Imagine, if you will, having your car stolen on a Sunday afternoon in January.
Later in the week, the cops arrive, letting you know that they found the guy who stole your car, they’ve got video evidence that he did it, and he’s going to pay for his crime as prosecutors seek a maximum sentence for grand theft auto.
There’s just one small problem: Your car is gone forever, sold in pieces to a chop shop, and thanks to a snafu with your insurance company, you won’t be back on the road in a new car until September.
The New Orleans Saints and their fans are the victim, their season is the car, the Los Angeles Rams are the chop shop, the NFL league office is the police, and car theft is the egregious non-call on pass interference that ultimately sent the Rams to the Super Bowl, where they will face the New England Patriots in Atlanta on Feb. 2.
The count of grand theft auto? That’s the $26,739 fine the NFL imposed Friday on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the controversial play against the Saints’ Tommylee Lewis.
NFL made an unofficial statement on the hit that Rams’ CB Nickell Robey-Coleman delivered on Saints’ WR Tommylee Lewis.
NFL fined Robey-Coleman the amount of $26,739 for the helmet-to-helmet that was not flagged during the NFC Championship Game, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 25, 2019
The hit happened on third-and-10 at the Rams’ 13-yard line, and the ensuing call — incomplete pass — brought up fourth down.
The Saints kicked a field goal, the Rams answered with one of their own given nearly a full two-minute drill, and the game went to overtime, where the Rams won 26-23.
Had the pass interference been correctly called, New Orleans would have been able to grind the clock and kick a chip-shot field goal with 20 seconds or so left, and Los Angeles would have been far less likely to get downfield for a reply.
In the most likely scenario, the Saints win 23-20 and we’ve got ourselves a different matchup for all the marbles in Atlanta.
The officials even outright told New Orleans coach Sean Payton that they flubbed the call.
“It was simple. They blew the call. They said it should never have not been a call,” Payton said of the explanation he received after the game. “They said not only was it interference, it was helmet-to-helmet. They just — they couldn’t believe it.”
It’s the helmet-to-helmet part that drew the fine on Robey-Coleman.
But as many, many fans of the Saints have angrily pointed out, all the apologizing in the world isn’t going to change the fact that the NFL won’t demand that the teams return to New Orleans, spot the ball on the 13, and force them to play the down and the remainder of the game again.
“Sorry, we screwed up, we cost you your season, and your fans think the sport is rigged, but hey, enjoy the Super Bowl on television, there will be lots of commercials that someone will inevitably be at the party solely to watch!”
Saints owner Gayle Benson has vowed to “aggressively pursue changes in NFL policies to ensure no team and fan base is ever put in a similar position again.”
So have Saints fans, although in their case, most of the aggression is of the virtual pitchfork-and-torch variety on social media and through online petitions and even threats of lawsuits.
But the NFL is far from the only league with problems of this nature — get NBA fans started on basketball’s infamous “last two minutes report” sometimes — and as long as human beings are officiating football games, they’re going to miss calls. It’s always been part of the game. And even when we someday build robot referees, their AI will probably screw up once or twice in big games too.
If the Saints hadn’t played the Rams to a tie in the first place, they wouldn’t have had to overcome a missed call. They’d have punched the ball in from the red zone with their season on the line. Or they’d have gotten a defensive stop up 3. Or they’d have scored in overtime the way the Patriots did against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game Sunday.
Meanwhile, folks in New Orleans, put on some gumbo and crawfish etouffee and serve it up on Super Bowl Sunday. No sense wasting a good party in February in a city that made its name on them.
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