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Replacement refs' call in Packers-Seahawks sets off angry squall

The Packers’ M.D. Jennings, right, appears to secure an interception, but replacement refs give the Seahawks the TD.

Associated Press

The Packers’ M.D. Jennings, right, appears to secure an interception, but replacement refs give the Seahawks the TD.

NEW YORK — The NFL put its stamp of approval on the still-smoldering outcome of Monday night's Green Bay-Seattle game:

Wrong call.

Right review.

Wrong team still wins.

Seahawks 14, Packers 12.

With frustration about replacement officials mounting among coaches, players and fans, an officiating mistake decided the outcome of a game on the prominent stage of Monday Night Football.

The NFL said Tuesday that Seattle's last-second touchdown pass should not have counted because receiver Golden Tate should have been called for pass interference, ending the game with Green Bay winning. Officials haltingly ruled it a touchdown, and penalties are not reviewable.

That left it to whether Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings both had possession of the ball. While two replacement officials converged on the play, one seemed to rule it an interception but quickly changed it to a touchdown after side judge Lance Easley raced in and lifted his arms to signal a simultaneous reception and score. Easley reportedly had never worked above the NCAA's Division III level before becoming a replacement during the NFL officials' lockout.

Within minutes, the negative reaction went nuclear as fans, gamblers, players, columnists, commentators, celebrities, and politicians expressed anger.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, normally soft-spoken, lashed out on his radio show Tuesday: "First of all, I've got to do something that the NFL is not going to do: I have to apologize to the fans."

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney joined the debate about what Packers fans are calling the "Inaccurate Reception."

Obama tweeted: "NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon."

Romney said: "I sure would like to see some experienced referees, with NFL experience, come back on to the NFL playing fields."

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was elected largely on an anti-union stance, advocated for a settlement with the officials' union.

Fans' fascination with the finish was evident in the number who stayed with ESPN to watch Sportscenter highlights: 6.5 million viewers, the most for the full-length show since records started being kept in 1990.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made no apologies Tuesday, saying, "The league backed it up and game over. We win. Obviously they missed the push in the battle for the ball — but that stuff goes on all the time."

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith posted a statement to members saying the lockout "jeopardizes your health and safety."

"This is NOT the league we're supposed to represent," Saints quarterback Drew Brees wrote on Twitter. "Ironic that our league punishes those based on conduct detrimental. Whose CONDUCT is DETRIMENTAL now?"

Unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with officials, the league opened the season with replacements, most with experience only in lower levels of college football. The league and NFL Referees Association have been at odds over salaries, pensions and non-economic issues. The referees want an annual contribution of $38,500 per official to their pension plan, which the NFL considers too generous for part-time employees.

The officials' union said it would cost $3.2 million annually to meet all of the demands, a fraction of the NFL's $9 billion in annual revenue.

The lockout was sought and is now being enforced by the owners, some of them hard-line, deep-pocketed businessmen with limited NFL roots and an earned taste for having things their own way, whatever the cost.

Some owners now want a deal soon, because they are troubled by the damage caused by botched call after botched call. Other owners, it is thought, might dig in, fearful that if the NFL makes a deal in the coming days, it will appear that commissioner Roger Goodell surrendered to public pressure. During the negotiations, some owners have referred to the regular officials, who had long been convinced that the failure of replacements would swing leverage their way, as "holding the league hostage" to their demands.

Talks had resumed over the weekend; the New York Times reported that after Tuesday's talks owners were resistant to more compromise.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he missed the end of the game: "I cut it off about halftime. I just read a little note in the paper that the Seahawks pulled it out."

Vegas oddsmakers said $300 million or more changed hands worldwide on Monday's call. The Glantz-Culver line opened favoring the Packers by 4½.

ESPN's game analyst and former Bucs coach Jon Gruden termed Monday's officiating "tragic" and "comical."

Fear of another botched call is spreading quickly.

"Every player in this league worries about it," Giants defensive captain Justin Tuck said. "I know players are on eggshells and the replacement referees are on eggshells because they know that everything that they say, whether it's right or wrong, is going to be scrutinized."

Some Packers fans threatened to boycott, with a call for an "Occupy Lambeau" protest movement before Sunday's game against the Saints. Others tried to pull the plug on their NFL satellite television packages, only to be told that they can't cancel in the middle of the season.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of how much opposition exists to the call? Bears fans — such as Obama — expressed sympathy for the Packers. "I actually feel bad for the Packers,'" said Greg Michalski of Oak Lawn, Ill. "We always want the Packers to lose, but for the first time in my life I was hoping there was a rule that could overturn that call."

Replacement refs' call in Packers-Seahawks sets off angry squall 09/25/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 12:13am]
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