Burwell: NFL is officially a mess

2012-09-26T12:55:00Z 2012-10-20T20:32:21Z Burwell: NFL is officially a messBY BRYAN BURWELL, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist stltoday.com

There was this one exasperating moment on Monday night football that summed up everything I've been saying for months about the raging incompetence of these NFL replacement referees and the arresting arrogance of Commissioner Roger Goodell and the puppeteer owners who have pulled his strings throughout the course of this botched-up labor dispute with the real professional game officials.

It was that one infuriating and completely jaw-dropping split second when the two scab refs came racing towards the far corner of the end zone from opposite directions, lingered over the scrum of Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, stared at each other for two excruciating clock ticks, then collaborated on the absolute defining moment of the most inglorious weekend in NFL history.

The Incompetent Touch-erception!

We've already seen two months of some fairly comical stumbling and bungling. We've seen enraged NFL coaches practically lose their minds screaming at these replacement refs for their disgraceful incompetence. We've seen players blatantly flaunt their contempt for them by disrespecting them at every turn. We've seen the scabs blow calls, swallow their whistles, freeze up like deers staring into headlights, and basically remind us at every turn how utterly unqualified they were to be officiating football games at the highest professional level.

But now we've seen it all. Now we have reached the emotional breaking point in this labor dispute. Now if there was ever any doubt about how everyone feels about how much the owners' strategy has not only failed, but completely blown up in their faces, it was removed on Monday night by the avalanche of public backlash.

Goodell and his bosses have nowhere to go but back to the bargaining table and end this lockout. Whatever you've been stubbornly trying to accomplish with your labor strategies has failed. The officials who work your games are an important cog in the big machine. You can't replace seasoned, competent officials who have a combined 1,500 years worth of experience with a collection of woefully lacking misfits.

No one could have said it better than Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who echoed what the entire football world believes. We're tired of seeing Goodell flex his authoritarian muscles as the almighty protector of the NFL shield when it comes to the players, particularly when the commissioner and his bosses "don't protect the shield when it comes to the refs and owners," Reed told reporters on Tuesday.

What Goodell is doing now with this head-in-the-sand approach and the foolish prepared statements issued by his office each week and the carefully scripted pratering of folks like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after three weeks worth of disastrous results is telling the public that we're stupid rubes.

They think we'll believe anything they tell us. But we won't.

So of course, the NFL comes out with a statement on Tuesday essentially telling us to continue to believe them and not our lying eyes, because upon further review they want you to know — and I assume they're saying this while laughing their butts off behind your back — that the replacement guys really didn't botch up Monday night's game-ending call nearly as bad as you thought.

OK, yeah, the refs missed the pass interference on Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, they told us. But even after reviewing the game tapes, the league says the call of simultaneous possession between Tate and Packer defensive back M.D. Jennings was correct.

Ohhh please.

Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. You don't really think anyone believes that nonsense do you? This is the height of the owners' arrogance and surely symbolic of what will ultimately be the first paragraph of the commissioner's legacy.

Screw you, we're getting ours.

What are the owners stonewalling about? Reportedly about $100,000 per team in salary and benefits.

Owners waste that much on a few flights on their private jets.

But the owners know they can't be touched. They know that the stands are going to still be filled, that the TV ratings will continue to outdistance every other sport each weekend and you will flood into their football palaces every Sunday and spend your disposable income on their overpriced concessions and team apparel.

But what if you didn't?

I'm not foolish enough to believe you're going to not show up, not watch, not buy. But what if all over the league this Sunday, fans staged a slow-down protest, showing up en masse 10 or 15 minutes late and refusing to buy any food or beverages?

What if the players made some symbolic show of solidarity before the game to show how displeased they are with the unsafe work conditions they're being forced to play in? What if they followed their captains onto the field for the coin toss and both teams turned their backs on the scab officials?

The repercussions of this lockout touch everyone. Gamblers, fantasy football fanatics, regular fans, players, coaches and every team. What if the Seahawks and Packers are fighting for a wild-card berth at season's end and the tie-breaker is this game? In the suddenly rather competitive NFC West, this one bogus victory by Seattle could mean something to the Rams and everyone else in the division.

And now the Seahawks come to St. Louis this weekend with a victory in hand that they clearly didn't earn, even if Tate and head coach Pete Carroll don't have the good taste to at least admit they got away with one. Can we at least get a little devilish wink out of you guys when you're talking about it?

So now the NFL game is not to be believed. The results are incomprehensible. The standings are a lie. But the most frightening thing is that these replacement refs continue to go to work with no visible qualifications to adequately do their jobs. Player safety is being threatened, the league's integrity is a joke, and you just have to ask the owners and their commissioner if that's really worth what they're fighting for.

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Bryan Burwell

Bryan Burwell covers a wide spectrum of sports as a columnist for the Post-Dispatch.

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