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Who Referees NFL Refs?

Time to reform football officiating

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Like everyone else in Pittsburgh, I was ready to round up a posse and go in search of head referee Peter Morelli after he robbed Troy Polamalu of his potentially game-changing interception against Indianapolis.

To be fair, Morelli -- a high school principal during the week -- is not corrupt. Merely incompetent. But what if your surgeon did what Morelli did? "Um, I made a judgment call and decided to leave a few instruments and sponges in your abdomen. If you die from this, don't worry, I'll issue a formal apology."

Although the NFL office did issue an official apology to the Steelers for Morelli's folly, the fans in New England are still in a lather over the phantom pass-interference call on Asante Samuel in Denver -- not to mention the blown touchback call, which should have undone the touchdown Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey scored off a pick. Meanwhile, to the west, Chicago fans are still stewing about a non-call on a barefaced delay of game, which would have prevented Rex Grossman's game-icing interception.

In short, the referees stunk and everyone watching knows it because, well, we have eyes.

George Orwell was wrong: When the revolution came, it came on the gridiron. Ignore what your eyes and brain tell you -- that's not what happened. War is peace, my zebra-striped friend.

The above sampling includes just a choice few of the veritable bushel-basket full of officiating fatuity that took place over the division-round weekend. Aren't post-season officials supposed to be the best the NFL has to offer? It says here that something has to be done, no matter how the NFL spins it. (The head of NFL officials has already claimed the officiating is "better than ever.") The stakes are the league's perceived integrity, and it doesn't get any higher than that.

How can the NFL fix these problems and maintain its image?

* Annual boot camp for officials, to be held in a different NFL city every year. (So you could take the kids!) Picture a deranged Christopher Walken-like drill instructor running these guys through their paces. Pete Morelli's too slow? DI Walken would yell, "Stevie Wonder could review that film quicker, Morelli! Drop and give me 20." Droopy Dog lookalike Jeff Triplette blows a quick whistle on a play that's still progressing, and the DI shouts, "What is your major malfunction, Triplette?! One more quick whistle from you, and you'll be blowing it from another orifice." Walt Coleman misses an egregious pass interference and is sent to clean the latrine with nothing but his penalty flag.

* The Peripatetic Perspicacity Program: Hire full-time officials, who keep sharp by officiating games in NFL Europe. The remainder of the year, they could spend training, watching game film and studying the rulebook.

* Player review boards. Even hardened criminals get the chance to face their accusers. Why not give players a chance to confront the zebras? As with the union reps, each team gets to send one guy. You just know the Steelers would send Joey Porter and the Ravens would send Ray Lewis -- and a conference table with Joey and Ray Ray sitting beside each other would generate more excitement than most Monday-night games this season. Security would have to be tight, but the NFL can afford it.

* Mandatory logic and reason classes, combined with elocution lessons. This might prevent official -- and educator! -- Morelli from saying something as nonsensical as: "I had the defender catching the ball. Before he got up, he hit it with his leg with his other leg still on the ground before making a football move. Therefore, he did not complete the catch. And then he lost the ball. It came out, and so we made the play an incomplete pass." A "football move"? Everyone within earshot was stupider for having listened to him. If the officials are going to get calls wrong, they could at least speak in concise, lucid English. Well, maybe not in NFL Europe, but you get the idea.

And when officials do alter the outcome of a game with a badly blown call, punitive measures could be instated.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has to do something. As it stands, officiating in the NFL is FUBAR -- and he could be the next Vince McMahon before he knows it.

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