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National Columnist

NFL a mess after shame in Seattle; thanks Goodell -- you, too, regular refs

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When they come back, and they'll be back within days -- right? -- don't cheer the NFL's regular officials. Don't clap your hands. Don't even smile at them. They don't deserve it, because they're the problem here. Them, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Both sides. Awful.

We didn't need what happened Monday night in Seattle to know this has to stop, though apparently we needed what happened in Seattle to send us past the breaking point. After the most implausible ending imaginable -- actually, it wasn't even imaginable; as Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, "I've never seen anything like that in all my years in football" -- NFL players and fans erupted Monday night in a sea of shock and anger that sounded a lot like this:

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Bring back the real refs, and do it now.

It will happen -- in time for this weekend's games, right? -- but don't let your relief look anything like appreciation, because neither the NFL Referees Association nor the NFL commissioner will deserve gratitude when this stupid labor impasse ends.

The NFL is so wealthy it can afford to pay the officials gobs more than it does. Last season the average salary for a game official was nearly $150,000, and the NFL could afford to double it. And then the NFL could afford to double that. The NFL is printing money as fast as it prints tickets and TV listings and souvenir cups and licensed apparel and parking tags and ... you get the point. The NFL is loaded.

And the regular refs know it, which is why they were seeking big-time money for part-time work. And then when the labor impasse reached the blinking point and neither side blinked, the NFL locked out the officials -- and the NFLRA responded by trying to take down the whole damn league.

NFL refs oversee the officiating of several of college football's BCS conferences -- and made it clear to officials in those leagues that working as replacement refs would jeopardize their careers. Officials from other major-college conferences joined suit in a show of solidarity, forcing the NFL into a choice between two extremes: (A) Give the NFLRA what it wants; or (B) cancel games.

The NFL went with (C):

Hire officials from Division II and III, high schools, even the Lingerie Football League.

Hilarity ensued, although it's not really funny. People have had a big ol' laugh at the expense of the replacement referees, though this isn't their fault. In theory, yes, these specific replacements allowed the labor impasse to continue by agreeing to work, saving the NFL schedule.

But that's only a theory. In reality, had these specific replacements refused the work, other potential officials would have been offered the job. Were they all going to turn down the chance to make lots of money to stand on an NFL field and officiate a game? No. Of course not. That's not realistic, so don't be ridiculous and blame replacement refs for this mess. They were never the problem. They tried to be the solution, and it hasn't worked out.

Which brings us to today, or rather, to Monday night -- when Packers safety M.D. Jennings intercepted Seattle's last-second pass in the end zone, only to see a replacement ref rule it a touchdown after Seahawks receiver Golden Tate got his hands on the ball and kept them there as he and Jennings lay in the end zone. Well, one replacement ruled it a touchdown. Another signaled for a touchback, which would mean Jennings had intercepted it and was down in the end zone.

To replay we went, and the touchdown was upheld, but that didn't provide clarity. Was possession of the ball on a simultaneous catch even reviewable? In the immediate aftermath of the play, some said yes; others, no. The NFL released a statement Tuesday that said, yes, possession of the catch was reviewable because it happened in the end zone -- but somehow concluded, "The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video ... and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review."

Not reviewable was the blatant offensive pass interference committed by Tate, a push-off of Packers cornerback Sam Shields that the refs missed.

"This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game," according to the NFL's statement. "It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay."

Ah.

That statement explained what happened and why, but it didn't tell us what we wanted to hear. At this point, NFL fans and NFL players -- hell, even NBA players -- want to hear just one thing:

The lockout is over -- the regular refs are back to work.

And maybe we'll hear that soon. Within days, right? Whenever the regular refs return, officiating mistakes will continue to happen, mystifying mistakes that change games and affect careers. For a week or so we might even tolerate the mistakes -- because at least the right officials will be making the wrong calls.

But soon enough we'll be booing the real refs, and it will sound beautiful. Hell, I'm booing the real refs right now. Booooo for you guys, and boooooo for Roger Goodell as well. The NFL is in chaos -- and this is your fault.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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