Maybe I never noticed it before, maybe it wasn’t happening as much, or maybe it’s real, but this season, more than I say the last 15, wew are hearing a lot of conspriacy theories around these championhip games and the Super Bowl. Questioning the veracity of these claims is certainly warranted, msinly because they are all varying flavors of bullshit. But, the reasons why the thoeries are so diverse and numerous is totally real.
It all stems from the completely shitty refereeing going on in the the NFL these days. Yes, it has to do somewhat with the blanket coverage afforded every game these days. Multiple angles, slow-mo, even 3-D imaging, all come into play for EVERY play of EVERY game. There’s no hiding. Players are faster and hit harder and thus things can be missed easier. Then there’s the fact that these refs are all part-timers. There’s been talk for years to make these guys full time employees of the NFL. Why? Mainly to digest and enforce the myriad rules changes that the NFL deem necessary to rewrite every year. But this leads to what I think has been the biggest fundamental change in how games are officiated. And it ties in with the NFL’s bid to sidetrack any and all legal matters surrounding concussions and subsequent lawsuits from injured/disabled players and former players.
From, say, the 50’s to the early 2000s there have been significant rules changes around keeping WRs unmolested going downfield, clothesline tackling, facemasks, forearm clubbing at the line, and more recently, quarterback safety. The thing is, these are very objective penalties. Clothesline? Penalty. Grab a facemask? Penalty. These are easy to spot and easy to enforce. What has been the biggest subjective penalty for the past 30 years? Pass interference. These have never been enforced consistently for all this time. It used to be if you breathed on a WR 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, it was a PI. Now you have teams like Seattle and their big physical corners who seemingly stretch the limits of the rule every play. And the thing is, depending on the ref crew, you may or may not get PI calls.
And this leads directly to the whole concussion aspect of Goodie Goodell’s NFL. For years and years, some players would lead with the helmet. Spearing became a penalty a while ago, but it was rarely called, and those were pretty obvious. Nowadays, you have rules against hitting a ‘defenseless’ wide receiver in the process of making a catch, hitting a QB in the head/neck area, hitting a QB below the knees, and helmet-to-helmet hits. The problem is, these are highly subjective as to how they are called. Watch any game, and you will see maybe 10 or 15 helmet to helmet hits. How many get called? Maybe 2. Hard clean hits are flagged all the time, while blatant hits are let go. Throw in the fact that Goodell routinely orders his refs to ‘get on top’ of games that he deems could possibly become chippy, as in the recent NFC Championship game between SF and Seattle. Which means you get chickenshit PF calls on the head butt on Crabs in the Carolina game, or the PF on Carlos Rogers for a light shove to a WR on a continuation play in the Seattle game.
And, of course, this is where the rigging theories sprout. As much angst that is out there for the NFCCG, the Panthers should have a major bone to pick with how their game against the Niners was officiated. There were ticky-tacky PFs all over the place. The problem there of course is some of those calls went against the 49ers. The play at the end of the 1st half is a glaring example of the complete ineptness of the crew. As time was winding down, Kaepernick threw what appeared to be a touchdown to VD. The refs signalled incomplete, but the clock kept running. Harbaugh, bless his soul, was curious as to why the clock was running on the incpmplete pass. As the clock got closer to 0, the more animated Harbaugh got. That he had to go 15 yards onto the field to TELL the ref to stop the clock isn’t an indictment of the craziness of Harbaugh, but an indictment of the shitty job the refs did on the play. They were fine with letting the clock run out and for halftime to start. Much like the Pats Broncos game where Gronkowski was interfered with on the last play, a flag was thrown and picked up, and the refs ran off the field with no explanation or clarification. Game over.
And that’s the rub. These refs make a shitload of bad calls, but I don’t see any rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes it seems to favor the hometown (hello Denver), but to me, it’s institutional ineptitude, not any kind of intentional (or sinister) malfeasance.