Replacement referees avoid costly mistakes

Posted: Monday, September 10, 2001

Early in Sunday's Seattle-Cleveland game, replacement referee Bill Etzler inadvertently left his microphone on when he consulted umpire Wes Fritz about a call.

''Clock runs, right, Wes?'' Etzler asked Fritz after Seattle completed a 4-yard pass.

In Cincinnati, referee John Smith announced after a challenge to a call by Bengals coach Dick LeBeau: ''The question was, was the runner down behind the line of gain?''

As was the case last week when the replacements were brought in to work the final exhibition games, there was little controversy when the officials filled in for locked-out regulars for the NFL season-openers Sunday.

Replacement officials' calls were mostly correct and there were few disputes.

''I thought they did a great job,'' said wide receiver Eric Moulds of Buffalo, which lost 24-6 to New Orleans. ''I really wasn't worried about what they were doing. From what I could see, they made some good calls. They're going to be rusty a little bit, because they're replacement officials. But overall, I thought they did a great job today.''

The most controversial call came in Oakland's 27-24 victory in Kansas City, which Tom Condon, the negotiator for the locked-out regulars attended and called, ''the most poorly officiated professional football game I've ever seen.''

Late in the first half, Oakland's Charlie Garner made a great catch near the sideline as Jerome Woods slammed him out of bounds on a play that was first ruled a 27-yard reception.

But the call was reversed upon review when referee Randall Beesley decided the tackle did not cause both of Garner's feet to go out of bounds. A furious Tim Brown then drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, all of which resulted in the Raiders having third-and-17 from their own 46 instead of first-and-10 from the Kansas City 12, and helped the Chiefs take a 14-6 lead into halftime.

In the Rams' 20-17 overtime win over the Eagles, the game could have turned on a replay.

With 10 minutes left in regulation and Philadelphia trailing 17-3, Donovan McNabb completed a pass to Cecil Martin.

The officials first ruled that Martin was stopped just short of the goal line, but the call was overturned on replay by referee Al Hynes, an NFL supervisor. The replay showed the play was extremely close, but the Rams' win made it moot.

The Raiders' victory also rendered the controversial call in their game meaningless. Still, Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon said the officials missed numerous calls -- ''intentional grounding, delay of game, a lot of stuff -- and I mean on us.'' Gannon later noted that Condon is his agent.

More common were comments from players like New England wide receiver Troy Brown, whose team lost to the Bengals.

''There were close calls, but we can't blame the refs,'' Brown said. ''It wasn't the refs' fault that we didn't get started until the fourth quarter.''

Talks between the regular officials and the NFL broke down last week. The union rejected the league's latest offer for a 60 percent raise this year, 85 percent in the second, 100 percent in the third and 150 percent in the fifth. There are no formal negotiations scheduled.

Replacement officials are being paid $2,000 a game and are guaranteed paychecks for the next two weeks, even if the dispute is settled by then.

Several of the glitches Sunday, as the one in Cleveland, came from college officials not used to NFL rules.

In Green Bay, for example, there were nine penalties called in the Packers' victory over the Lions. Referee Aster Sizemore didn't announce the number of the offending player on any of them.

''I think it's from college days when we didn't have to recognize them that much,'' he said. ''I think we did end up getting some of the names and numbers afterwards.''

Sizemore, a retired Southeastern Conference official, also apparently incorrectly invoked a college rule that differs from the NFL.

After Bernardo Harris recovered Lions quarterback Charlie Batch's fumble, the defender got up without being touched and ran into the end zone. But he was ruled down at the spot he recovered. Green Bay won the game 28-6, so the miscall hardly mattered.

In New Orleans' 24-6 win in Buffalo, the officials marked off several penalties a yard short. But again, it didn't matter.

Nor did what happened at the start of Tampa Bay's 10-6 win over Dallas, where the officials staged the coin toss, unaware that they were supposed to wait for President Bush in the White House to do it live on the screen for all 10 early games.

Didn't matter.

Both coins came up tails.

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