NFL football is not something we can take seriously right now. I was really all set to write up a recap of the Steelers-Raiders debacle on Sunday, but Monday Night Football was on and I got caught up watching it.
You all know what happened. The game was legitimately blown by a series of terrible officiating mistakes. It was close, it was exciting, and the Packers managed to hold off a furious Seattle comeback as time expired on a Hail Mary play. Except it wasn't called that way. A thousand factors went into this play, all of which have been discussed ad nauseam. That play is not the point of this post.
The point of this post in the mental asterisk millions of us have attached to this season already because of the Referee Lockout. Right now the Arizona Cardinals are 3-0. What if they go 13-3 and have a dominant playoff run? What if they do all that before the real officials come back? Maybe the Cardinals really are a great team, and maybe they have what it takes to win a championship. But let's say they come away with the Lombardi Trophy this year. Won't you say, six years later, "Yeah, the Cardinals won that one Superbowl, but it was the season with the replacement refs, remember?"
That's what the mental asterisk is. For all the horrid officiating we've seen so far this year, aren't you just starting to expect it? I'm more or less suspending my emotional involvement because right now this doesn't matter. It's hard to say who's actually the best football team (it is actually the Falcons) and who is the worst football team (it is not the Saints) because the structure and integrity of the game is in question. The Steelers are 1-2, which sucks. Would they be 2-1 if games had been called correctly? Maybe. It's impossible to know.
I'm not in on labor negotiations and I don't pretend to understand economics. But I know that the NFL has a great deal of money, and the NFLRA wants some of that money. If they don't get that money, football will continue to be a sideshow instead of a legitimate sport. The replacement referees are not bad people. Really, they aren't. But it's evident that experience is needed to call an NFL game.
Which brings us to Roger Goodell. You know how we feel about the Fuhrer; this is a Steelers blog after all. But let's think about what Goodell has done for the NFL for a moment. Let's sing his praises before we talk about what a horrible human being he is. For starters, he hammered the New England Patriots after Spygate, and by "hammered" we of course mean they lost a draft pick. He effectively destroyed the New Orleans Saints for Bountygate, and you can put on your tinfoil hats and head over the The Saints Nation to hear all about why that wasn't okay. Plus he suspended Pacman Jones a bunch of times for killing strippers or doing whatever Pacman Jones does.
Other than some disciplinary issues, Roger Goodell has also presided over two lockouts. One for the players, and one for the referees. Two lockouts in six years puts him on roughly double of the pace of the much-maligned NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman. The player lockout in 2011 wasn't the same black eye the NHL will be getting from their current situation, but the referee lockout may be even worse. Goodell's self-proclaimed mission is to "protect the shield," to maintain the game's integrity and make it safer for players. And how has he done that? By bringing in cheap scab referees who miss calls, change the outcome of games, and stand there and watch while Darius Heyward-Bey lies unconscious in the end zone.
Pete Rozelle put the game on television, created a revenue-sharing model, merged the AFL and NFL, created the Super Bowl, and is basically the man responsible for the NFL as we have come to love it.
You can't create the league twice, but Paul Tagliabue presided over his own refinements to the game. He expanded the league with immediately-competetive teams in Carolina and Jacksonville. He resurrected the Browns in Cleveland (take off your black and gold glasses for a second; that move was absolutely necessary for football), saw the salary cap introduced to the NFL, and he oversaw the Saints remaining in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Roger Goodell suspended players for off-the-field incidents, locked out the players once, watched Dave Duerson and Junior Seau kill themselves out of post-career dementia, and locked out the NFL referees. The integrity of the game? There is none when the men in stripes can't call anything correctly. Player safety? Go ahead and tell Darius Heyward-Bey the NFL is looking out for him.
Goodell says he cares about the game. He cares about the players, and he's proud of the standard the NFL sets in the sports world.
Unless he can save a few pennies by throwing all of that out the window though.
Roger Goodell is officially a problem.