I was in a bar watching football yesterday; the two games that I was primarily following were the Redskins/Bears and Ravens/Bills, and I saw the Ben Rothleisberger TD/fumble at the end of the Steeler game out of the corner of my eye. There were quite a few Steeler fans in the bar, and I actually heard one guy say that it was a fumble and that Miami probably recovered it…however the refs always officiate in Pittsburgh’s favor. Sure enough, referee (and Pittsburgh-area native) Gene Steratore ruled that it was a fumble, but he couldn’t figure out who recovered it so he gave the ball to the Steelers (fourth and goal at the one). Pittsburgh kicked a field goal and won the game.
That whole series of events rubbed me the wrong way. First off, that was a cowardly manner in which to officiate that play. (Replays showed that two Dolphin players were about to get the ball just as it disappeared, and a Miami player came out of the scrum with the ball…so basically since technically Steratore didn’t see a Miami player with possession of the ball, Pittsburgh got the benefit of the doubt.) However that comment by the fan is very telling. Am I the only one that notices that some teams never seem to have to complain about officials’ calls? I think that you could probably put the Yankees, Red Sox, Cowboys, Steelers, Duke, Carolina, and perhaps even a few others in that category. Let’s be frank…we’re only going to remember the bad or controversial calls in games. We all follow sports because we love it so much, however the one premise that all fans have is that the games themselves are fair. So think about it…umpire Rich Garcia awarded a home run to Derek Jeter in that infamous Oriole playoff game in 1996 when Jeffrey Maier clearly interfered with the play. That scene replayed itself in last week’s ALCS on a Robinson Canoe home run, in the identical part of the new Yankee Stadium. However when was the last time that a game was decided on a controversial play that left the Yankees bitter?
I’m not saying that teams who happen to be playing a team like the Yankees or the Steelers should get the benefit of the doubt. However I think that would most fans want is for the correct call to be made. In the Jeffrey Maier situation as well as in the Steeler game on Sunday, the correct call was not made. Granted that’s probably more of an opinion than a fact, however I would hesitate to say that it’s the opinion of most people. In fairness, I visited a few Steeler message boards to see what their fans had to say about the matter. Some of them said that a W is a W regardless of how it comes to be, and a few people even said that the Steelers were luck and the Dolphins got screwed. However many others took the stance that Miami had their chances to win the game, including on the subsequent drive after that play. That’s certainly a fair point to make, and without a doubt if you take care of your business previous to that point in the game the official isn’t in a situation where he has to make that decision. However that’s also their way of saying that they know they got away with one. Out of all of these responses, the one that bothered me the most was the guy who wrote that the Steelers were the ones that should have been complaining because Big Ben clearly crossed the plain of the goal line prior to the ball coming out. I don’t think that this was a joke posting in anyway, I think he was serious; he pointed to the fact that there could have been a “video error” on the play. Him and the guy in the bar with me who said that Pittsburgh always gets favorable officiating would get along great.
Here’s another example that hits closer to home: remember that monday nighter in 2007 when the Ravens played the Patriots? I seem to remember some favorable New England officiating in that game if my memory serves me, including an unsportsmanlike conduct foul when Ed Reed threw a flag into the stands. (I agree that should be a penalty, however the circumstances that prompted that incident were suspect.) Furthermore, wasn’t it against the Patriots last season that John Harbaugh got flagged for unsportsmanlike? I don’t know what percentage of football coaches get penalized like that, but I know it’s small. I want to believe that all games in all sports are fair, however the fact remains that in situations like this seemingly opponents of the same teams are the ones left complaining. And for the record, I also agree that in any of these situations if a team would only take care of it’s own business none of this would be an issue. However in the Miami example from yesterday, the momentum at that point of the game was with the Steelers. Steratore seemed very willing to go along with the momentum. Momentum was with the Yankees in that 1996 playoff game, and Garcia seemingly didn’t want to disrupt it. The Patriots had the momentum in that 2007 game against the Ravens, as well as in the game last year. Why not keep it going? So perhaps the point is that if you get momentum you’re going to get favorable calls from time to time. The Steelers are a good team (as much as it pains me to say that), and they’re going to have momentum in a lot of their games. But as good as they are, you can’t disregard the fact that they normally get calls like that down the stretch. And perhaps the worst part is that their fans know it.