So after a week with the official officials in place, games running smoothly and being well-managed, the refs being so competent you almost didn’t notice they were out there, and the replacement ref saga is on its way to the dustbin of history, I thought I’d take a look back at the things I’ll miss most about the hapless replacement refs.
1. EMBARRASSING DETAILS OF THEIR LIVES BEING EXPOSED ON THE INTERNET
Nothing like discovering the guy making the calls in your team’s game was cut by an FCS conference. Or was fired for incompetence by the Lingerie Football League. Or when a Facebook search turns up evidence that a ref is a die-hard fan of one the teams playing the game he’s officiating. These types of titbits were spicing up Monday morning quarterbacking, and I know there were some even better, juicer ones waiting to be unearthed, infidelity, tax evasion, manslaughter, who knows? We never will.
2. REACTIONS TO THE INEPT OFFICIATING
The crowd shots over the first three weeks of the season varied from I’m-going-to-hunt-you-down-and-make-you-suffer glares, to slack-jawed, dead-eyed, thousand-mile-you’re-ruining-my-favorite-sport stares, and even the occasional cat-that-pissed-the-bed sheepish grin when a terrible call went the home team’s way, but they’ve all been hilarious. As has the stunned silence from the commentators, who usually have more than enough nothing to stutter about, as they run some of these replays of phantom penalties or blatantly missed calls. It was the old “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything negative or you’ll get fined,” and they played it to perfection.
3. THE SUPER LONG VIDEO REVIEWS
Sure, they were making the games drag on, pre-empting 60 Minutes and you’re local news; and sure it was ridiculous how often they would spend ten minutes watching the replay and still get the calls wrong. But those impromptu stoppages were great for bathroom breaks, or slipping to the kitchen to make some nachos. No longer we’re we tied to halftime to make out snacks, no longer would we miss a sack while taking a slash. Also the replacement refs inability to make a decision in a reasonable amount of time added up to more football watched by the end of the weekend as I could channel surf to other games that weren’t under review and stay there for 10 minutes and my game would still be under review.
4. SEEING THE FEAR IN THEIR EYES
When these replacement refs were conferring on calls for extended lengths of time you could see they were sacred, could see them sweating. They knew how much the calls meant to fans, but at the same time they didn’t know what the call was. By the third week they all looked slightly strung out, none of them appeared to be having any fun at all; the dream had clearly morphed in a nightmare. Given football has long been the betting man’s choice—even if the NFL acts like gambling doesn’t exist—and it has been estimated that 150-200 Million that went the other way because of the now infamous “Fail Mary,” I’m betting that if they used replacement refs all season one of them would end up being gunned down like a Colombian soccer player. And judging by the looks on their faces, those refs sensed it too.
5. HOW THEY BROUGHT US TOGETHER
I think what I’ll miss the most though, is how these replacement refs and their ineptitude brought us together. Bears fans and Packers fans, Bills fans and Dolphins fans, Giants fans and Cowboys fans, everybody could agree these refs sucked and were ruining the game. I hadn’t seen this much unanimous vitriol since Jar Jar Binks. It was nice while it lasted, glad it didn’t all things considered, unity in frustration is bound to lead down dark paths, but still, it was the silver lining to Mr. Goddell’s little experiment, and very likely what brought about its demise given the not-at-all-coincidental concordance of twitter updates, blog posts, and radio call-in commentary.