The Replacement Refs’ Guide to Officiating the NFL

Posted on
Sep 25, 2012

Greetings, replacement refs!

I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the officiating that’s gone on so far this season in the NFL.

It probably seems weird that I, a travel writer, am weighing in on this issue. I realize I’m sort of unqualified to do so. I’ve never played football, and I’ve only seen one game live, but I can scream “HOW IS THAT NOT A HOLDING VIOLATION?” at the TV with the best of them.

And besides, not having an extensive football background doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone else from being an expert this season, right? My opinion is just as valid as that of the real estate agent calling the Monday Night Game, or the menagerie of farm animals in striped shirts the league has ready to officiate the playoffs (I will give them this: that is a great way to boost ratings among toddlers. “PUPPY PUPPY PUPPY!” will be shouted across living rooms throughout the land while adult fans of the game will weep into their beers).

Yes, yes. Fine, Anton. You can be the line judge.


So I’m weighing in.

Here’s the thing: crap is going downhill, and it’s going downhill fast. I’m talking, like, a tidal wave of poop here, guys. People are not happy. When a friggin Vikings fan sides with Green Bay, you realize just how much of a mess the league is in. Hell, when the winning team thinks that they didn’t legitimately beat their competitors, you have problems.

Good heavens. Even the president is calling you guys out, and it’s an election year. He isn’t going to say stuff that will get him in trouble, you know?

I realize that you are totally in over your heads, and you’re doing the best that you can. I get it. Recently my husband rented a car in Ireland, and was tasked with trying to drive stick shift (something he had done approximately one time in his life, roughly a decade ago) while driving on THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE ROAD. And believe me when I tell you he did his darndest, but that didn’t really matter. The car kept sputtering and dying and he stalled the engine at least a dozen times or so.

Good intentions are horseshit when you don’t know what the hell you are doing.

Sigh. My beloved.

Despite his best attempts, people got really frustrated because he shouldn’t have been on the damn road in the first place. We just should have ponyed up the extra cash and had a professional take us where we needed to go.

See where I’m going with this analogy? You guys NEED TO GET OUT OF THE CAR BEFORE YOU HURT SOMEONE.

What’s that? You can’t simply abandon the vehicle in the middle of the street? Well, that’s very professional of you. I can’t imagine why the Lingerie Football League let you go. But you can’t continue officiating like you have been, either.

So I’ve pulled together a list of suggestions and guidelines for you guys that might improve your calls of the game. Feel free to print them out and tuck them into the dust jacket of your copy of NFL Officiating for Dummies.

  • Empirical evidence is your friend. If say, a team like the Seattle Seahawks (who are famously known for being able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory) manages to somehow beat the Packers in a shocking last-minute upset, THEY PROBABLY DIDN’T.
  • When an offensive team runs more than 20 yards on a single play, just call a holding penalty, okay? Because there probably was one that you missed.
  • If a snap happened too quickly and you get scared or confused, just call “Offsides”. Nobody understands that penalty, anyway.
  • Each team gets three time-outs per half. You’ll probably want to write that down somewhere.
  • If someone calls a time-out, they’ve CALLED A TIME-OUT. No backsies.
  • Don’t say a team scored a touchdown unless they actually did. I know it’s super fun to make the touchdown signal (it’s kind of like doing the beginning of the YMCA dance), but we don’t want to repeat the Testaverde debacle of the 90s. You guys have the benefit of instantly replay. You should probably use it.
  • Stop referring to Tom Brady as “McDreamy.”
  • Sigh. No. NO, you cannot assign 4 points for a field go just because you think that “kickers are underappreciated.”
  • Flipping a coin may only be used to determine which team is kicking and which team is receiving prior to the start of the game (and during overtime). It should not be used for, say, figuring out whether or not a player was inbounds.
  • “I don’t want to disappoint the home team” is not a proper justification for why you made a call.
  • If one player accidentally grazes another player’s mask with his hand, that shouldn’t really count as illegal hands to the face. But when a player’s head is yanked at a 90-degree angle because another player GRABBED HIM BY THE FACE MASK, you probably should call that penalty.
  • Please do your best to maintain objectivity during the game. Try not to openly cheer when one side scores, and consider covering up your “FARVE WAS FRAMED” tattoo.
  • When you repeatedly refer to the Denver Broncos as “the Denver Horses”, it significantly damages your credibility.
  • Prior to a game, it is not advisable to rub your hands together and say to your fellow refs, “Well, gentleman, care to make this interesting?”
  • Do not encourage the offensive team to go for it on fourth down just so you don’t have to move all the way over to other side of the field.
  • Punishing Aaron Rodgers for “Encroachment … on my heart” is not a viable penalty. But man, do I hear you.
  • There are four quarters in regulation football game, and not five. I know that gets confusing. Just think of a dollar. You know how there are four quarters in a dollar? It’s like that.

    No, I’m absolutely positive there aren’t five quarters in a dollar.
  • The following are unacceptable nicknames for Eli Manning: Little Peyton. Manning the Lesser. Junior Gorg. 

    For the record, I love them both.

  • If you find yourself in disagreement with someone, please note that the phrase “Well, that’s not how we did it in the XFL” does not strengthen your position.
  • For the last time, no one on the Giants wants to read your Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fan fiction.
  • If you accidentally drop a flag, please retrieve it. Don’t randomly come up with a penalty so you don’t have to bend over.
  • I don’t care what year you think it is, the Houston Oilers are NO LONGER A TEAM.
  • If one player catches a ball and has full possession of it, and another player gets his arm stuck in there (which would have been offensive pass interference, anyway), it shouldn’t count as simultaneous possession. That’s like standing naked outside of someone’s bedroom window and claiming that you had sex.
  • Stop referring to Michael Oher as “that kid from The Blind Side.”
  • Don’t quit your day job.

Sigh. That’s about all the feedback I have, gentleman. Please, please start making slightly better calls, okay? I didn’t spend all that time learning the ins and outs of the game just to end up watching baseball.

Leave a Comment

  • Andi

    Agreed. I’m a 49ers fan and I knew that we were out of timeouts when we challenged.
    A team with 0 timeouts left doesn’t get to challenge a play and then gain a timeout because the refs decided they were right. (When really the refs should have gone with their gut on that one, original call was right.)

  • “Don’t say team scored a touchdown unless they actually did. I know it’s super fun to make the touchdown signal (it’s kind of like doing the beginning of the YMCA dance), but we don’t want to repeat the Testaverde debacle of the 90s. You guys have the benefit of instantly replay. You should probably use it.”

    Not to be too technical about it, but *we* have the benefit of instant replay and no one is sure that they did in this case. (Outside of the coach challenges)

    “Immediately after the play, ex-ref and current Monday Night Football referee analyst Gerry Austin said on ESPN that the play could not be overturned because simultaneous catches are unreviewable, by rule.” —

    The ruling on the field had to stand, the problem was there was two of them. But your analogy is spot on and SOMEONE needs to get those refs off the field!

  • Katie

    As a Wisconsinite and avid Packer fan, I have obviously been hearing about the game all day long. (For the record I agree that we were completely screwed over in both the ending “touchdown” and the earlier “defensive pass interference”. I was pissed) However, I was not expecting to find a commentary about it when reading my friendly neighborhood travel blogger. BUT, I loved you analysis and tips for the replacement officials. I think all of them could use a laminated copy in their back pocket 🙂

  • I’m a Philadelphia Eagles fan. I bleed green. I hate the Dallas Cowboys–although admittedly some of my fellow Birds fans can behave very, very badly—–like by cheering when a Dallas player is injured and carted off the field. But I digress….

    Another piece of advice for replacement refs (even if the wronged player plays for Dallas): When throwing down your hat to mark where a player ran out of bounds and thus became an ineligible receiver, do NOT throw your hat into the field of play in the end zone where said player can slip on it and risk a season ending injury.

  • MDS

    For someone who doesn’t like football you either really know football or had some outside assistance! While we’re on the topic of Muppets and football players I submit to you the follow and you must stick with it till the end, you’ll be happy you did.

    • Who said I don’t like football? I just don’t really pay attention to college ball, is all.

  • Living in France, we watch rugby and tend to get all snnoty about US football players with all their padding, but your post makes it sound like its time to find a US sports bar and check out the action. Merci for my morning laugh!

  • Penny

    I read this post out loud to my sister last night and almost couldn’t get through it because we were laughing so hard. I am a diehard Giants fan, and I love that you featured my dear Eli. Especially since you featured him next to Junior Gorg. Did you send this to the NFL? You should.

    • Everywhereist

      I kind of love Eli. I like how wounded he looks, even when he’s winning. Even though he does look a bit like Junior Gorg (I love Junior Gorg, too).

  • From a Packers fan, I sincerely thank you. This totally cracked me up and helped my grumpy mood that’s been lingering since the game on Monday. Now, if only I could get my dad to cheer up. He may never be the same.

    • Everywhereist

      It was such B.S. We’re in Seattle, but we LOVE the Packers, so I actually figured that no matter who won, I’d be happy. I was wrong.

      I keep reading about the event, hoping someone will explain it, but it still MAKES NO SENSE. Something about how simultaneous possession can’t be reviewed? BUT IT WASN’T SIMULTANEOUS POSSESSION. Also, there was offensive pass interference and …

      Oh, damn it. You got me started all over again. 🙂 Give your dad a hug for me.

  • Seattle got a wee freebie. It happens. Green Bay got a win over the Jets in similar circumstances (with the regular incompetent refs) in 2010, so they have nothing to complain about. Nothing to see here, move along now.

  • Well said. Being a sports fan in the northwest, I can’t legitimately get to invested in who wins. Still, if there were no such thing as a “Bad Call” most people would have nothing to talk about. So in a way seriously bad officiating has brought us all together in a way that mere great play cannot. Strangers on the street are now stopping each other to ask “Did you see the Seattle game?”
    My friend Amy from the bank (Hi Amy) went to the game with her husband from Wisconsin to cheer on the Packers. I can only imagine the drive home.
    Just look at those fans with special hairdos and makeup, screaming their guts out on every play, just to insure that the Seattle stadium maintains it’s place among the loudest places on Earth. So loud that they proudly cause several “offsides” penalties in every game. Unfortunately, mostly on their own team but that’s totally beside the point.
    Bad calls make the game more memorable and if nothing else, this looks like a season of games we will not soon forget.

  • Ken

    Sigh. You Americans and your astronaut rugby. Maybe now would be a good time to pack it all in and make the shift to watching proper, actual football, y’know the one where feet actually do come in contact the the ball on a regular basis, which you lot insist on calling soccer.
    Granted we have our fair share of shitty refereeing decisions too and some of the players are offensively stupid (just do a quick search on Google News for John Terry to see what I mean) but ooh look, David Beckham.
    Oh, and not to sidetrack the football conversation for too long, but can you or any of your readers explain to me how the hairy hell you can justify calling it a World Series when you (and maybe Japan) are the only countries that even play baseball?

    • Everywhereist

      A couple of things:

      – Astronaut rugby sounds like an awesome new name for football. Thank you for that.
      – Also, we have David Beckham and Americans STILL don’t care about soccer. So I think that it’s just not going to catch on. Le sigh.
      – Lastly, your argument that Baseball’s championship series should not be called The World Series is valid, but your justification is not. Lots of countries in the western hemisphere play baseball, and it is incredibly popular not only in the U.S. and Japan, but in Canada as well as throughout South and Central America. In fact, a lot of players in the U.S. leagues are from that part of the world. Instead, your argument should be that the World Series is only between American and a few Canadian teams, so how does it make sense to say it encompasses the world? Well, it was originally called “the Championship series of the U.S.”, but shortened (and hyped up) to “The World Series”, which sounded a lot more impressive, no?

      • Ken

        Fair enough, other countries do play baseball (mostly it seems so that they can get well payed jobs plaing in the Bigs in the US, but who’s counting). But seriously, Canada? They’re the only other ones in the World Series? I mean come on. Take the Queen off their money and you’re left with an overly polite, less heavily armed 51st state. Though I suppose for most Americans (the ones in the middle without passports) that probably does pretty much sum up their notion of the whole world.

        PS You can have astronaut rugby on me. Consider it a belated birthday gift to go with the hat from Lisa.

        • Ken

          I can’t believe I managed to spell paid and playing wrong within a few words of each other. I am disappoint.

        • Um. I’m thinking that a whole raft of Canadians might be feeling downright impolite at being referred to as the “51st state”.

  • Kelly Meier

    Best blog article of the week. Us Wisconsinites are still obsessing over this…
    Hopefully this weekend the “real” refs make good calls after being off.
    Go pack!

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