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By DYLAN MALONE
The NFL is finally here and I’m stoked.
The high school game always gets my blood pumping but between fantasy football to scream and holler about, chicken wings and barbeque chips, and a room full of my best buddies, there’s nothing better.
There’s just something about the sport that, when witnessed with a group of people, makes us all fans. I never even liked football four years ago, but thanks to some college friends and the rise of fantasy football, I pay more attention and I’m enjoying it immensely.
Last night I got to watch the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants battle their long-time rival Dallas Cowboys to open the season. The game was lackluster until the second half when both quarterbacks decided to show up and play.
Sadly, the main attraction of the game last night was not how the Giants would respond after winning a championship or even whether or not Tony Romo could finally live up to his hype. No, all eyes were on the men in stripes…the replacement referees.
For those of you who don’t know or live under a rock, the NFL has had their referees locked out for a few months now disputing certain liberties in their contracts. Neither side has balked in their threats and so here we are in week one and there are still no veteran referees.
In 2001, the league locked out the refs but it only lasted through the first week. This time, the NFL has more eyes on them between social media and every sports talk radio/television talking about nothing else…ok so Tebow’s been thrown into the conversation a little as well. As if the league did not have enough storylines to follow.
So how did they do?
I heard a brief stint on Fox sports about how they felt the officials missed a few critical calls and that it will eventually be the difference in a game soon. I don’t buy that crap. I watched the officials make their calls. The first nerve-racking call of the game until the end, the officials who were not used to having the limelight on them at the college level or lower, performed as good as any other official.
There were 17 penalties in the game called (13 on the Cowboys) so you know they certainly weren’t gun shy by keeping the flags buried in their pockets. They did miss a few holding calls, but what officiating crew doesn’t? There was a key horse-collar call made as well as other critical calls like blocks in the back.
The chief official, you know, the one who gets to talk to the camera and tell America what the call was, is an NAIA ref. That’s not even division one football in college. So give them a break, people. I’m sure it’s easy to talk smack about the refs when they are not the usual suspects, but I’ve seen enough games to know that the silly mistakes that Sportscenter puts in their not-top 10 are very similar to the ones that regular officials make and that’s not even talking about the amount of pressure these replacements are under as they continue to be dissected under the microscope of the public eye.
I’m much more interested in the storylines that actually involve the games themselves.
Let’s continue talking about how well Peyton Manning will do with the Broncos. How about whether his replacement, Andrew Luck will live up to the expectations as Indy’s new humble leader. Will Maurice Jones-Drew be affected by coming back to the Jags just before week one? Will Arizona ever find a quarterback worthy of staying in the entire game? Will Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson (aka Ochocinco) play in an NFL game ever again? Will Rogers or Brady return to glory after failing in the playoffs after stellar regular seasons?
Get on the ball ESPN and the rest of you media moguls. I’m tired of talking about the replacement refs. They’re not the problem…the league is. There are several stories that are more thrilling to talk about then the lockout. I understand updating the public on where the situation lies, but bringing on guest after guest to talk about just how bad the replacements are is really not necessary and it's really a slap in the face to a group of guys (and one woman) who simply stepped up when called upon to HELP the league out!
Yes, there have been some bonehead calls in the pre-season but I believe that the referees (specifically those who have had no previous NFL experience) should benefit from "games that don't matter" in the pre-season as well. They are going to make mistakes and the big ones that they made that were overly televised and scrutinized seemed like ones made out of sheer lack of nerves. Those guys looked tense out there! Thousands of fans waiting to boo you at the stuttering of one syllable may do that to me as well if I were out there. My knees would be knocking together, I think.