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Hobbs: Replacement refs bring mystery, spontaneity to NFL

Last Modified: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 12:55 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Best I can tell, the NFL has a real problem here, an emotional dilemma with no easy answers, a swirling crisis wrapped in a riddle similar to the conundrum the Deltas faced in Animal House.

Otter: “He can’t do that to our pledges.”

Boon: “Only we can do that to our pledges.”

It seems that the NFL replacement referees are blowing calls, over-officiating, ticking off coaches, players and fans alike, and ultimately having an real effect on which team wins a given game on any given Sunday.

Usually not your team. Hardly ever.

The nerve of them. Oh, the horrors.

These are obviously rank amateurs that are biting at the very fabric and compromising the integrity of the game.

The NFL has long had a firm policy of using highly trained professional referees, calling on years of training. These guys have paid their dues and survived the weeding-out process while coming up through the ranks so they can blow calls, over-officiate, tick off coaches, players and fans alike, and ultimately have a real effect on which team wins a given game on any given Sunday.

Usually not your team. Hardly ever.

Best I can tell, the amateurs flip a coin (to decide pass interference) just as well as the real officials. They also COULD call holding on every play but usually do it just when your team can least afford it after a big play.

If they’ve missed a memo so far, it’s that no NFL kick, be it kickoff or punt, can be completed without that little, yellow “penalty” rectangle popping up on your television.

Give them time. I’m sure they’ll get the hang of it.

So far, kudos. They are making the over-regulated NFL game every bit as unwatchable as the part-time professionals do.

That’s my take, at least.

The NFL is trying to put a positive spin on it while seemingly being in no hurry to even negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with their locked-out referees.

Speaking of which, how come nobody has used the term “scabs” yet.

In fact, there was the hope that the an “interesting” season-opening week could be written off as first-time jitters.

It’s been well established that officiating makes its biggest improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 of an NFL season.

So now the reviews are in.

Katy: “It must have been some party.”

Boon: “Unbelievable. A new low. I’m so ashamed.”

Katy: “I’m almost sorry I missed it.”

ESPN had a merry old time with the Falcons-Broncos on Monday Night Football as the officials stutter-stepped through it.

Coaches were shouting, players were rolling their eyes, the entire Georgia Dome was booing like crazy for the whole game, which lasted almost an entire hour for the first quarter alone.

The NFL was in mid-season form.

But then the officials marked off an 11-yard penalty for defensive holding while the rule book clearly calls for five yards.

Five yards, 11 yards, what’s the difference?

Close enough, in my book.

But the critics have been quick to point out that, while the college game (the lower divisions of which most of the replacement hail from) charges 10 yards for the offense, no known version of organized football —  not even futbol — gets 11 yards for it.

Perhaps there should be some more leeway there. Maybe it was the official’s own, artistic take on the common, too-often-routine defensive holding penalty.

I think 11 yards spices it up a little bit, personally, but you’d think Roseanne Barr had just sung the National Anthem again.

Dean Wormer: “Well, well, looks like somebody forgot there’s a rule against alcohol in fraternities on probation.”

Otter: “What a shame that a few bad apples have to spoil a good time by everybody by breaking the rules.”

The biggest difference in the replacement officials is that it takes them far longer to sort out their handiwork.

And that’s a problem.

With some.

But you should find it refreshing to see a certain deer-in-headlights look from an official while announcing that he just called roughing the quarterback on your team.

The real officials seem to enjoy it way too much when explaining to you that a flapping shoe lace that grazes a quarterbacks’ ankle is technically a personal foul — FIRST DOWN the other team!

Still, the best part so far came, after an intensive background check, before the Saints-Panthers game Sunday.

Flounder: “He said legacies usually get asked to pledge automatically.”

Otter: “Oh, well, usually. Unless the pledge in question turns out to be a real closet case.”

Bluto: “See if you can guess what I am now?”

It turned out there was a fleur de lis in replacement ref Brian Stropolo’s closet, a technicality that went unnoticed during the NFL’s extensive background check before it assigned him to do the Saints-Panthers game.

Apparently, being a high school ref (and presumably a big football fan) from St. Rose (right outside of New Orleans) was not enough of a tip-off to raise a flag on the flag-throwers.

He was hours from taking the field with his heroes.

What gave him away?

Perhaps Stropolo wanted to wear a “Free Sean Payton” T-shirt under his zebra stripes. Maybe he face-painted a fleur de lis on each cheek.

But he would have slipped through the cracks if not for the Facebook arm of ESPN’s investigative team.

The Saints just can’t catch a break here, although it probably wouldn’t have been much help unless Stropolo could cover Steve Smith one-on-one.

But I say enjoy the replacement refs while they last. They bring a certain mystery and spontaneity to what can be a predictable game.

Now, you never know what might happen next.

Bluto: “Food Fight!”

•••

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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