. It is also clear it may decide to do nothing, resist stripping the game of another human element by overreacting with more technology to one unfortunate incident.
If might be the Saints will just have to suck it up and move on, hope one bad call doesn’t lead to another organization nightmare.