O.K., Commish, get out your calculator. It's time to start adding up fines.
The Redskins beat the 49ers 24-21 in RFK Stadium on Sunday to advance to Super Bowl XVIII against the Raiders, and most San Franciscans feel they were robbed of the NFC championship.
"The invincible Redskins had six plays from in close, and they still couldn't get it in at the end...they needed help from the officials," said 49er Ronnie Lott. He's the corner-back who had an interference penalty called on him in the third quarter, which set up the Skins' second touchdown. He also had a holding penalty called on him with two minutes left that set up Mark Moseley's winning field goal. That penalty burned a minute off the clock when San Francisco was desperate for time and cost the 49ers their last two time-outs. You get fined for criticizing officials in the NFL. Both calls were questionable at best. Will Lott be fined? Well, let's see.
"I don't think the officials were very precise. All three calls were incorrect," he said.
Is that statement finable? It's close, a judgment call. Besides, what did Lott mean, three calls? Oh yes, there was also the one on Eric Wright.
This was the biggie, 27 yards worth of penalty real estate, and it came on the Skins' final drive, moving them from the 49ers' 45 to the 18, setting up the holding call on Lott, which set up Moseley's decisive field goal, a 25-yarder. Believe me, Moseley needed all that yardage, the way he was kicking. He'd missed from 45, 34, 38 and 41 yards.
The call on Wright wasn't bad, it was criminal (attention NFL lawyers, this is not only finable but libelous). Wide receiver Art Monk ran an up pattern. Wright, the cornerback on the right side, had him shaded. When the pass was thrown and Monk stretched for it, Wright got a hand on him. That's not exactly kosher, but the ball flew over Monk's head and out of bounds. No penalty, right? Uncatchable ball. Well, no. Tom Kelleher, the back judge, dropped the flag. Tom Kelleher has been an NFL official for 24 years. The Skins didn't give out any game balls Sunday, but maybe they can vote Kelleher one, post-mortem.
"[Quarterback Joe] Theismann overthrew him by a long shot," Wright said. "Monk extended himself. I had a hand on him as he went down."
No, that's not finable. But listen to Bill Walsh, the 49er coach: "It was a ball a 10-foot tall Boston Celtic couldn't catch, let alone a receiver. [ Washington's] final drive was really a pair of penalties. Right now I'm a little bitter about the officials. It's just too bad that a championship game's decided by a call that close. I'd rather lose by the Redskins driving for a touchdown than on a call so close."
Yes, nail him for that, Pete. He criticized your officials. I heard him. And what does Kelleher have to say about that? Sorry, we'll never know. To get an NFL official to answer a question, a formal request must be made, through a pool reporter. In the postgame hustle and bustle nothing formal was arranged.