Well, I just turned commenting back on for my blog. Now, I need a post which will elicit some comments, despite the blog’s miniscule readership. What shall the topic be? I know! Football.
Last Sunday, the NFC Championship game between the LA Rams and the New Orleans Saints took place. 99.99% of the discussions and press coverage of this game have focused on one non-call of what could have been pass interference with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Do you want to know a secret? There was more to the game than that. Let’s start by giving the non-call some context.
After the non-call
The Saints kicked a field goal to take the lead with 1:41 left in the game. Real Champions know how to preserve a lead late in the game. That’s one of the things that makes them champions. But the Rams marched down the field and kicked a field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime. Was some small part of this collapse due to Saints coaches having temper tantrums on the sideline when they should have been adjusting coverages? Perhaps the Rams deserve some credit for getting the job done in the clutch. Perhaps the Saints defense deserves the blame for allowing the drive. Regardless of the justice of the non-call, the Saints were still ahead in the waning moments of the game.
In overtime, the Saints won the all-important coin flip. It’s mighty gosh-darned stupid that the coin flip in overtime is so critical, but the Saints won it. And then they got a ticky-tack makeup call on a not-really-PI downfield which set them up in the driver’s seat. And then their offensive line forgot to block for their QB. Brees launched a wounded duck while he was getting buried in a Ramalanche, and the Rams intercepted it. Then the Rams gained enough yardage to kick another field goal, and won the game. Real Champions take advantage of their opportunities. Real Champions perform in the clutch. The Saints failed.
Before the non-call
The Saints had every advantage imaginable, and every opportunity to put the game away. The Saints were hosting the game in their incredibly noisy dome; the Rams couldn’t hear their signals all game. The Saints jumped out to an early lead. A pass bounced off Gurley’s hands and into a Saints defender’s hands, giving N.O. the ball inside the Rams 20 yard line, but they could only manage a field goal. Still, the Saints were up 13-0 at the end of the first quarter. Real Champions hold onto a lead. Real Champions know how to finish the deal.
For the second, third and much of the fourth quarters, the Rams played excellent defense while the offense slowly chipped away at the lead. The Saints still had opportunities which they failed to capitalize on. At one point, the Rams punted from their endzone. They were called for an illegal block. The Saints started out well into Rams territory. The Saints drive went backwards. They had to punt. Real Champions capitalize on their opportunities.
Throughout the game, the referees were letting the teams play; few penalties of any sort were called. There were a couple of non-calls where Saints players grabbed Rams facemasks. There were a couple of times when the Saints coulda-shoulda been flagged for delay of game. There were any number of times pass interference could have been called on either team, but wasn’t. The Saints were only flagged three times for 20 yards in the entire game. The officiating was nothing if not consistent.
Now, about that non-call…
Yes, that coulda-shoulda been flagged. But let’s cool it with the hyperbole, OK? It wasn’t the most Flagrant Pass Interference in the History of the Milky Way Galaxy or anything like it. Yes, the hit was early, but it was only an itsy-bitsy-bit early. It looks waaay early because we’ve seen it in sloooooooow motion 5000 times. Seriously, what part of “slow motion” don’t people understand? In real time it was bang-bang. And was the pass catchable? I’m not so sure. It’s a judgement call, and I’m not convinced that the judgement on the field at the time was indefensibly wrong.
Basically, there are two kinds of football games. There are boring massacres where one side dominates completely and the officiating is irrelevant. And there are interesting close games where one side gripes about the officiating. If only that one call or those calls had gone our way, we’d have won. We were robbed! It’s fun, if ultimately pointless, to construct alternative timelines for how a game would have gone if only…
What really sticks in my craw
The really annoying thing about this whole kerfluffle is the absolutely rotten sportsmanship exhibited by the Saints coaches, players, and especially their fans. Three days later, we can still hear the wailing, the gnashing of teeth, the cries of robbery, the hyperbolic squeals of the Worst Officiating Mistake of All Time, the ludicrous baseless conspiracy theories, and worst of all, we’re still subjected to an endless barrage of unfunny Facebook memes. There’s even a group of fans filing a lawsuit against the NFL. All because one call didn’t go the Saints way. Their team may be watching the Super Bowl on TV, but Saints fans are going to the Super Bowl of Whining.
Real Champions learn from losing; they gracefully congratulate the winner, go back to the drawing board, learn how to get better, and win next time. Teams who deserve to lose blame the officiating and wallow in their perceived persecution.