You’re not expecting a Super Bowl story out of me, are you?
No, I didn’t partake in the Boycott Bowl or shun Super Bowl LIII. I watched the Patriots’ defensive gem of a 13-3 victory over the Rams like the rest of the country, minus, of course, most of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes and maybe a good swath of the Gulf Coast.
I don’t think CBS and the NFL give two hoots about a dip in the Nielsen TV ratings across Louisiana. Pepsi and Doritos will probably sell the same amount of chips and soda from Monroe to Venice, and Maroon Five will still sell out any concert at the Smoothie King Arena.
The passing of this Super Bowl did nothing to ease the pain and heart break for the New Orleans Saints and their fans. In fact, just seeing the Rams out there vying for their second Lombardi Trophy was like rubbing Tony Chachere’s in a fresh wound.
How about this for a sad twist of irony: The very first penalty flag thrown in the Super Bowl, thrown in the first quarter, was a high hit on a defenseless Patriots receiver committed by none other than Ram’s defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman. Yes, the same player who wiped out the Saints’ Tommylee Lewis on the now infamous no call a few weeks ago.
The Super Bowl refs saw the play and didn’t hesitate to drop the flag.
All those national sports media talking heads yakking that the Saints and their fans need to get over it just don’t get it.
If the Who Dat Nation was to simply put aside the NFL’s most notorious and infamous non-call and sweep it under the rug as many say we should, that would be akin to fans of Chicago Cubs and Buffalo Bills finally and sincerely forgiving Steve Bartman and Scott Norwood, respectively.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can give it lip service, as he did in his pre-Super Bowl state-of-the-league address. Federal judge Susie Morgan can “mandamus” all she wants by tossing aside lawsuits. But anyone who wears the Black and Gold, from Brees to Payton to Benson and the legions of Who Datters will never truly forget or get over it.
For the second straight season, the Saints have had to deal with the football Gods blinking — two playoff games that resulted in calamitous endings. The ensuing controversy and endless Zapruder-type video replays of the Minneapolis Miracle, and what I like to call “The Three Blind Refs,” will live on for eternity.
I know life isn’t always kind or fair, but come on.
Three supposedly expert NFL referees, all with a clear view of the most obvious pass interference and illegal helmet-to-helmet hit in the history of the game, and not one of them saw fit to throw a flag.
The aftermath and the NFL’s response to the non-call was like a horrendous sequel to an already awful movie.
Goodell continues to pay his PR staff good money for bad advice. The Commissioner decided not to come out promptly with a statement or apology after the league’s most embarrassing officiating blunder. Instead, he waited some 10 days for his Super Bowl week press conference to address the elephant in the room and take the heat.
He countered questions over his belated response by saying his head of game officials Al Riveron called Sean Payton right after the NFC Championship game. Yes, indeed he did. But Goodell is the face and leader of the NFL, and he chose to hide behind his shield and say there was nothing he could do to change the outcome.
Goodell’s lips were moving all week while in Atlanta, but he didn’t say anything. And when he did say something, part of his foot was in his mouth. Goodell said he spoke with Saints team officials and players, but in truth he did not. He had a brief phone conversation with Payton, but did not talk with any players, ownership or executives.
How hard is it to get that right? He is an attorney to his core, so a master at making official statements but not really answering the questions.
The commissioner could have easily gotten on speaker phone and commiserated with the players and coaches and maybe eased their hard feelings toward the incident.
As I have stated many times in this column, when things go wrong, one should get out in front of the story and be proactive with the ongoing narrative. Don’t leave it up to a private phone conversation by your head of officials and then some flimsy PR release from high atop your New York tower.
Hard questions, speculation, scrutiny, along with fire and fury, were not only coming from the Saints franchise and fans in Louisiana. The rest of the country was incredulous, as well. In fact, the ending to the Saints and Rams game controlled the storylines during the buildup to the Super Bowl.
That was exactly what Goodell and the NFL did not want, but they brought it on themselves.
For the sanity of Saints fans, and to blunt the stain and tarnish those referees in New Orleans put on the integrity of the NFL, here are a few things Mr. Goodell could have done.
Over those 10 odd days of silence, he should have gathered his officiating experts, one or two owners and a players union rep on the phone and formulated a possible rule change to address the blown call. That could have offered up something concrete for the Competition Committee, which Sean Payton sits on, to consider at the next owners meeting.
Goodell could have talked with the three blind refs (sorry, I can’t refer to them any other way) and asked them directly exactly what they thought they saw and get some explanation as to just why they didn’t blow the whistle. That would have gone a long way toward answering the onslaught of questions on how this could have happened at such a critical moment in a championship game.
The commissioner could have said that they were reviewing every nano-second of the play from every available camera angle to determine whether the guilty referees should be fired or not. The precedent for a referee firing has already been set.
Back judge Hugo Cruz was fired in October after he missed an obvious false start penalty on the L.A. Chargers in a game against the Cleveland Browns. The play was not stopped, and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw a touchdown pass that helped L.A. to a victory. It was the first in-season termination of a game official in the NFL’s Super Bowl era.
The decision came after an early regular season game. Missing an obvious penalty that decided whether the Saints or Rams would play in the frigging Super Bowl should have resulted in at least three refs getting canned.
Goodell went on and on about how the game is officiated by humans and “humans make mistakes.” But humans who make big enough mistakes often get fired in this unkind and unfair world we all live in.
They should have addressed the fact that four officials on the Saints-Rams crew reside in southern California near Los Angeles, and that they would, in the future, take that into consideration when assigning refs to specific playoff games. This would ward off any hint of impropriety and speculation over favoritism.
Maybe Goodell considered some of these actions, but we’ll never know because, again, his lips were moving, but he really didn’t say anything other than the refs are human and mistakes will happen, and the league will look at ideas about possible rule changes in the future. But he reminded us that judgement calls like pass interference are non-reviewable.
At some point in the press conference, I expected Goodell to drop the mic on the stage and walk off.
Sean Payton, one the league’s longest-tenured coaches with a Super Bowl title on his resume, has struggled mightily with this situation. He’s one of the highest paid and most respected head coaches in the NFL, but the sting of this loss drove Payton to seek refuge in his man cave at home, gorging on ice cream and Netflix for three days before coming out into the light of day.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, and it will take a little bit of time, obviously,” Payton said. “But it’s why we like this game. Football is like life. It’s not always going to be how you planned it. It’s not always going to be fair. And sometimes you get punched and you get up, and there’s that toughness and grit element that’s involved with this game that I think fascinates us all with it. I don’t know that you ever really get over it, but you do get past it.”
What I find difficult to stomach is Goodell’s and the league’s laissez-faire attitude and reaction to the worst officiating debacle in NFL history — and in a championship game with the Super Bowl at stake.
I bet the Commissioner wasn’t up late at night with worry and concern or overdosing on ice cream.
Rick Sarro’s perspectives and commentary can be heard on Soundoff 60 Monday through Sunday evenings at 9 pm broadcast on channel 4 on Suddenlink.