|Golden Tate's disputed reception could end the NFL refs' lockout. (US Presswire)|
One play isn't supposed to change a season. Only one play just did. It has us on the verge of a settlement between the NFL and locked-out officials.
I know, I know, nothing has been declared yet, and it's never over until it's over and all that. But the signs are so encouraging that we're either at or near the finish line, and I can explain why in two words.
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I don't care how the NFL or NFLRA spins it, when replacement refs ruled that the Seahawks' wide receiver caught a last-second touchdown Monday night -- making Seattle the winner and Green Bay the loser -- wheels to end the lockout were set in motion.
Maybe it was commissioner Roger Goodell. Maybe it was league owners. But someone decided enough was enough and that this can't continue.
I'm not saying the league caved; what I am saying is that it was more receptive to reaching a settlement because it knew officials blew it Monday. More important, it knew it couldn't risk suffering another embarrassment on national TV.
It's one thing to miss a call, which happened on Tate's catch. He pushed Green Bay's Sam Shields to the ground before leaping for the ball, a textbook example of offensive pass interference if ever there was one. But it's another to make the winning team a loser and the losing team a winner because officials didn't do their jobs or know the rules or both.
Look, I don't blame replacement refs. They did the best they could. But it wasn't good enough, and that was apparent Monday. It was apparent the night before, too, when New England coach Bill Belichick charged an official while running off the field. Heck, it was apparent last weekend and the weekend before and the weekend before that.
People talk about their concern for the safety of players, but after what happened last weekend I was more concerned about the safety of replacement officials. Reports indicated that more half-a-billion dollars changed hands with Monday's call, which means there's an army of outraged gamblers out there ready to vent. I can only imagine what that means for replacement refs this weekend, both on and off the field, and nowhere would it be good.
The league could have withstood calls that didn't determine the outcome of contests -- especially if they weren't on national TV -- but it couldn't recover from a debacle played out in front of millions. I don't care what the NFL says. When the President of the United States notices how bad things are, it's probably time to get the situation corrected.
That doesn't mean there won't be more blown calls when an agreement is reached. There will. It doesn't mean officials won't incur the wrath of fans because they will. They always have. What it does mean is that what Green Bay suffered Monday others should not suffer again.
And for that we can thank Golden Tate.
His touchdown didn't just infuriate the Packers and their fans. It enraged a national audience that suddenly started caterwauling about what is wrong with today's game -- namely, the officiating -- instead of appreciating what is right. Trust me, that got someone's attention at Park Ave., and my guess is that Roger Goodell was first in line.
The commissioner can be stubborn and intractable on hot-button topics, but he is also sensitive to public opinion -- and the public made it clear where it stood after Monday's game, and it wasn't with the NFL office. It wanted something to change, and it wanted it now.
What's curious is that it took the NFL nearly 13 hours to issue a statement afterward, atypical procedure for a league that almost always is in front of the news. But look at its carefully-worded memo. Where the NFL said it stood by the outcome, it conveniently avoided agreeing with the on-field decision of "simultaneous possession," which, of course, resulted in a touchdown.
That's because it couldn't. Common sense told you ... and people in the NFL ... that Tate's catch wasn't a catch; it was a Green Bay interception. But once the call was made the damage was done ... and talks to repair it were begun.
So don't tell me one play doesn't change a game. It may have just changed a season.