Commish boosts officials' morale with hearty Friday pep talk
Commissioner Goodell considers the NFL officials to be the best in all of sports
Even instant replay cannot safeguard against some blown calls this season
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did with his game officials Friday what a coach would do with a team of slumping but talented young players: He gave them a pep talk.
For 10 minutes Friday afternoon, Goodell, speaking from league offices in New York, had his 17 referees --- the chiefs for the league's beleaguered officiating crews --- on a conference call to tell them he has full confidence in -- as he told them -- the best officials in sports.
According to a source close to the officials, Goodell tried to pump the refs with words to this effect: "Mistakes are going to happen. Don't let mistakes shake your confidence. Don't beat yourselves up over them ... You have my complete confidence.''
The response from the officials, the source, said, was "very positive.'' There's been a flurry of early-season criticism of the 17 crews, and it has centered around Ed Hochuli, the 19-year NFL veteran who is having a terrible season. The league's officials have been under fire since Week 2, when Hochuli blew a call that probably cost San Diego a victory at Denver.
On a crucial play late in the game, Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler fumbled, but Hochuli ruled it an incomplete pass and blew the play dead. Even with replay assistance, he couldn't award San Diego, which recovered the fumble, the ball because he'd blown his whistle. Hochuli was at the center of another questionable call two weeks later, when he wiped out a Carolina interception returned for a touchdown by ruling that Panther defensive end Julius Peppers roughed-the-passer with a very marginal late hit. Hochuli's crew missed an obvious facemask call on Minnesota's Chad Greenway Monday night when he yanked Reggie Bush's mask in full view of a national TV audience.
But Hochuli's not the only one under fire. Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney this week criticized officials for a lack of what he considers obvious holding calls. And a coach (Sean Payton of the Saints), owner (Jerry Jones of the Cowboys) and player (Steelers linebacker James Harrison) have been fined a total of $60,000 by the league in the last month for criticizing the performance and/or integrity of league officials. The conference call was apparently Goodell's idea. It's likely that Goodell was trying to be pro-active with the under-fire officials.
This isn't a case of a commissioner thinking he'd better pump up the troops even though he doesn't believe in them. Goodell believes the mistakes are scattered ones and not indicative of a slide in how the games are being called.