Monday, October 01, 2012

Football, football, rah! rah! rah! (The boys are back in town.)

Well, the Great National Crisis is over. The long, dark night of the American football fan soul has ended. The replacement football refs, those rank amateurs making howlingly bad calls while the “real” refs negotiated with the NFL over pension rights, have been replaced. The old pros are back, with screen-cursing fans vowing never to complain about a bad call ever, ever again.

For those who don’t follow professional football – and, believe me, I can’t blame you if you don’t; I do watch games, but tend to get as caught up in asking the big question: what are you doing spending time with this wildly militaristic, super-authoritarian, brain-damage-inducing violent “game”, as easily as I get caught up in the action – the regular guys in the black and white stripes have spent the season up to now locked out by the NFL.

In lieu of those with experience deciding whether the passer was roughed, the pass interfered with, or the offensive lineman tippy-toed into a false start, the NFL dredged up a bunch of b-listers to fill in. Now, it’s one thing for the regular refs to make calls – many of which will be considered controversial – in front of 80,000 howling in-person fans and 80 million second guessers. Second guessers who may have money on the line in Vegas and/or their fantasy football team. And who are drinking beer and munching nachos  in front of their 56” flat screen.

It’s another thing to put someone in the glare who’s been reffing for Christian high school games, or for the Lingerie Football League – in neither of which circumstance is your life apt to be threatened. (Not up on the scantily clad gal footballers? Neither was I, but I’m sure you can use your imagination and figure out how they roll. Anyway, there are apparently quite a few teams – with names like the Baltimore Charm, Chicago Bliss, Philadelphia Passion, LA Temptation, San Diego Seduction, and Las Vegas Sin. If I had to pick one to root for, given that there’s no local edition, I’d have to go with the Minnesota Valkyrie. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll ever have to choose up sides here.)

Anyway, there have been great big gobs of pissing, moaning, whining, and gnashing of teeth over the bad calls that these poor substitutes have been making. To say that there’s been near hysteria is no overstatement. There’s been tons of frothing about how there’s so much at stake in these games, how the calls matter, how important every little W-L is, that you’d think folks were talking about something really critical here. (Remember, boys and girls, it is only a game.)

The furor peaked last Monday night when a couple of bad calls late in the game handed Seattle a last second win over Green Bay. The cheers you heard were not just from Seahawks fans, but from the regular referees who, I suspect, watched the botched calls, listened to the announcers carry on about the sanctity and integrity of the game, and, having been handed a two-ton bargaining chip, started jumping for joy. (That would be a metaphorical bargaining chip, of course, not a two-ton one, which would not enable a football ref to jump for joy.)

The poster boy for the bad refs is one Lance Easley, by day a small business banker for a BofA branch. By weekend, a Christian high school league ref who also officiates at powder-puff games. Easley made the call that gave Seattle the game, and I’m guessing that today he’s just as happy to be out of the fray and back to his day job figuring out whether Mike’s Pizza deserves the loan for a couple of new ovens. (Other replacement reps included an eighth grade geography teacher and the highway commissioner for an Illinois township.O

To move from referring at a high school game attended by a couple of thousand however rabid parents and classmates, to one where the eyes of the Monday Night Football watching world are upon you. Yikes!

The games – commercials aside – are faster. The players are bigger, quicker, and scarier. The rules a bit different. The stakes (however ridiculously inflated) are higher. And there is an awful lot of serious betting money on th eline.

Talk about pressure.

The regular officials, by the way, have day jobs, too. One’s an attorney, another’s an entrepreneur.

These outside jobs are a factor in the negotiations between the league and the referee's union. According to one NFL owner, the referees' reluctance to become full-time NFL employees is one of the reasons owners have been so unwilling to compromise. (Source: WSJ Online.)

I don’t see what the big deal is between part-time and full-time is here. Aren’t all football players pretty much part timers. Yes, I know they have to lift weights and run sprints all year, but they really only work for about 6 months, no?

Anyway, the big issue was over the referees pension plan, their being one of the few groups of part-time workers (and, increasingly, full-time workers) to have a pension plan.

Lucky them!. And while I don’t know what these guys make, I suspect it’s a reasonable enough rate such that attorneys and entrepreneurs would give up 2/5’s of their weekends a year to scramble around a football field in a polyester shirt blowing a whistle.

Whatever the problems were, the NFL was finding itself with an insurrection on its hands. (Hah!) Fans were going wild, politicians were getting in on the act (interestingly, even the most staunch anti-union ones), and active players were starting to tweet their complaints. I’m certain that, off-tweet, the NFL was hearing from plenty of owners that the strike needed to be settled.

So now we’re back to “real” referees.

Lance Easley can go back to powder puff and small business lending.

And I can go back to decided whether or not I like professional football, without my opinion being swayed by calls that even I, a casual fan, can see are just awful.

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