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Right Call
by By Dennis Ranahan

What’s a crusade?

It is a cause rooted in a belief that what’s at stake is worth fighting for.

A cause worth generating disruption to interrupt the current path and blaze a new one. Crusades of history illustrate wars fought over ideologies that started with a just cause and morphed into a battle that ended with one side losing.

While my high school history class was learning about the crusades that preceded the birth of our nation, I was figuring out how often a team with an injured quarterback wins with the backup?

I’m sure the crusade stuff was interesting, and I benefited from my research too.

Handicapping the National Football League went from a distraction from my studies to the focus of my profession. Picking National Football League games is my life’s work.

This lifelong passion has led me to an intersection where my respect for football and its excellence runs smack into what I see as the most debilitating aspect of presenting the game in its best light. The obvious need to hire full time officials that are qualified at the highest standards by both mental and physical measurements. I am no longer satisfied with an official that has a 12-yard head start and loses a 50-yard dash by eight-yards.

That is how far behind the play Rick Patterson was when he determined that Jalen Ramsey’s helmet dramatically shifting direction was not the result of a penalty on the play. Cincinnati opened the second half of Super Bowl LVI with a 75 yard touchdown pass. The play erased a 13-10 halftime deficit and staked the Bengals to a lead they would not soon relinquish. On the ensuing Rams drive, a deflected pass went down as an interception against Matthew Stafford, and the Bengals turned that turnover into three points.

The Rams defense shut the door on the Bengals offense the rest of the game, and still Los Angeles needed a late touchdown to overcome a four point, 20-16, deficit. Stafford led Los Angeles inside the ten-yard-line with two minutes left on the clock. On third down, he threw over the middle to the league's recently named Most Valuable Offensive Player, Cooper Kupp, and the soon-to-be named Super Bowl MVP receiver had the ball batted down by a brilliant defensive play on the part of Logan Morgan.

I have always maintained that a basketball player getting called for a technical after disputing a blatantly bad call, was the worst injustice in sports. Turning a good play into a foul and then multiplying the punishment by giving free throws for the objection to the bad call.

But I have a new top of the chart unfair call based on bad officiating, and that is to rob Wilson of a great defensive play against one of the best offensive players in the game at the goal line in the Super Bowl. The correct call, or more rightly stated, no call, would have resulted in the Los Angeles Rams facing a fourth and goal from the eight-yard-line.

The Super Bowl Championship on the line on one play, veteran Matthew Stafford in his first season with Los Angeles playing the Super Bowl in his home stadium leading a dramatic victory, or the Cinderella Bengals and their improbable run to a Super Bowl title completed. Perhaps a Bengals defender would have picked off Stafford and returned the interception the length of the field to build the Bengals final winning margin to 27-16.

Or, the Bengals, who had stopped the Las Vegas Raiders in the red zone in their Wild Card Game, and turned a Tennessee would be winning late possession into an interception and clinching field goal in the Divisional round, would make the game deciding defeinsve play in Super Bowl LVI. This is the same Bengals team that became only the second playoff team in the dozen postseason games decided by overtime that won after losing the coin toss.

The Bengals intercepted Patrick Mahomes at Arrowhead and sent the Kansas City fans home after a disappointing three point loss to this scrappy Cincinnati squad that would now need only one more defensive stop to win their first ever Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Didn’t happen.

Was never given the chance.

The errant flag gave the Rams a new set of first-and-goal downs and the game ended with most pundits landing on a good Super Bowl but not a great one. I contend it had a chance to be a great one, and the players on the field led to that worthy and no doubt memorable conclusion, but a part-time official got the call wrong and stole from us a great Super Bowl finish.

If Kupp would have grabbed a fourth down pass for the winning score it would have been all the rage and his Most Valuable Player Award would have had a lot more sizzle. Instead, the officials gave us a three play drive beginning at the four-yard-line and cashed for a score on a second down after another flag set the Rams up with a first-and-goal at the one.

There was no controversy over the flag that set the Rams up at the one-yard-line, pass interference in the endzone was clear. But the call against Wilson took away the opportunity of the players on the field deciding Super Bowl LVI.

That drama was stolen.

Not by coruptness, but incompetence.

Don’t hold it against any official for their poor performance, it’s not their day job. If you really want to see these men shine, go visit them as they practice law in a courtroom, or as a doctor saving a life on an operating table, moving men and mountains on the job site or fighting fires in California.

Across the board, NFL officials shine in their professional lives.

Better than they do in their weekend work officiating NFL games.

Both teams in Super Bowl LVI played to a crescendo that would have produced a fourth-and-eight to decide Super Bowl LVI, instead the officials ground the game to a first and goal from inside the five.

The National Football League was founded more than a hundred years ago, and it was decided to have men that were well respected in their lives and had the ability to ref a game to work for the NFL on weekends. A practice not too far ahead of the good hearted neighbor who volunteers to umpire the local little league games.

But the NFL has evolved over the past 100 years into a mega sports industry that should no longer be decided on the field by men who may have more important responsibilities waiting for them on Monday morning at their full-time job. How confident would you be if air traffic controllers were part time workers, the men and women entrusted to guide your flight to a safe landing spent the bulk of their professional lives coaching the local high school wrestling team?

The dictionary defines crusade as, “A vigorous concerted movement for a cause or against an abuse.”

Yep, I’m on a crusade to stop the abuse of our national pastime by incompentent officials.

I’m calling for full time refs who focus year around efforts to study the game, review films with the same diligence as the coaches and players participating in the contest, and have the physical abilities to not lose a fifty-yard-dash against the men they rule by 20-yards.