NFL Replacement Officials Have Made 49ers' Path More Difficult

Seattle win could loom large late in season; Raiders' Seymour says NFL's integrity is at stake

By Doug Williams
|  Tuesday, Sep 25, 2012  |  Updated 12:33 PM PDT
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Replacement Refs Rough on 49ers

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Wide receiver Golden Tate of the Seattle Seahawks makes a catch in the end zone to defeat the Green Bay Packers 14-12 on a controversial call by the officials.

Chances are, the 49ers are going to have a much more difficult time winning the NFC West this season for a number of reasons.

First, the Arizona Cardinals at 3-0 are off to a strong start.

Second, the Seattle Seahawks – predicted by many to be the most improved team in the division – have a much-improved offense with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and a solid defense.

And third, the NFL’s replacement officials Monday night gave those same Seahawks a gift victory over the Packers that could loom large as this season progresses.

The Seahawks and 49ers are now tied at 2-1 behind Arizona in the NFC West.

The decision by the officials in Monday night’s game was clearly the most blatantly bad call of a weekend of bad calls by replacement zebras, and the chorus of protests about the poor work of these fill-ins is getting louder and louder.

Even before the bad call Monday night that gave Seattle a 14-12 victory over the Packers – when receiver Golden Tate was ruled to have outwrestled a Green Bay defender for a Hail Mary pass after clearly pushing away another defensive back – critics had seen enough of the substitute officials.

“This is not a problem that’s going to get better anytime soon,” former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, now a CBS broadcaster, told the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s not like they’re suddenly going to figure it out. It’s inevitable that it’s going to cost somebody a game.”

That was certainly the case Monday night, when the Seahawks collected a win that – in a close NFC West race – could be decisive in December.

The horrible call Monday night could also spark the NFL owners to finally settle with the league’s regular officials.

In response to a question by Bloomberg News Service, Paul Haagen, a professor of sports and contract law at Duke University School of Law, said the Monday night madness could produce a deal this week to get the regular officials back.

“Is this the sort of thing that can break jams? Yeah, it is,” Haagen told Bloomberg. “Whatever the amounts at stake are, they’re less than the damage they’re doing to their brand. It’s quite possible this could be it.”

NFL players, fans and coaches certainly are hoping that’s the case.

Though the 49ers and Raiders have not yet lost a game because of a bad call, chances are it’s bound to happen sooner or later if the substitute officials are allowed to continue.

Monday night, 49ers players weighed in on Twitter to express outrage at the call that gave their NFC West rivals a victory they clearly didn’t deserve.

Wrote center Jonathan Goodwin: “This will be the biggest blunder in the history of sport! If that stands!” Added offensive tackle Joe Staley: “Seriously this is insane. #MNF”

Even aside from all the bad calls made by the replacement officials over the first three weeks of the season, there was the fact the NFL had to replace one member of an officiating crew scheduled to work a New Orleans Saints game because the man – as revealed by his Facebook page – is a diehard, jersey-wearing Saints fan.

Which makes the comments of Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour in August look prescient.

When Seymour was asked in August about the possibility of playing games with replacement officials this season, he said the honor of the game could be damaged.

“I think the integrity of the game is at stake,” Seymour told USA Today. “You never know who they know and who they’re connected to. And who are their favorite teams. To just say we’ve got some new guys coming in, who knows? They might admire Peyton Manning.”

Seymour said he wants to play games with “the best of the best” officials, not replacements.

“I’m not a fan of the replacements,” he said. “Our regular refs, they work so hard to prepare themselves all throughout the year. They put in a ton of work to compete at the highest level.”

Former NFL quarterback Warren Moon said the damage done by Monday night’s bad call – and all the other errors made over the weekend – are backfiring on the NFL’s lockout strategy against the regular officials.

“The NFL thought it could get away with replacement referees,” he told the New York Times. “And it’s backfiring on them.”

Meanwhile, the Raiders this Sunday will go into Denver to play against … Peyton Manning.

Seymour, no doubt, will be looking at every replacement official as a potential Manning fan.

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