Well, the replacement ref nightmare is over. Just before the clock struck midnight yesterday, the NFL reached an agreement with the referees’ union that will have the regular zebras back on the field for tonight’s game between the Ravens and Browns. Apparently Roger Goodell and company couldn’t stomach the idea of another nationally televised game being ruined by a bunch of amateurs.
Of course, you know what this really means: all us football fans suffered through this nonsense for nothing. Well, no, not nothing. It was for greed. For weeks, you see, the two sides just could not see eye to eye. The refs’ demands were outrageous and would surely bankrupt the league’s billionaire owners. Then one of the game’s most iconic franchises was robbed of a victory on Monday Night Football, and suddenly progress was made in negotiations.
Conclusion: the owners were just trying to save (what is to them) a few lousy bucks—about $50,000 per year, per ref. Given that there are 121 member of the refs’ union, that works out to a total increase of $6,050,000—or $189,000 per team.
Seriously. We sat through three weeks of replacement referees because owners didn’t want to chip in an extra $189,000.
Anyway, it’s all over now. Starting this weekend we can all go back to complaining about the real NFL referees. But just so no one ever forgets what these three weeks were like, I’ve put together this list of the replacement refs’ greatest hits…in GIF form. It doesn’t have every single botched call, but it does have what were, in my mind, the most memorable ones.
So are you ready for a good laugh? Okay then. Let’s get started.
It doesn't really take much to bring out the inner douche in Patriots coach Bill Bilichick. So, really, I could see him doing this with the regular refs, too, if a call at the end of the game didn't go his way. (He was pissed that a last-second field goal by the Ravens wasn't being reviewed.) But the fact is this happened with a replacement ref, so it got even more attention that it otherwise would have, and the league fined him $50K.
17. Hey buddy, I'm Bill f%@$ing Belichick
Look closely and you'll see #50 of the Saints, Curtis Lofton, giving an unwanted piggyback ride to 6'2", 300lb Ryan Lilja (#65) of the Kansas City Chiefs. And judging by how close Lofton was able to get to RB Jamaal Charles, I'd say the interference by Lilja was a significant factor in this touchdown run.
Of course, there was no flag on the play. Final score: Kansas City 27, New Orleans 24.
16. Holding? What holding?
In the week 3 matchup between the Chiefs and Saints, New Orleans RB Pierre Thomas made a diving catch late in the second quarter, popped back up on his feet, and ran to the endzone the complete the 9-yard touchdown. Since it was a scoring play, it was automatically reviewed—and frankly, it was nice that the replacement refs at least knew that it had to be reviewed. Unfortunately, they looked at the replay and decided that it provided conclusive proof that the initial call on the field (complete pass) was incorrect.
Now, maybe I'm just crazy, so I'll ask you: does this look like conclusive evidence that the pass was not complete? Because to me, it sure seems like you'd have to go with the call on the field.
How is this guy supposed to know which way to face? The games he's normally refereeing aren't televised. But that's the point: these guys were in way over their heads. How could they possibly have been expected to do a good job?
14. Wrong Way
Now, even if this coaches pee wee football, he should be able to remember which team just got flagged for a penalty. However, I think they were all struggling to keep up with the game, and thus were constantly getting flustered and messing up the littlest things. (Another example: the replacement referee who kept calling Atlanta "Arizona.")
13. Which team was it?
Somehow, the ruling on this play was that the player was down before the ball came loose.
Now, I can understand that refs aren't always able to see exactly what happened the first time. That's why they have instant replay. But come on—in this case the initial call on the field really should have been "fumble." I mean, it's obvious he lost the ball. How did they not see the thing bouncing around?
12. Do you even know what a fumble is?
This one is from the Eagles-Patriots preseason game, and it's an all-time classic. In fact, while everyone is saying the call at the end of the Seahawks-Packers game Monday night epitomizes the 2012 referee lockout, I would go with this one. I mean, the referee is startled by a football...at a football game. It perfectly expresses how overmatched these boor bastards were.
11. Nice catch
This one is from week 2. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor (#24) was flagged for pass interference on this play. No joke. I guess the referee was under the impression that Taylor has telekinetic powers and was impeding the Jets' Santonio Holmes with negative thoughts.
10. Phantom Interference
There certainly were plenty of big gaffs made by the replacement, but these were far outnumbered by all the little (but obvious) stuff they missed. Take this little sparring session between a Patriot and a Raven—it happened directly in front of the linesman, and yet there was no flag. I mean, what has to happen to get his attention? A roundhouse kick to the head? One guy pulling out a sword and running the other guy through?
9. What fight?
In week 1 of the preseason, the refs at the Bucs-Fins game placed two balls on the field after a play, exactly ten yards apart. Then they actually had the teams line up at the wrong one. Luckily someone noticed before the play started.
Of course, this one also illustrates how mindless football players can be. Apparently they'll pretty much go wherever someone in a striped shirt tells them to go.
8. Two balls
Blocks don't get much more illegal (let alone dirty and dangerous) than the one Seattle WR Golden Tate put on Dallas' Sean Lee in week 2. In fact, it was so bad that the league fined Tate $21K. Of course, even though the referee was right there on the sideline, and even though the guy with the ball was passing right in front of Tate and Lee, the ref missed it completely, so there was no flag on the play.
7. Golden Tate rams Sean Lee
Look, just to be clear, I don't blame any of this stuff of the replacement referees, and neither should you. They did the best they could under impossible circumstances. So, really, we should feel bad for them. Especially the guy taking a lashing here from Ravens coach John Harbaugh. He looks pretty embarrassed and flustered, and no grown man should be made to feel that way.
6. Harbaugh won't stand for it
For the preseason game between the Giants and Jaguars back in August, some of the replacement refs were still getting a handle one the whole concept of "flags" and "penalties." You see, on this play, they knew that there was illegal holding. They just didn't understand who gets assessed the penalty.
Pro tip: it's usually not the guy with the ball.
5. Define "holding"
Look, it's common for referees to throw their hats on the field to mark a spot. However, they usually don't throw it in the endzone, right in front of a player. And usually that player doesn't then slip on the hat and fall down. But that's what happened to Dallas' Kevin Ogletree against the Bucs in Week 3. And it was just flat out ridiculous.
4. The Hat Throwing Incident
When people would talk about how the replacement referees were actually dangerous as well as embarrassing, this is the kind of play they were talking about. Without the on-field officials displaying genuine authority and commanding respect, players will take advantage of them. Then plays like this helmet-to-helmet hit on the Raiders' Darrius Heyward-Bey happen.
Though no flag was thrown, Heyward-Bey was knocked unconscious, carted off the field, and subsequently taken to the hospital. As for the offender, Ryan Mundy, he was fined the standard $21K by the league...because they're totally super concerned about player safety.
(Just in case it didn't come across, that was sarcasm. I don't think the owners give a rat's you-know-what about player safety, so long as their making money off them.)
3. Knocked Unconscious
This is the most ridiculously terrible call made by the replacements, hand down. During the Bills' preseason opener against the Redskins, a 49-yard punt by Buffalo's Brian Moorman was downed at the 4-yard line by Ruvell Martin. However, somehow the back judge (who shall remain nameless, just so as not embarrass him any more than he already has been) inexplicably called a touchback.
I mean, just look at it. How do you call that a touchback? What was the guy looking at?
2. The Touchback
Though the previous call was probably the most insanely awful, this one was obviously the most significant, as it cost the Packers a win (which could come back to haunt them come playoff time) and sparked the outrage that finally ended the lockout.
Now, the problem here isn't that the initial call on the field was wrong, as most observers (myself included) seem to think. That happens all the time—though goof refs should have seen the interception. The real problem is that they missed the pass interference by Seattle's Golden Tate (who keeps popping up here), that there were two conflicting calls given by two refs simultaneously and that, after conferring with the officials in the box, they still got the call wrong.
Anyway, I actually think the replacements were probably more excited than anyone when they heard the real refs are coming back. They're not out of the hot seat.