One subject rarely touched by football journalists is the officiating factor.No, it’s not the referee factor. There is only one referee. He’s the zebra in the white hat who stands behind the offense, and calls roughing the quarterback if someone as much as breathes on the QB. The other six officials range from line judges to field judges to umpires, and it takes an Einstein to figure which is which. All I know is that the officials determine the winning and losing of NFL games more than running backs, more than linebackers, more than quarterback ratings. A perfect example was Monday night’s Eagles-Dolphins. I read three or four news accounts of the game, and nowhere could I find a word about the most important play of the game -- namely the third-period pass interference call on Miami. Midway through period three. The score tied at 24. Philly was third and long on the Miami 32. QB McNabb through a prayer toward the end zone. The receiver and the defender went for the ball, which fell untouched. Time for a 49-yard field goal, right? Wrong! A flag. Pass interference. First and goal on the one. You could have turned your sets off right there. In fact, I did. It was that flag that cost the Dolphins the game…and their season. Here’s a team that had been practicing and playing football since July with the single goal of making the playoffs, and, ultimately, the Super Bowl. And their season was wiped out by a phantom flag interference call. Do you realize that most football teams, college and pro, spend part of their week practicing pass interference? The simplest way to draw a flag is to have the QB underthrow the receiver. When the receiver stops to come back to the ball, the defender runs into him. Flag! Happens all the time.
You would think that the NFL, when not concerned with cell phones in the goalposts, and “help me” signs in the snow, would understand the situation, and do something to eliminate it. You would think that the NFL would find itself embarrassed by the fact that every team in the league practices this scam. The only thing unusual about the Miami play was that the ruling went against the home team. Four times out of five, it’s the visiting team that gets shafted. Like Seattle. Seattle has been robbed three times by the zebras in recent memory, once three years back, and twice this year. And, on all three occasions, it was the visiting team. You’ll remember the play back in 2000 when the zebras gave the Jets a TD when they mistook QB Testaverde’s helmet for the ball. That play cost Seattle the game, its season, and got the coach canned. This year, in Baltimore a month back, the zebras wrongly stopped the clock in the final minute, giving the Ravens time to matriculate the ball down the field for the tying FG. Baltimore then kicked the winning FG in OT. Then last weekend, in St. Louis, the field judge tripped over his own legs and fell down, and took down the Seattle receiver, costing him a shot at the game-winning TD. “The officials are a part of the field,” said refereee Norm Coleman, “it’s just part of the game.” I guess it was also a part of the game the week before when the same officiating crew screwed up at Giants Stadium. The same field judge blew the whistle for delay of game, but nobody heard it because of the wind, and Bruce Smith put down a defenseless Kerry Collins for the year. The Baltimore and St. Louis calls knocked Seattle out of the playoffs, just like the phantom PI call Monday night knocked Miami out of the playoffs, and surely cost Coach Dave his job. I just wonder why you have to surf the jimhurley and johnpiesen websites to get this valuable information. Where’s Dr. Z when you need him? Speaking of screwups, did you see what happened in Louisiana? No, I’m not talking about Joe Horn’s cell phone. All that did was take the onus off the New York Football Giants’ dreadful performance. No, I’m talking about what happned cross-state at Delta Downs. You’ll remember that on Dec. 5 a colt named Mr. Jester won the $1 million Delta Jackpot, the second richest race in the land for 2-year-olds.
Now, it seems that, according to the rules, Mr. Jester was two pounds light. Under the allowance conditions, he should have carried 117 pounds, two more than the 115 he packed in the race. The Delta racing office admits it screwed up. Now the question arises: are they going to try to take the $600,000 first prize from Mr. Jester’s owner, a quiet, bridge-playing Arkansas lady named Kaaren Biggs? Nobody seems to know. The Louisiana press corps, as we speak, is burning up the phone wires and fax machines, looking for an answer, but no one is talking. Starting next month, I’ll be hanging with these folks so I guarantee I’ll have some answers for you. Meanwhile, at Aqueduct, the snow has been cleared, and they plan to run the $75,000 Damon Runyan Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds on Wednesday. Let me first mention that Damon Runyan was the greatest New York journalist of all time, and therefore deserves a lot more than a 75K race in mid-December. But I guess NYRA has a lot more to worry about these days than its stakes schedule. It would be poetic justice if Delta Ghost, off a $60,000 claim by Sandy Goldfarb, the closest thing to a Damon Runyan character left at the New York tracks, gets the money at a square price. The contention includes West Virginia, the logical favorite off his third in the Remsen, and Salty Character, Kiss an Optimist and Unbuckle, 1-2-3 in a recent allowance over the track. PIESEN’S PICKS: 1) Delta Ghost 2) Salty Character 3) West Virginia Good news from the left coast: Jockeys Julie Krone and David Nuesch avoided serious injuries in that horrific spill last Friday at Hollywood Park last Friday, and are due to resume riding this week.
Nuesch knows all about catastrophic spills. David’s long-time main squeeze is Theresa Powers, one of the winningest female jockeys of all time. Theresa’s riding career ended at age 30 because of the physical damage caused in spills…and is now content to work as an exercise rider when her health permits.