The replacement refs finally blew a game changing call last night. I personally didn't see it so had to watch the replay. I was off in dreamland valuing sleep much more than an NFL Monday night game. Oh how I wish I would have stayed up so as to not miss this pivotal moment. (Sarcasm off.)
Today, headlines ran from Sports Illustrated to Yahoo! to Drudge regarding this game's ending, and all articles echoed the sentiment:
The integrity of the NFL game is shot or on life support due to the replacement officials.
Yeah, right. Sure. Blame the refs. It's all their fault. They are the reason the NFL has lost all integrity. And I have some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you.
This past Sunday, I watched exactly one half of one quarter of the Dallas Cowboy's game against Tampa Bay. Want to know what I was doing during the other three and a half quarters? Taking a couple of my kids grocery shopping. Do you honestly think this would have happened two or three years ago with yours truly? Not a chance. I can take or leave these games and lose no sleep or interest over it.
The integrity of the game, in my estimation has been gone a long time. Unfortunately, it's taking replacement officials to open the eyes of others to something that I've personally felt for some time. Please let me explain:
Seventh grade junior high football is a game. It's fun to watch. I had the opportunity to do just that the other day. The refs made a few errors. People laughed. It's what happens. No one questions the integrity of the sport.
When I played in junior high, I remember the first game I suited up. We were playing Falufurrias, a little town in deep South Texas. I was playing defensive end--actually outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. The quarterback was rolling out to pass. I reached through a defender trying to block me and grabbed the guy's facemask right in front of the ref. The opposing coach pointed and yelled, but no flag was thrown. It was blatant; it was an accident; I took my hand off immediately, but it was still a foul. The coach had the right to complain, but even though no flag was thrown that was the end of it. No one went ape over the missed call. Why? It's a game.
The NFL is not a game. It's a business--a multi-billion dollar business. They provide a product with high-priced gladiators in giant arenas. That's the reality. And the business is a winner-take-all, cut-throat industry with fans who are more dedicated to their teams than many religious fanatics are to their congregations.
Integrity of the game? B.S. An inferior product to market? Now, we are getting somewhere.
I believe the integrity of the game was left behind long ago when money became the driving force behind the NFL.
Last season's strike rammed this home to me. In the midst of a struggling economy with people hurting financially from one coast to another, millionaires battled billionaires over how billions in revenues would be shared. In the midst of this battle it seemed like these two sides were living in a totally different reality than the rest of the world. It was mind boggling. I began to lose my taste for the whole ordeal.
And now with the replacement ref debacle, I'm losing even more of my taste buds. Why? Because despite all the hullabaloo about integrity, this is just one more illustration of how the "game" really has none.
Free agency has decimated team loyalty. There is no such thing as watching your favorite players stay in one place. Loyalty has been replaced by money.
Fantasy football--which I absolutely refuse to participate in--has decimated the spirit of team work. It's more about the statistics of any one player instead of the ultimate in teamwork.
Salary caps have made the NFL a paragon of parody. There's really no thrill of the upset anymore. Teams seem to go through cycles of being really good for a couple of years to really bad as they get hosed by the cap. No longer do we see the dynasties of the 60's, 70's, 80's, or 90's. Part of the thrill of the game was seeing an underdog take down a giant. No longer.
Because winning has become paramount--again because of being driven by the almighty dollar--character has taken a back seat. Consider this quote from Chad Greenway of the Minnesota Vikings in an ESPN article:
"Nature says for us that we're going to go out there and push the limit regardless. If they're calling a game tight, if they're calling a game loose, it's going to be pushed to the limit. You are pushing it to the brink. If things are going to be called easier, and in some situations I feel like they've been less lenient, too, you've just got to play and see how (it's being called)."
Players of character don't intentionally break the rules. They don't push the limits and see what they can get away with. They play it clean. Good luck with that in the NFL today. Character has taken the back seat to winning at all cost because of the money tied to it.
In all these ways, the integrity of the NFL has been decimated...steamrolled...destroyed. The replacement refs are simply a part of a much bigger problem--one that will not be rectified until people stop spending copious amounts of cash on this business. And once it stops being a business, it will start being a game once again. And once it returns to being a game, it might just have some integrity.