“We will now get the call from the retired insurance salesman from Des Moines, Iowa.”
I heard Al Michaels use that introduction for the head referee in Sunday night’s game between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers. This was, of course, when the referee’s conferred with each other for what seemed like ten minutes to make sure the ball was being placed in the right spot.
One can only imagine the stress the replacement referees are under as they do the best job they can when nobody else is really giving them a chance. You can sense it everywhere from the broadcast booth to the players on the field. Unfortunately, you can also sense it from the referee crew themselves – they appear to be lost at times.
Instead of sensing a spirit of compassion from fans around the league, I get the vibe that people are angry towards the replacement refs. When we see them make a bad call or give an extra timeout they are met with a massive amount of scrutiny. Yes, these referees are being paid (between $3,500 and $3,800 per game), but the angst against them should be toned down quite a bit. These officials have stepped in and allowed for the 2012 season to begin while the regular NFL crew continues to negotiate their contracts.
The latest news regarding the status of replacement referees is that they are scheduled to officiate the games through Week 5. I’m not calling for an all-out campaign to send them greeting cards and flowers to boost their morale, but I do think fans should have more of an open mind to the no-win situation they are in. If there is any anger it should be directed towards the NFL itself for not getting a deal done with their normal crews. It has become a battle of egos between the two sides and with the amount of revenue the NFL generates on a yearly basis, I believe they should pony up and pay the officials. Even if they gave in and paid them everything they are asking for it wouldn’t put the slightest dent in the bottom line of the league.
With replacement officials in the game we are always going to have a sense that things can fall apart at any time. When a 49ers player took his helmet off (yes, he took his helmet off, don’t tell me it was kicked off) the referee threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh blew a gasket and laced into the official. In the back of Harbaugh’s mind he knew he was dealing with an inexperienced NFL referee and treated him as such. The point is, if players and coaches think they know more than the referees, we are bound to see situations within a game get out of hand.
Seeing players and coaches have words with a referee is nothing new. However, the intensity in which I have seen them go after the refs during this first week of the season has definitely been kicked up quite a bit.
As fans, let’s be realistic and temper our expectations towards the replacement refs a bit. These people have normal jobs just like you and I and they are doing the best they can with the situation they have embraced. Sure, let’s give it to them a little when they blow a call, but the outright anger and hatred I’ve been seeing on the message boards and through Twitter has been truly despicable.
There are ways in which people should be criticized. Criticism is what allows many of us to do our job better and without constructive criticism people will never know what they need to improve on. However, feedback such as “These refs *@#$ suck!” and “I hope that ref wrecks his car” are not what most would consider “constructive”.
Call me crazy, but I think they deserve better.
OS Voice: How would you grade the performance of the replacement referees in week one?
Joe Chacon is a staff writer for Operation Sports and a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeChacon.