‘Fail Mary’ quickly ends NFL officials’ walkout


In 2012, with the NFL and the Referees Association unable to reach a compromise on a collective bargaining agreement, NFL officials pulled their jobs shortly before the scheduled start of the season.

Unwilling to bow to pressure from the NFLRA, and with the real risk that the season would have to be postponed, the league hatched what it believed to be a foolproof plan to fix the problem.

They would simply recruit replacement officials from other leagues, such as the Legends and Arena leagues, and supplement them with officials from high school and college ranks.

Stories quickly emerged that some of these officials recruited from alternate leagues had been fired for incompetence. But that didn’t deter the NFL, as they insisted on the show going on.

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Warning signs are ignored before the “Fail Mary” forces a descent

As the 2012 NFL season kicked off as planned, senior management was confident that a potential disaster had been averted. Barring any confusion with timeouts when the Seahawks and Cardinals met, the first round of play went off without a hitch.

But the Week 2 game between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons might have served as a warning to the league. The match was marred by several poor decisions, three of which were overturned after review.

However, the main talking point of the match emanated from a mass brawl involving both touchlines as the officials totally lost control.

The game was delayed over five minutes and the officials were verbally abused by the coaching staff, with one official being knocked down by Atlanta Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards. Despite this, no one was ejected.

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By this point, the NFL Players Association had seen enough and issued a strong statement, criticizing the league and Commissioner Goodell, while demanding that they end the lockout. He read:

“We don’t know how you allow a commissioner to cavalierly impose suspensions and fines in the name of player health and safety while allowing the mass removal of the officials you have trained and tasked with maintaining that same health. and safety.”

They continued:

“It has been reported that the two teams are now separated by approximately $60,000 per team. We note that your commissioner has fined an individual player in the name of ‘safety’.

“Your actions are looking more and more like simple greed… You can’t just switch to a group of less expensive officials and fulfill your legal, moral and duty obligations to us and our fans.”

The NFLPA’s pleas fell on deaf ears, but come the end of Week 3, the NFL is expected to respond to an entire fanbase as their ill-conceived plans have dramatically unraveled.

Over the weekend, several games were affected by poor refereeing. It all finally came to a head on Monday Night Football, where the Seattle Seahawks took on the Green Bay Packers.

With seconds remaining, the Seahawks were trailing and needed a touchdown to win. With only time for one last play, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson managed to buy time before throwing a final “Hail Mary” into the end zone.

Packers safety MD Jennings and Seahawks wideout Golden Tate both took the ball, with the defender clearly carrying it to complete an interception. At that exact moment, it all came crashing down when the back judge correctly ruled it an interception, only for the linesman to simultaneously signal a touchdown.

As chaos ensued, the match referee got involved and the officials deliberated on what to do, while looking completely intimidated by the whole situation. Eventually, they mistakenly ruled it a touchdown, giving Seattle the win, as a national television audience watched in disbelief.

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The backlash from the NFL community, players and coaches was immediate, as the league suddenly found itself facing a tsunami of criticism. Within days, the NFL resolved the labor dispute with the Referees Association, and full-time officials made a welcome return in Week 4.

All fans like to complain about officials, but 2012 reminds us how bad it can be, because without them we have no game at all.


Edited by Akshay Saraswat

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