A brief non-Rams Rant: Sympathy for the Lions

Sorry for the break in programming, gents, but there’s something I have to get off my chest that’s been bugging me since Sunday afternoon. I was on the sofa, enjoying the delicious irony of watching the Mike Martz and Scott Linehan offenses go head-to-head, just two years after they took turns driving the Rams off a cliff and walking away from the wreckage. (I was also cringing as Jay Cutler damned his own offensive line and all of my naysaying predictions to put up quality fantasy numbers… but I’m not afraid to eat crow.)

But then, just another game turned into A GAME, as the Lions’ offense, stagnant under replacement-level replacement QB Shaun Hill until the final minute, suddenly mounted an improbable game-saving upset-making drive. And then, that GAME was transformed into 59 minutes of almost meaningless back story, the stuff you fast-forward through to see THE PLAY. This play. This touchdown.

The best thing in football is the Big Upset.

The most joyous is the last-minute miraculous upset, a triumph of a moment built on three hours of drama. We had that last Sunday afternoon when Calvin Johnson skied for a ball and came down with it in the end zone, and the ref signaled TOUCHDOWN. At least, we thought we did.

I imagine everyone has seen the replay by now. Johnson, who didn’t catch a single pass when featherweight golden boy Matt Stafford was in the game, caught a throw from Hill (that was miraculous in its own right). Two feet inbounds. Ball secure in his giant mitt as he falls. Ref’s hands in the air. Johnson goes down to the turf, still clutching the ball, which no longer has any value since it’s already a touchdown. Getting up, he leaves the ball on the turf … the classic “non-celebration” akin to handing the ball to the ref after crossing the goal line.

But then, the worst thing in football happened. The worst thing in all of sports. The referees inserted themselves into the game itself, and defended where the Bears couldn’t. They exercised a judgement call, and overturned the corner referee.

That the play was subsequently reviewed and upheld (and defended live, on-air, by director of officials Mike Peireira) only made it worse. The beauty of the game was already dead, and the referees stood there deliberating how many more magazines’ worth of bullets to pour into it.

There is no argument that the refs made the “right” call.

The right call would have been to say nothing. To not huddle. To let the ref whose eyes were on the play make the call. Maybe they take some heat in the referee’s private room afterwards, but that’s the worst that could have possibly happened.

Go back to the first video and listen to the playcall of Chris Meyers. He has been broadcasting football for over twenty years. He’s watched more film of more football than most of us fans. And he had no doubt, no hesitation at all. He called it a touchdown with no equivocation, no question of “did he have it” appeared until the head umpire called for the zebra huddle. After all, a catch is a catch, right? It was a touchdown back in Super Bowl XII… (Hat tip to @dpshow for the flashback.)

Like Jim Joyce can tell you, once the officials take something away from the game, no one can put it back.

Joyce, who took a perfect game out of the Detroit Tigers’ record books, will always be weighted down by regret. I don’t know if Peireira feels the weight the same way — after all, it’s just one lousy win for a lousy team over another slightly less lousy team — but upon reflection, he does admit that it doesn’t smell right.

As a Rams fan, my heart is with those fans in Detroit who got jobbed. Of course, they have it much worse than a single game in the standings, having lost Stafford to a second major shoulder injury in two seasons, and have to suffer not only through six games of Shaun Hill, but the questions over whether their $42 million dollar man, their Sam Bradford, can be the guy they can pin their hopes on. They have to suffer with doubt until Stafford can get back on the field and re-earn their faith, and the only thing they would have had to cling to was this miraculous touchdown, this upset over the hated Chicago Bears. And that was taken away.

This game is officially in Humpty Dumpty territory now. Once broken, it will always be broken. We can only hope that the next time the referees come up to something so fragile, they don’t huddle up and talk themselves into pushing it off the wall.