Tonawanda News

September 25, 2012

DUVALL: When a catch isn't a catch

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I’ve been a sports fan all my life, but these days it seems like pro sports leagues are doing everything in their power to turn me off to their games.

The latest thing to tick me off? The NFL’s petty and cheap battle with its referees. 

The NFL makes billions in revenue and has captivated Americans for decades. We give over one-seventh of the days in a week to this one enterprise. Sunday mornings people go to church. After that they worship football. 

At its best, sports bring people together and provide a common bond with neighbors and strangers alike in communities across America. Football makes for barroom banter, newspaper fodder, weekend parties and a ready excuse to eat multiple kinds of dip as a meal. Cholesterol levels not withstanding, these are good things. 

Then these replacement referees so badly bungled the end of Monday Night Football it makes us all admit we’re investing far too much energy in what is really just a game — and a pretty stupid game at that.

For you non-football types, here, in plain English, is what happened to end the game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. 

Both teams stunk up the joint for a large portion of the game. With precisely one touchdown scored for most of it, Green Bay held the lead on the game’s final drive. The Seahawks needed a touchdown to win and on the final play, threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone. 

What happens next defies logic, much less plain English.

First, a Seahawks wide receiver shoves a Packers defender out of the way when trying to catch the ball. This is against the rules. At least it’s supposed to be. But players jostle for the ball all the time and it is never called. Still, everyone agrees the refs should have thrown a flag making this next part — wherein we are required to debate what it means, both literally and existentially, to catch a ball — moot.

So with one defender dispatched after that vicious shove, the Seahawks receiver jumps up, as do about five other guys. One of them, a Green Bay defender, appears to get his hands on the ball. As he falls to the ground, the Seahawks receiver attempts to grab the ball away from him. They both tumble to the ground and wrestle for control.

The two officials standing watch mere feet away both make a signal — except one calls it a touchdown and one calls it an interception. Chaos ensues. We go to the video replay, which everyone who has ever caught a ball or seen someone else catch a ball can agree shows the Packers player caught the ball, thereby ending the game and sealing his team’s victory. If you haven’t seen the replay a thousand times already trust me, a man who has watched all manner of sport where other men catch things. The Packers player caught the ball.

The replacement referees confer and cast away all manner of logic, holding that the touchdown counts, the Seahawks win and we’re all left howling about the terrible officiating.

In the wake of the controversy, the league issued a statement agreeing the shove should have been called a penalty, but that the officials correctly determined the Seahawks player caught the ball. 

What?!

As is always the case in such instances, the league unearthed a heretofore unknown portion of the rulebook about what is sure to be the next sports rulebook euphemism, a simultaneous catch.

I refuse to dignify such a stupid idea as a simultaneous catch with an attempt to explain to you the NFL’s explanation of the play. It’s pointless. 

And it is at this point that I completely sympathize with these two poor refs — who never asked to be put on national TV and had no idea what they were doing. If you can tell me what the heck a “simultaneous catch” is, let alone what should happen after, you’re watching way too much Sportscenter.

I’ve suffered through some pretty upsetting officiating in my years as a Buffalo sports fan. The Bills lost a playoff game when no one could agree whether a ball that wasn’t thrown backward actually went forward. I’ve sat and watched as a foot in the goal crease in triple overtime of a decisive Stanley Cup game cost my beloved Sabres a shot at our first title.

I’m used to this kind of thing. Bad calls are a part of being a fan. But when your sport in large part entails throwing and catching a ball and you can’t tell me what constitutes a “catch” there’s something seriously wrong.

Sort of makes you think when it comes to football we’re all wasting our time, doesn’t it?

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.