NFL Playoff Referees Should Have Our Sympathy, Not Scorn

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On Sunday the Dallas Cowboys will play the Green Bay Packers as the NFL postseason marches on.

This might not have been the case if the officials hadn't goofed in last weekend's game, when a pass interference call against Dallas was reversed.

Bill Littlefield has some experience with bad calls.

The officials responsible for erroneously sending Dallas rather than Detroit deeper into the playoffs have my sympathy.

They probably also have the sympathy of every parent who's ever been dragooned into officiating a youth league game.

[sidebar title="NFL Refs: A Week In The Life" width="630" align="right"] OAG's Doug Tribou spoke with a former head ref to find out what goes into the typical work week on a not-so-typical job. [/sidebar]My younger daughter's sport was basketball, and the way the first league in which she played worked, assistant coaches like me never had to ref games in which their kids were involved, but we all had to take a turn with the whistle.

Which I sometimes forgot I was wearing. That happened once during a game in which a player fielded a pass that had bounced off the wall under the basket as if it was still in play. I ran after her shouting, "out of bounds."

She looked over her shoulder and said, "I play until I hear the whistle."

She'd been well trained. I hadn't.

On another memorable Saturday morning, the best player in the league came charging in for a layup. The most courageous player in the league threw her body in front of the shooter. At some point during the collision the best player in the league tossed up the ball. Then both players crashed to the floor.

I ran over to the pileup to make sure nobody was hurt. When I'd seen that both girls were OK, I sent the best player in the league to the line for two shots.

This mystified both coaches, because while the girls were tumbling to the floor, the shot had gone in.

I hadn't noticed. My concern was the collision. My alleged partner in ref's stripes might have been of some use if he hadn't had his back to the play.

Anyway, the guy coaching the best player in the league quietly advised me that she should only get one shot, since the ball had gone in.

The guy coaching the most courageous player in the league loudly advised me that I should have called a charge and disallowed the basket.

So the only thing the two coaches agreed on was that I'd been wrong.

Which I had been. That's why, whenever it was my turn to officiate, I would hope for a lopsided game in which my mistakes would bring occasional laughter and pity rather than outrage.

I wonder if officials in the NFL ever do that?

Headshot of Bill Littlefield

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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