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O'Hara: The NFL must replace the replacements

Posted Aug 17, 2012

BALTIMORE – The best negotiating leverage any group of workers could hope to have is a game tape of Friday night’s game between the Lions and Ravens.

The NFL’s real referees, who haven’t worked in the exhibition season because of stalled contract negotiations with the NFL, could use that tape as a bargaining chip the size of a manhole cover.

For the good of the NFL and its image, the league must find a way to replace the replacements with the real guys.

The Ravens are one of the NFL’s benchmark franchises, and the Lions are a young team on the rise with their own star power.

But the third team on the field – eight men in striped jerseys – were a disgrace on any level of officiating football.

You can forgive inexperience. You can shake your head over a bad call.

But if you’re Commissioner Roger Goodell, you can only hang your head and wonder what kind of negotiating mess your league has gotten into with the real officials over the abject level of incompetence that was displayed Friday night.

I understand that the NFL has asked teams not to comment on officials. Fair enough.

Goodell is a zealot in protecting the NFL shield, and I applaud him for that. When it comes to player conduct, Goodell speaks eloquently and passionately about it being a privilege, not a right, to compete in the NFL.

But what we witnessed from the officiating crew Friday night was as substandard a display as anyone can imagine. By comparison, it made the Lions’ 0-16 record in 2008 look like a highlight film of excellence.

No exaggeration. It was that bad.

The replacements have been zinged regularly by fans, media and players for their ineptitude.

Some mistakes have been laughable, like calling the coin flip wrong in one game. Others weren’t so laughable – like calling a punt a touchback in one game when replays showed it really should have been spotted at the four-yard line.

There were instances in the second quarter Friday night when it appeared that the zebras were so overwhelmed by the moment and the pressure of working a game in the mighty NFL on national television that they couldn’t function properly.

On one play late in the first quarter, the Lions dumped running back Bernard Pierce for a 14-yard loss. The play was nullified when Justin Durant was called for a face mask.

There is no debate about the call, but referee Jerry Hughes announced that by rule, the ball would be placed back at the original line of scrimmage, with a first down for the Ravens.

That would have put the ball on the 42 – but Hughes marked off the 15 yards.

With Coach Jim Schwartz screaming, Hughes finally got it right – sort of. He moved the ball back – to the 38, not the 42 where it belonged.

It was one example of a bizarre night, when calls were obviously wrong, and explanations from Hughes were baffling.

We’ve all taken our shots at the regular officials. There have been digs at the likes of Ed Hochuli, for the tailored jerseys that show off his guns and his long-winded explanations of calls.

The real refs aren’t perfect. If they were, there would be no need for instant replay.

But they’re the best in the country at what they do.

However, their negotiators need only bring a tape of the Lions-Ravens game to the next bargaining session.

The NFL can only hope that it doesn’t give the refs the nerve to increase their demands.