Sat, Dec 27, 2008 - Page 18 News List

NFL: In an instant, a football referee can become infamous

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SAN DIEGO

It has been 15 weeks, which can seem like a lifetime in the NFL, and San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner has moved on.

Turner insisted on Wednesday that he had gotten over the anger of a referee’s blown call that resulted in a 39-38 loss to Denver in the second week of the season.

The Chargers have been trying to catch the Broncos ever since and Turner — his face no longer as red as Rudolph’s nose — said he was simply happy to be playing them again tomorrow night, with the American Football Conference West championship at stake.

So, really, no hard feelings?

“If you believe me when I said that, I could sell you some other things,” Turner said with a smile.

As the NFL enters the final weekend of the season, Turner is not the only one who may not be ready to forgive and forget. Three controversial calls by officials from this season loom large in the chase for the league’s 12 playoff berths.

On Sept. 14, Denver quarterback Jay Cutler fumbled near the San Diego goal line with just over a minute left in regulation and referee Ed Hochuli blew his whistle, a mistake he admitted quickly afterward. The premature stoppage allowed the Broncos to keep the ball, score a touchdown and add the winning two-point conversion. Had the result of the game been reversed, the Chargers would be going into tomorrow’s game having already clinched the division.

Nearly two months later, in the final seconds of the Cardinals’ 29-24 win over the 49ers on Nov. 10, officials looked at replays to see whether 49ers running back Frank Gore, who had been ruled down a half-yard from the goal line, had been touched before he rolled into the end zone. They moved the spot of the ball back two yards — but did not inform 49ers coaches, who had called for a dive by fullback Michael Robinson. With no time left to change the play, Robinson was stopped well short of the goal line.

Had San Francisco won that game, they would be tied with Arizona and have a chance to win the division. Instead, the Cardinals have clinched the title. Mike Martz, San Francisco’s offensive coordinator, received a US$20,000 fine from the league for criticizing the officials.

On Dec. 14, the Steelers’ winning touchdown in a 13-9 victory over the Ravens came after the call on the field — that Pittsburgh receiver Santonio Holmes did not cross the goal line with the ball — was reversed. Television replays appeared inconclusive.

If Baltimore had won, they would be hosting Jacksonville tomorrow with a chance to clinch a first-round bye. Now the Ravens are playing just to reach the playoffs and could be rewarded with a first-round trip to New England.

A request to interview Mike Pereira, the vice president for officiating, was denied by the league, but Pereira has defended the calls in the Steelers’ and Cardinals’ victories.

The reversal in the Steelers’ game was made by Walt Coleman, who had a hand in one of the NFL’s more famous reversals. In an AFC divisional playoff game after the 2001 season, Coleman cited the infamous “tuck rule” when he overturned what many thought was a fumble by Tom Brady. That call allowed the Patriots to keep the ball and eventually defeat the Oakland Raiders, beginning their run of three Super Bowl titles in four seasons.

Referees are often remembered by such defining calls, something that bothers former referee Jim Tunney.

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