|Better get used to more shaky officiating, Broncos coach John Fox. (AP)|
The officials who worked the Denver-Atlanta game had ... shall we say ... a difficult evening, with outraged viewers and fans hoping that their performance on a national stage Monday night would shame the NFL into reaching a quick settlement with its locked-out officials.
Not so fast, people. It's not going to happen.
Nope, this isn't about one game or one weekend. This is about a long-term business deal, and the league isn't going to have players, coaches or fans push it into a hurried settlement.
Granted, replacement refs had a less-than-scintillating weekend, but do you want to tell me that's the first time more than one officiating crew screwed up? Of course, it's not. We had an official once involved in a controversy over the calling of heads and tails, for crying out loud.
Mistakes happen, and they're happening a lot more now than before ... and tell me something I don't know. I mean, if these guys were the best at their profession they wouldn't be replacement refs. As I mentioned, this is a business negotiation -- not a popularity contest -- and in business negotiations you use the leverage you have.
And replacement refs are the NFL's leverage.
It doesn't matter if you like it. That's just the way it is. Critics tell me this is all about the integrity of the game and how it's being compromised, and maybe they're right. But read your history, people. The league used replacement refs in 2001 and gained a contractual settlement, and they used replacement players in 1987 to gain a deal with the NFLPA.
Now, digest that for a minute: It ... replaced ... players ... with ... scabs ... and ... went ... on ... with ... business, counting the games as it would if bona fide NFL players were on the field. If there ever were an issue about integrity of the game, that was it. But the league went forward anyway.
The public didn't like it. The players didn't like it. I know some coaches and general managers who abhorred it. But that's what happens when business deals go sour. You do what you can, and the league pushed on until it gained a settlement it could live with ... and the same thing will happen here.
You can argue that officials blow calls or that players get away with missed penalties or there's no flow to games, and you're right. Basically, what you're saying is that replacement officials aren't up the standards of the locked-out refs, and no clue, Sherlock. That's why they're replacement officials. The NFL understands it must live with what it has, and what it has is a group of guys who aren't as good as the people they're replacing but do what they can with what they have.
So it's not good. It works.
I mean it. Games are played. Stadiums are full. TV ratings are at record levels. Gamblers are happy. Fantasy-football owners are happy. So tell me: What about that equation should force the league to the bargaining table to make a deal it doesn't want to make?
I'm not saying the NFL is right. What I am saying is that it will remain the tough business partner it always has been. Where it went with replacement players until it had a settlement it could live with, it will go with replacement refs until it has an offer it can't refuse.
That's just reality, folks, and you may have to live with it.
"The league will not be bullied into a foolish or hasty decision," one league source told me.
And why should it? It never has. So now the NFL is going to alter its DNA because of one stinkeroo on national TV or a weekend of blown calls or an outcry by the media? You have the wrong league, people.