A Flag on Instant Replay
After all those hours of football over the Thanksgiving weekend, I jotted down what I like and don’t like about watching the national sport from my couch. Don’t like divas like Mariah Carey hoofing it around and lip-syncing songs at halftime. Like it when the Grambling and Southern University marching bands hoof it around and battle it out on the field during halftime of the Bayou Classic.
I like the Texas A&M dog, but I think the cadet corps should get a life (or at least give their swords back so they can threaten opposing cheerleaders). Don’t like that bovine Bevo, but do like the UT-sipper fans combined with their fake gang sign. And I’ve learned that NFL referee Ed Hochuli – a lawyer with big biceps – explains football rules as if he were doing a long-winded legal dissertation while pretending to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hochuli is kind of odd, but odder still is the way CBS broadcaster Phil Simms often makes homoerotic comments about Hochuli’s “guns.”
But, while I can take lawyer/ref Hochuli prancing around in his tight striped shirt, I can’t take it when he goes into the booth for the “upon further review” NFL replay system. I’m all for getting the calls right and all that, but the replay rules the NFL has adopted are stupid and take away from the game.
The biggest problem is that the guys in the striped shirts either stand around and waffle on calls because they know the calls might be reviewed, or they become the stars of the show like Hochuli seems to think he is. Then there’s the problem with timing and interruption of the game. These reviews take about 90 seconds, more than the time it take to go to the fridge and grab a beer. Instead of watching football, we’re watching a referee on tv watching a tv.
Lots of fans welcome the referee review, but the way the NFL implements it is no good from the start. The NFL is under orders from the broadcast networks to keep the games at about three hours in length. So the league figured out it couldn’t have coaches or officials challenge every call that they didn’t agree with. Under that system, the games might last longer than a scoreless overtime soccer championship – and who wants that?
So the NFL limits the reviews to two challenges per team for 56 minutes of the 60-minute game. In the final two minutes in each half, however, an official up in the replay booth can request a review of unlimited numbers of calls. But only certain parts of the game are reviewable – whether a guy was in bounds, whether a catch has been made, but not whether a receiver was interfered with.
See, it gets complicated. Coaches decide what calls to challenge during most of the game, but during those two-minute drills, the refs police themselves. What ends up happening is that the refs and the coaches become bigger stars than they deserve to be. If Cowboys’ coach Bill Parcells wants to challenge a call, he has to throw a red flag toward the head referee. And that is not nice to look at, the Big Magnificent Tuna prancing along the sideline, his man boobs jiggling, and throwing a red handkerchief toward a guy like Hochuli, who is flexing his biceps.
Joking aside, the system isn’t fair. In the Cowboys-Broncos game on Thanksgiving Day, Parcells’ challenge moved the ball up a few feet to get a first down and keep a drive alive. Later in the game, the Cowboys recovered a fumble, but it appeared that the Cowboys’ cornerback recovered it out of bounds. Because Denver coach Mike Shanahan had already used up his allotment of challenges, this key play was left unreviewed.
I guess I just want my football to be less complicated and more fair to all sides. It is obvious that the NFL cannot let all calls be challenged, as refs like Hochuli would be spending more time in the video booth than an old-time porn addict. And then Hochuli would have to explain in great detail why the split end was not holding.
But the NFL needs to choose. If you want the games to be no more than three hours long – and that is more important than having referees calls reversed – then delete the challenges entirely. The current replay system does little more than make coaches into little actors, makes refs timid and hurts their confidence, and interrupts the game when it doesn’t need to. And besides, the refs frequently still get it wrong, even with the replays.
Let the refs do their jobs and be human and make mistakes. It makes watching the games more interesting – after all, being outraged over bad calls or knowing your team lucked into some ones that could have gone the other way is part of the fun.
So get the refs out of booth and let the players be the stars of the game. And most of all, get Ed Hochuli away from that microphone with his two-minute explanations of why a pass was caught or not. Let him get back to what he does best – giving that mighty flex when he extends his arm for the first down. Phil Simms can tell you how hot that is.