Officiating sports at the professional level is probably the least envious and most scrutinized jobs out there. They are mostly recognized for the calls they miss and are rarely praised for the calls they get right. It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s just the way it is. It kind of makes you wonder why people even want to become officials at all. Not only do you have to deal with complaining players and screaming coaches on a daily basis, you also have to make split-second decisions that could change the outcome of history. And now thanks to instant replay, your honest mistakes will forever be on display for the world to watch over and over again. It doesn’t sound like too fun of a job if you ask me.
What brings me to this rant is NFL official Bill Leavy recently admitting that he blew two calls in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL between the Steelers and Seahawks. The calls, as you would expect, were in favor of the Steelers and clearly changed the momentum of the game. It seemed as if every time the Seahawks got a shred of momentum, the referees took it away. No, this is not a conspiracy theory. These are the facts. There were a handful of calls that were in question, two of which were in the fourth quarter and ultimately changed the course of the game. The first was an illegal block by Matt Hasselbeck after an interception in which he tackled Ike Taylor and made incidental contact with a blocker. It was a horrible call and gave the Steelers 15 more yards of field position that they used to score the game-clinching touchdown.
The other call in question was a holding call against Sean Locklear that would’ve left the Seahawks with first-and-goal on the Pittsburgh one-yard line and an almost sure touchdown. Obviously, the Seahawks could’ve done a lot of things different over the course of the game to win, but it’s kind of hard when you keep getting your momentum taken away by the officials. The Steelers aren’t giving up their Super Bowl ring, nor should they, but it just begs the question of whether the officials were that bad or if they had an ulterior motive.
There have been a handful of blown calls this season in baseball that have directly changed the outcome of a game as well. The most memorable (in the least positive connotation possible) of the blown calls was when Detroit Tigers’ Armando Galarraga was clearly robbed of a perfect game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians. Galarraga ran over to cover first base on a routine ground ball hit by Cleveland’s Jason Donald and appeared to beat Donald by a good step-and-a-half. Umpire Jim Joyce didn’t think so, though. Joyce proceeded to make one of the worst calls in baseball history and robbed Galarraga of being the 21st pitcher in major league history to toss a perfect game. I understand that to Joyce it was a bang-bang play, but how can you take away a perfect game from a guy on such a questionable call? If anything, call Donald out and let Galarraga celebrate one of the most difficult feats in professional sports. Instead, both Galaragga and Joyce will be forever linked to a day and a play they would both like to forget.
I’m not saying officials’ jobs are easy because they’re not. They are in a position that you couldn’t pay most people enough to be in. But that’s the career they chose and most of them wouldn’t trade it for anything, even if they put themselves in precarious positions sometimes. I just have trouble with obvious blown calls at crucial points in a game when the official is looking directly at the play. I understand there is human error, but there is no excuse for those kinds of mistakes. These guys are trained professionals and they should be able to make obvious calls. The poor calls not only change the life of the players involved, in certain situations it also changes the course of sports history. It affects the life of the official who made the bad call as well. It follows him around everywhere he goes and it’s something he will never be able to live down. There’s no doubt that officiating is a tough job and someone has to do it. I’m just glad it’s not me.