Thu, Sep 27, 2012 - Page 19 News List

League facing fury over referees’ ‘Hail Mary’ call


Fans, players and politicians vented their anger on Tuesday over a controversial refereeing decision that cost the Green Bay Packers a victory, but the National Football League said the result of the game would stand.

The NFL is using replacement referees from the lower ranks of college and semi-professional football during a lockout of regular game officials caused by a dispute over a new contract.

While the replacements have been criticized throughout the first three weeks of the season for perceived indecisive and confusing calls, unprecedented levels of frustration spilled over after Monday’s prime-time game.

Even US President Barack Obama took to Twitter to give his thoughts on the situation, writing: “NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs’ lockout is settled soon.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One that he had talked to Obama about the game.

“He said that what happened in that game is a perfect example of why both sides need to come together, resolve their differences so that the regular refs can get back on the field and we can start focusing on a game that so many of us love, rather than debating whether or not a game is won or lost because of a bad call,” Carney said.

Trailing 12-7 with seconds left on the game clock, the Seattle Seahawks were facing a fourth down on the Packers’ 24-yard line and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson heaved a “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone.

Seahawks receiver Golden Tate pushed off on Packers cornerback Sam Shields with what looked a clear case of offensive pass interference, before he rose to attempt to challenge Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings.

Jennings appeared to have caught the ball before Tate’s hands made contact with it, but as they fell to the ground the two referees close by made differing calls — one ruled a touchdown and the other an interception.

The ruling on the field was touchdown by simultaneous catch and it was upheld after being sent up for video review — with some confusion about whether the NFL’s byzantine rules allow for a review of a simultaneous catch.

Speaking on ESPN radio in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said: “The game is being tarnished by an NFL that obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished.”

“We are dealing with an NFL that locked out the players [last year]. This is an NFL who gambled on some low-level referees, including the guy who makes the most important call last night, who has never had any professional experience,” Rodgers said.

The NFL issued a statement which both criticized one on-field decision, while backing the decision not to overturn the touchdown on video evidence.

“While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game. It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay,” the league said, before backing the officials on the major talking point. “Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field and, as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant-replay review. The result of the game is final.”

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