Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On The Super Bowl XLIII Officiating

48-hours ago I did not think there would be any need for me to type this. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

What happened 2-nights ago in Tampa at the Super Bowl was a travesty. Yes, it was a great game. Yes, Big Ben had a drive for the ages capping with a touchdown that will be replayed over and over and over again for years to come. The Pittsburgh Steelers are deserving of the Super Bowl that they won. That can't be taken away from them. But the Arizona Cardinals were deserving of a chance at the end. And they were denied that. Not by the Steelers, but by Terry McAulay and the rest of the officiating crew at Super Bowl XLIII.

Now had the last 40 seconds of the game been officiated properly, there's no telling what would have happened. Would the Cardinals have been able to punch it in the endzone in the last 5 seconds, no one knows. But what we really should have seen will surprise you. And that will be pointed out here.

You can debate calls all throughout the game. There were debatable calls on both sides. You can argue that the refs were against the Cardinals all game, as evidenced by the fact that the Cardinals had to use both of their challenges and they won them both. I'm not going to argue that. This is not Tim Donaghy big. But this is big.

It started on the Santonio Holmes touchdown catch. It was a great play and a clean play. However, it was after the play that we have some controversy. Actually, there is no controversy. After the touchdown, Santonio Holmes treated the ball as a prop by using it almost as a salt-and-pepper shaker (the motions mimicked that in a way) and then threw the ball up in the air while spreading his arms out, clearly mimicking LeBron James. And there was no penalty! This was something that was clear as day and yet, the refs clearly missed that call. That's 15-yards! This is the Super Bowl and while you can use the argument that it's the Super Bowl and he should be allowed to do what he wants after catching one of the greatest touchdowns of all time, the fact remains it's still a penalty. And a clear penalty in a game that was littered with ticky-tacky calls. No one's going to say anything if you call that 15-yards, it was clear as day. And yet, it went ignored and uncalled. 15-yards. Remember that.

Now we get to the Warner fumble. I have seen that play over and over and over again from every possible angle and I have come to one conclusion. Warner's arm was going forward. Based on the sheer physics of the play, there's no other possible explanation. We'll get to back the the physics later, but first let's disect the video. Here's a great close-up.

What happened when he threw is he put his arm back, put it back even more to heave it down the field, moved his arm forward, got hit as he was doing so and the ball came out. And if the video does not prove it (which I think he does) then let's talk science. There is no way this is not an incomplete pass. By the sheer physics of it. The ball ends up 4-yards down the field. How is that possible? Especially seeing as Lamaar Woodley came from Warner's side! He was not popped from behind. We've seen empty hands before. A good sign of an empty hand fumble is the ball popping up in the air because the only momentum is the defender hitting him and the QB going down. How does the ball end up 4-yards down the field if Warner is hit from the side with his arm all the way back? The only possible explanation is that he must have had possession of the ball while moving his arm/shoulder forward. How else does the ball get all that forward momentum? It certainly would not have been provided by Woodley who hit him from the side. Momentum cannot be created or destroyed and Raymond James Stadium is not a place where the laws of physics are destroyed. And not only did it end up 4-yards down the field, but it ends up 4-yards down the field on a line, not popped up in the air. If it were popped up in the air, that would lend credence to the empty hand, but the fact that the ball was 4-yards down the field on an albeit somewhat wobbly line proves even more that the pass was incomplete and the arm was going forward. There's no other scientifically plausible explanation. And if there is, I'd like to see it.

And what's an even bigger crime here is that this play WAS NOT EVEN REVIEWED! It is impossible in one-minute of looking at the play to make a judgment on it. You think that I spent only a minute or two looking at it? NO! I must have seen the play now 50-100 times. I've studied it. And while you certainly can't completely disect the film in 3-minutes for a booth review, you can definitley look at it, apply high school physics, and make a judgment that the arm must have been going forward. And even if McAulay and his crew don't remember anything about physics. Isn't that play close enough just by looking at it to warrant that it needs to be looked at for more than a minute.

And we're not done here. There was another 15-yard excessive celebration penalty on the Steelers. That would have been tacked on. Remember the 15-yard excessive celebration penalty after the Holmes touchdown? Assuming everything stayed the same, and the pass was rightly overturned, the Arizona Cardinals should have had the ball at the 19-yard line with 5 seconds to go. Now whether or not the Cardinals would have converted is anyone's guess, but there chances were very good with Larry Fitzgerald on their team.

The fact that this game came down to this though, is unforgiveable. I'm not here to come up with a crazy conspiracy that the refs were employed by the Steelers or something, but the circumstances certainly are dubious around the whole thing. Terry McAulay was the only referee to have a major controversy in the playoffs and he is the referee for the Super Bowl, having been named days after the Delay of Game controversy in Nashville. And here we are in the Super Bowl, with one of the most controversial finishes in Super Bowl history.

Again, I say, I'm not glad that I'm talking about this. I have no problem with Pittsburgh winning. But thanks to McAulay and the officiating crew, there will always be a cloud of "what if" surrounding the game? Does Warner connect with Fitzgerald for the game-winning TD? Does Polamalu pick it off and seal the deal? Is the pass caught at the 1 by Boldin and tackled immediately, leaving him and the Cardinals inches short of a touchdown? It was a great game, a historic drive by Big Ben ending with what may very well be considered the greatest touchdown in Super Bowl history. However, the cloud of controversy will forever lurk over this game. And that, my friends, is a damn shame.


  1. Good column and some excellent points! Reminds me all-to-much of SB XL when the Seahawks appeared to get jobbed. Sadly, the officiating cheapens Pittsburgh's victories. If you're a Steelers fan (I'm not--was rooting for AZ), I'd be pissed that we're again discussing officiating and not a terrific game and another championship.

  2. Even though I hate it, the "excessive celebration" penalty should've been called. With that said, Arizona's special teams was pathetic outside of that Breaston punt return.

    There was another 15-yard excessive celebration penalty on the Steelers. That would have been tacked on. Remember the 15-yard excessive celebration penalty after the Holmes touchdown? Assuming everything stayed the same, and the pass was rightly overturned, the Arizona Cardinals should have had the ball at the 19-yard line with 5 seconds to go.

    I disagree. Suppose the Holmes penalty is called and they enforce it on the kickoff, Steelers kick off at the 15. Surely tactics would change from there on out!

    Unless Arrington drops it again, Arizona would have great field position and Pittsburgh would not be playing prevent defense with that short of a field while the Cardinals still have 2 timeouts.

    Now, onto the fumble...

    On the matter of it going 4 yards forward, that is true. HOWEVER, he has to have full control of the ball, and he never had it when his forward motion was complete. Since Woodley didn't appear to touch the ball, it would've been an illegal touching penalty because it hit an ineligible offensive lineman. The other excessive celebration penalty would've been offset and they would have gained no yards for a good chance at a Hail Mary.

    And what's an even bigger crime here is that this play WAS NOT EVEN REVIEWED!

    It was reviewed upstairs but never announced publicly. That to me was poor, but NFL Replay Officials confirmed the play was a definite fumble.

    The refs sucked royally, way too often they just kept throwing flag after flag.

    And on my blog you mentioned the Big Ben TD run that was called back would have only meant they would've gone for the tie. That is not true.

    They get the touchdown, then it would be 24-7. Assume the game goes as planned and the score is 24-14. You get the safety in the end zone, then Fitzgerald scores.

    The score would be 24-22, and whether or not they make the two-point conversion is the problem. If the miss it, then Pittsburgh likely wins. If they do make it, only THEN would Arizona have gone for the tie.

    I understand your gripe against the refs and I thought they were horrible, but to me this was blown out of proportion and what happened happened.

  3. I understand you're opinion and where you are coming from, but I still disagree. If his arm is going forward even the slightest with full possession of the ball, then it's an incomplete pass. What I see by looking at the arm is Warner pulling his arm back, then he jerked it back a bit more, getting ready to heave a hail mary, began to move it forward with full possession and got back to where he originally had his arm back at at which point Woodley came in and hit his arm messing up his throw.

    You're right about the Big Ben TD and the score. That was just my math fail. For some odd reason which I now just realized I was adding 4 and 3 instead of 4 and 4, which I should have done (final difference in score + difference in score between FG and TD).

    Yes, the refs did over officiate that game, and of course, they missed the Holmes celebration although Mike Pereira had a logical explanation for it. He was interviewed on NFL Network and the reason it was not called was because no one saw it. Generally, the refs make an assumption that if there's going to be an excessive celebration penalty it's going to be immediately after the TD is scored. Well, the celebration started out by Santonio Holmes getting jumped on by his teammates out of bounds, which is legal. That lasted for at least 45 seconds. By that point the official who signaled TD had stopped looking and another official (or it may have been the same one, I'm not sure) was walking behind Holmes perpendicular to him and not looking at him and it was at that very point that Holmes did the LeBron James impersonation. It certainly does not excuse them for missing the call, it was just interesting hearing him explain that.

    And, to no one's surprise, Pereira on the Warner fumble pretty much said what you said that it should have been ruled reviewed more, but that it was indeed a fumble. I would not expect the NFL's head of officiating to say his team messed up in final play of the Super Bowl.

    There is no changing what happened and what happened did happen, but it certainly is fun discussing our opinions on the matter. And in my case, I still think it should have been ruled an incomplete pass.


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