Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Coach's Corner

By Andy "Coach" Cotton

DECEMBER 14, 1998:  A football game, between two teams I don't especially care about, just ended. Unless you have a satellite, you didn't see it. No glamour match-up on channel 344. It was an important game for the teams playing, but in the 8-8 NFL, almost every game has "playoff implications." So, no big story there. I'm watching for an elemental reason: I don't like The Big Tuna, aka Bill Parcells. Like the Cowboys, any team the Jets play is my team for the day. So it is that I'm rooting for the underdog Seahawks. As is customary in the National Fool's League, a desperate, last-minute drive by the Jets is aided by two ludicrous and disastrous calls. One is, naturally, a bogus, buthuge, pass interference call, giving the Jets a big gain, a first down, and new life. The next, far worse, gives the Jets the game. On fourth and goal from the four, with seconds remaining, the Jets trick the Seahawks with an improbable sneak by the lumbering Vinnie Testaverde.

Nice call, but a failure. Testaverde's knee is down outside the one. Neither the ball, nor any part of his body, comes close to the goal line. Every replay, from every angle, shows that this isn't close. This isn't a tough call to make. No "judgment call" excuses. As the play ends, mass confusion erupts. One moron signals touchdown, another waves it off. An all-too-familiar Grandfalloon (thanks, Kurt Vonnegut, for the perfect word) of zebras gather in a stripy little circle. A discussion ensues: "What did you see, Oscar?" says official number 1. "Well, uh, I don't think he made it, Henry," says Oscar. "What the fuck, let's give it to 'em anyway." Or something like that. Whatever they talked about, they got it wrong. The Jets win a game they lost. Seattle's season is over. The officials go home to Harriet and Martha. They'll do this again, you can count on it, next week. I can't stand it anymore.

Let's dispense with the most common and facile argument in defense of today's football officials. Giants general manager George Young made it on the Fox pre-game show. Those poor, overworked citizen officials make 2,500 calls a week, and they get 95% of them right.

Sportsfans, ponder that Newtonian concept for a second. The Cowboys have the ball, first and 10. Smith runs into the line for a two-yard gain. There's call number one of the day. Second and eight, Aikman drops back and attempts a screen pass to Moose Johnson. It falls incomplete. That's call number two. On third and eight, a Cowboy lineman stumbles forward two seconds before the snap. Motion. That's call number three. Now, third and 13, Aikman throws a three-yard out to Smith. That's call number four.

My two aging, portly boxers, Roxy and Floyd, and any of your grandmas could make 2,375 of these calls. It's the tough ones they miss, and they do this quite frequently. If someone charted just the difficult calls, the ones where games are won and lost, we'd find an astonishing degree of incompetence.

How can pro football, a multi-billion dollar sports/entertainment/ news titan, allow Wal-Mart refereeing to ruin its carefully cultivated product? Though I've been against it since version number 1 disappeared long ago, I say bring back the instant replay!!! Forgive those tacky triple exclamation points, but I'm still seething.

So, there it is. I'm familiar with all the arguments against the replay, since I've spouted them all myself. It slows down the game. We can live with a few bad calls. They'll even out. These are all silly, backward arguments of conservative old coots like me, who don't like change. The old adage says there's nobody more righteous than a reformed whore. Well, that's me.

As for pacing, the NFL, in case you've gone blind and deaf, now operates at the speed of trying to boil macaroni with a match. Three plays -- two commercials. A punt -- two commercials. Two plays -- an injury time-out; four more commercials. (The wholesale prostitution of the game drives me bat shit. But that's another story.) A few bad calls? Yeah, I can live with a few, but what we see now, in both college and pro football, transcends a few by a few thousand. Human element? Hell, they can let raccoons referee the games. Just let them be competent raccoons.

If the NFL really wants a replay system to work, then it can. Then the league needs to do a better jobof identifying quality officials, training them, and canning the bad ones, in mid-season if necessary. Old folks, over the age of 55, have no business trying to keep up with a professional football game. Experience is fine, up to a point. I don't want to see Ronald Reagan trying to run down the field with Joey Galloway. If Ron wants to give advice to the younger officials, that's peachy with me. Just keep the dottering old fool off the field.

Modern sports, for good or ill, is a big deal, to the people who play it and to those millions of us who watch it. Point-shaving scandals, betting rings, and I hope, the innocent bumbling of unfit officials, strike at the heart of our games. If the players, or the fans, can't count on honest games controlled by capable officials, then the games lose all integrity.

Sportsfans, we're at that point.


Write Coach at Coach36@aol.com


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