By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
ATLANTA (CBS) — The Los Angeles Rams are in Atlanta preparing to play in Super Bowl LIII. That part is final.
But back in New Orleans, an entire organization and its fan base is likely still feeling cheated by a missed penalty call that worked to keep the Saints from making this Super Bowl trip.
And while the officiating catastrophe — that’s no hyperbole — that took place in the Superdome last weekend involving Nickell Robey-Coleman and Tommylee Lewis could have easily been solved had a safety valve been in place to correct such an obvious miss by the officials, former referee and current CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore does not want the NFL to make such a play subject to replay review or a coach’s challenge.
“We’re taking an outlier play here, so let’s remember that,” Steratore said at a CBS press conference event Tuesday. “A reaction to take an outlier — which we all do agree — is a mistake, and now to try to implement something … that I think is not a good step for us to take. I think it would be an overreaction.”
Steratore, who was an NFL official for 15 years, said that a much simpler solution already did exist for Bill Vinovich and the officiating crew on the field. They could have — and should have — simply huddled together and gotten the call right.
That, though, according to Steratore, is not always an easy thing to do.
“Yeah as an official I think — and I don’t think that anyone that understands officiating would doubt that,” Steratore said. “You know, there are times when — and I’ve worked both sports [football and basketball], I can tell you — you’re the calling official on plays, and then a potential situation occurs and you’re that person, what was already lightning fast, it actually gets faster then. And it’s the axiom of officiating, when you think you’re going slow, go slower. And that conferencing for those seconds feels like minutes on the field, but it does allow everyone to take that breath, and ‘let’s talk about this for a second or two.'”
Along those lines, Steratore rejected the notion that the members of the “all-star crews” for big playoff games would have more hesitancy to overrule one another because they have not worked together for a full season. And really, Steratore expressed genuine concern about opening up judgment plays to replay review.
“I think if we open the box of putting instant replay into judgment calls, OK, that we open up Pandora’s Box in terms of what is enough and what isn’t enough. How big is a big mistake?” he said. “Naturally this play, because it happens at the end of the game, the perfect storm in the worst way occurs. I can assure you that there are plays that are questioned throughout the course of the game that may affect the way that game is played from that point on. So they are of a different magnitude. I’m just not a fan of putting judgment into instant replay.”
Steratore was peppered with question after question about the call, and he may end up as the only official to speak on the matter. The press conference involving the head of officiating and the referee for the Super Bowl has not happened for several years now, and this year’s officiating controversy did not warrant a change of course.
In the midst of the questions, Steratore cautioned against anyone who might think replay can be used as a cure-all.
“I think what we all fall into, maybe we fall into that little rabbit hole thinking that replay’s there, it can fix everything,” he said. “And I think honestly that the human element of the game — coaches, players and officials — I think that’s a part of the excitement of the game. It’s those specific entities that are expressing and conveying their talents in their own ways that creates what we all love. But I do think that the instant replay wording always takes us down that path, that in the event they make a mistake, we can fix it. And I don’t think that’s a good avenue for us to go.”
Ultimately, while Steratore agreed the situation at the end of this year’s NFC Championship Game was problematic, he argued that sweeping changes shouldn’t be made based on one strange event.
“The outlying play that this is, that we all agree on — everyone — it could be corrected in a lot of ways,” he said. “But opening up an entirely new system, based on an outlier, has to be thought through.”
Certainly, football fans, players and coaches in New Orleans wish that something — anything — had been thought through prior to last Sunday.