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The NFL's Always Had a Referee Problem

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Okay, so the NFL replacement refs are terrible. Missed calls everywhere. Questionable holding penalties that have decided games. Interceptions called touchdowns. Touchdowns called interceptions. Man, those replacement refs are almost as bad as the regular ones.

Let's be real here: as awful as it's been, it's always been terrible. How many years have you sat on your couch and screamed at the TV because those Foot Locker employees missed an obvious penalty? How many times have you cursed those foolish Zebras, blaming them for your team's 45 championship-less years?

How terrible are referees, in general, and across all sports?

Monday night's touchdown call gave the Seattle Seahawks a win they didn't deserve, despite the fact that they played Green Bay almost even all night long. And, just so nobody is unclear of what I'm trying to say, it was one of the worst calls in NFL history -- if not the worst call. It sent the Green Bay Packers to 1-2, joining the New England Patriots as the best sub-500 teams in NFL history.

It doesn't do us any favours that the Patriots were themselves affected by poor refereeing on Sunday night in their loss to the Ravens, although if New England had won that game, Baltimore would have had as much to be angry about. Those botched calls (and non-calls) went both ways.

But, of course, the Patriots are from Boston, home of the most self-entitled fan base in professional sports. This is the same city that believed the Miami Heat were wrong for forming a Big Three, even if they did the same thing a few years earlier. It's the same city that blamed a big-budget Broadway show called No No Nanette for an 86-year World Series drought.

Boston loves to scapegoat. But, yes, these replacement refs are bad. Like all refs.

How can we pretend that refereeing is some kind of all-inclusive brotherhood? We're suddenly acting like we're all on the same team. One guy posted a Craiglist ad asking for an NFL referee. Sarcastic sports sites like Grantland and Deadspin have only been fanning the flames, because it's easy and the jokes are lazy.

Early Tuesday, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker tweeted, "After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs."

Wait, so you're saying Walker is pro-union now?

The rest of us need to realize that refereeing is the human aspect of professional sports, and it's why we watch, painful as it may be. It's always going to upset half the country while the other 50 per cent is overcome with joy. It's polarizing by nature.

We need to remember when a French judge was paid to strip two Canadian figure skaters of a gold medal in 2002. We need to remember how many non-calls there were in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Where was the penalty when Brad Marchand punched Henrik Sedin in the face repeatedly after that whistle? Or, when Tim Thomas threw that body check on him? "That's playoff hockey," they said, even though those calls were all made in the first three rounds of that year's post-season.

And, where was the suspension on Vancouver's Alex Burrows, when he quite obviously bit the fingers of the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron in Game one of that Cup final?

What about in 1999, when Brett Hull scored the only illegal overtime goal to ever win a Stanley Cup? The stakes were much bigger than they were between Seattle and Green Bay on Monday, and the call was much worse. It cost Buffalo a championship, and they still have never won one.

It actually permanently changed the rules of hockey, because we all knew how wrong it was. You don't think Buffalo is still a little choked about that one?

What about in 2006, when Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu intercepted Peyton Manning to effectively seal the Steelers' playoff victory over the Colts, only to have it overturned for something called a "football play" and watch the Colts climb back into the game?

Pittsburgh won when Mike Vanderjagt missed a tying field goal, but that atrocious call was made.

(After that game, Pittsburgh's Joey Porter said that the referees were trying to give Indianapolis the win. The NFL fined him. Because, after all, how dare you question us, the almighty National Football League?)

What about in 2010, when Calvin Johnson caught the ball in the end zone and the Lions won the game? Remember that one? It was called an incomplete pass, because Megatron didn't hold onto it long enough, but anyone exercising humanity's most basic level of common sense knows he caught the ball.

It was just like last night. Anybody with two eyes can see that ball was picked off. They saw Golden Tate get his hands on it, and contest for it, but they saw M.D. Jennings catch it and come down with it. If you asked a five-year-old child who caught it, he would say, "The green and yellow one."

But, in football's odd rule book, the call wasn't technically that terrible. It was a contested ball, and Tate got his hands on it. In that case, when there's a shared catch, the play goes in favour of the offensive player. The referees called it a touchdown on the field, and then went to review it. Then, we'll assume, they watched the replay and decided there wasn't enough evidence to overturn it.

If you're using your brain, it makes no sense. It was an interception, right? When we play catch with our friends, if you get thrown the ball and you prevent it from hitting the ground, then it's a catch. In the NFL, there are always 10 more technical steps. But, if you're using the NFL's brain, it becomes a little cloudy. And, if it's cloudy, you never know what's going to happen.

Besides, this whole referee strike and Roger Goodell's inability to solve the issue shows the NFL doesn't regularly use its brain, anyway.

So, yes, these replacement refs suck. They're missing calls. They're blowing games. They're losing control of each and every match they're in. But, do we really need to pile it on? Do we really need to pretend we were ever satisfied by referees, professional or scabby?

All we're seeing now is a more consistent standard of terribleness. We're just seeing all the bad calls your normal refs were already making, but they're condensed into each and every game.

The groaning is predictable. The griping is easy. We're all getting sucked into a culture of anger. This is a problem that actually exists because of one man, and one man alone, but even that just seems too easy now.

Let's stop pretending we ever cared for referees. Let's stop pretending they were ever good. Sure, they have tough jobs. But, we all do. Get over it, and just admit it... if the Packers wanted to win, they should have scored more points.

This was originally posted on White Cover Magazine.