Rickter Scale: For whom the whistle tolls

The Rickter Scale is a weekly column

Rick Stiebel/Columnist

I’m angrier than an anteater with a stuffy nose and a bad sinus infection.

It’s been days since a couple of dinosaur dung-sized calls by the refs in the Monday night football game; I’m painfully aware there’s no cure for the ire that still seethes within. I’m even more cognizant of the fact that people who aren’t in football pools cannot comprehend why I’m ranting today because there is no logical explanation.

There is no clinical analysis for why millions of people care so passionately about what unfolds on a field thousands of miles away, or how their emotions are intrinsically linked to players they have no tangible connection to. You can make a convincing case that it really shouldn’t matter that much, and most academics would agree. I wouldn’t suggest running that by fans of the New Orleans Saints, however.

The bride remains in mourning eight months after her team’s trip to the Super Bowl was hijacked by a textbook demonstration of pass interference.

That penalty at a critical time was evident to everyone watching, except those wearing black and white striped shirts and whistles around their necks.

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who knocks down $35 million a year to oversee that sort of debacle, decided to add the option for coaches to challenge both offensive and defensive pass interference calls in the wake of last year’s disaster. Problem solved, you say? Unfortunately, what has transpired this season so far begs to differ.

Almost every game includes a long review of a play during which the ex-players and ex-referees every network has hired – yes it’s so bad it’s come to that – explain what should be the correct call. While this plays out, someone somewhere in the league office eventually weighs in with the final word, often much to the disbelief of the experts involved in the sideshow.

And that, whether you follow sports or not, brings us to the pachyderm plugging up the parlour because there’s a lot more at stake than the crushed feelings of fans appalled by a particular call. Millions of dollars are up for grabs each week on bets both legal and otherwise, and where that money winds up should concern us all. Especially if the final decision is influenced in any way by a 300-pound guy named Lefty hovering over six computer screens in the basement of a restaurant in New York.

The NFL took its first furtive steps toward crawling into bed with gamblers after a Supreme Court decision in 2018 paved the way and the NFL’s conscience. If you’re into convoluted conspiracy theories, that was right around the time the league okayed the Raider’s move to Vegas. Was the reason the league tilted in that direction because of the billions a year wagered illegally? Or did the NFL decide to roll the dice simply because they wanted a piece of the action?

I get that referees will make mistakes, but they’re getting tougher to swallow on any given Sunday, Monday or Thursday. Something is terribly wrong with the games when more fans spend their time talking about bad calls instead of great plays.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.


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