You robbed us again.
Robbed us of a fourth and goal from the eight-yard-line to decide Super Bowl LVI.
Without an ill-advised referee call, that was going to be the scenario to decide the Super Bowl.
It was not new territory for the Cincinnati Bengals.
In a Wild Card game against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Bengals were forced to stage a red zone stop to preserve a seven point win, 26-19. The following week, against the Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati turned a could have been winning touchdown drive by the favored Titans into an interception and ensuing winning field goal, 19-16.
Versus the Chiefs at Arrowhead, they were down 21-3 early, tied the game in regulation, and became only the second playoff team in eleven coin flips that won the game after losing the overtime toss. Cincinnati intercepted Patrick Mahomes on the first overtime drive and then scored the winning field goal to gain their only lead of the day, 27-24.
Cincinnati was perfectly poised to meet the moment of stopping a Matthew Stafford led drive that had leaked into first and goal territory. On third down, Logan Wilson made one of the great defensive plays in Super Bowl history, batting down a pass at the goal line intended for the league’s Most Valuable Offensive Player of the Year, Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
Get ready football world, the Super Bowl Championship is on the line on a fourth down from the eight-yard-line. It was the kind of situation the Bengals had been winning at for more than a month.
But it never happened.
Because one of the greatest defensive plays in football history was instead nullified by a penalty flag and the marvelous athletic prowess of Wilson turned into a play that gave the Rams a new first and goal set of downs.
We never got to see that fourth down play even as the players on the field had battled to this crescendo.
The Rams scored three plays and one more flag later with Cooper grabbing his second touchdown pass of the game from Stafford. A failed ensuing Cincinnati drive resulted in the Rams victory, 20-17.
Without the blown call, maybe the Rams would have scored on the fourth and goal from the eight and all the postgame talk would be about that winning play. Or maybe the ball would have been tipped, picked off, and returned 93 yards for a score that bulged the Bengals winning margin to 24-13.
Perhaps the defense would have been good enough to make another postseason stop on fourth down, and the game ended with Joe Burrow keeling down moments before a hail of confetti in his Cincinnati team colors fell from the rafters.
The Rams or Bengals winning was going to be a great story either way, but they got pushed out of the focus by another horrible call by officials that seemed determined all day not to throw flags, but then on the deciding final drive went flag happy, calling four penalties duing 12 seconds of game clock and perhaps deciding the contest on the call that took away a great athletic play.
If the Rams would have scored, or the Bengals would have completed their improbable drive to a Super Bowl title, this contest could have been considered one of the best games played in the 56 game series.
Instead, most postgame pundits categorize Super Bowl LVI as okay instead of exceptional.
That’s because the excitement generated on the field by the players was once again blunted by part-time officials who are not very good at their job.
Can you blame them?
After all, tomorrow morning one of them may be due in court as part of their responsibilities as a lawyer. Or be in the shoes of a school administrator who took leave from his post during a worker strike to decide the fate of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts.
Would you want an air traffic controller guiding your flight in from the east coast to be a part time weekend worker who spent the bulk of their week as a wrestling coach at the local high school?
It was a quaint idea to have capable men who were accomplished in other pursuits serve as weekend officials for the National Football League when it was founded more than 100 years ago. Just a step ahead of the good-hearted neighbors who umpire the local little league games.
But the league has grown in leaps and bounds over the past 64 years, and it is still stuck with part-time employees officiating their games.
The controversial call on the first play of the second half saw the defender's head turn like it got caught by a grappling hook on a fishing expedition, and yet no call was made. The Bengals scored a touchdown on the play. The phantom holding call on Wilson was critical to the Rams winning the game.
This is not corruption, where the Refs favored the Bengals early and the Rams late, this is simply not the best the game warrants. The ref following the opening pass play of the second half had a 12 yard head start on the receiver and was trailing the play by eight yards when the possible infraction was missed.
The league said it wasn’t an error, that Tee Higgins didn’t grab and twist the mask of Jalen Ramsey, his head jerked that way because, well, let's leave that to the kind of thinking that purported a magic bullet was involved in the 1963 shooting in Dallas.
What must we call on the league to do; those of us that are fans of the game and those that stage the events and those that put their careers on the line as players and coaches?
Hire full time refs.
Men and women that spend all year viewing films, discussing situations, and know the rule book inside and out. Know it in such detail that long conferences among a group of officials pushing players out of earshot while trying to figure out what applies to the play are a thing of the past. Professional officials that participate in a year-round conditioning program that has them in shape to keep up with skilled professional athletes. Professionals who spend all their working lives honing their craft and elevating the game day calls to where the players on the field decide the winners and losers.
We deserve it.