Johnson: Stamps weigh in on replacement referees

 

Don't expect them to be hugging CFL zebras anytime soon, though

 
 
 

DeVone Claybrooks, big enough to bench-press a Buick, seems to consider officials an occupational hazard.

Replacement or otherwise.

“The biggest misconception, what people don’t get, is that it’s like WWE, you’re gonna tune in next week ‘cause you never know what you’re gonna get,” rumbled the Calgary Stampeders’ defensive line coach Wednesday, as mounting furor over the slapstick of NFL replacement refereeing showed no signs of abating.

“So they’re worried about TV ratings? Sheooot, everybody’s gonna keep watching because it’s only gonna get more ridiculous next week.

“People seem to love ridiculous.”

Wacky entertainment value aside, the NFL’s contractual impasse with its officials has become the talk of the North American sports world. The on-field consequences have been nothing short of shambolic. Blown calls. An eternity passing in order to make wrong decisions. Player revolt via Twitter. Fan outrage.

As this lockout drags on, the planet’s most successful, profitable sports league finds itself in full-flinch mode, absorbing major credibility and integrity hits by the game.

“Honestly,” said Stamps’offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson, who spent time with San Diego, Seattle, Miami and and Detroit down south, “regular refs make a lot of mistakes, too. The problem is that these guys find themselves under such a magnifying glass right now. Everything they do wrong is big news.

“Yeah, they’re probably in over their heads. But I don’t feel bad for ’em. That’s what you get.”

News that a resolution to the dispute might soon be a reality surfaced again Tuesday with multiple media outlets reporting a deal could be finalized as soon as this weekend.

It could not happen soon enough.

“No matter what call is made, no matter who’s the ref, that’s just the call you’ve got to live with,” reasoned D-lineman Corey Mace, a Buffalo Bill from 2007 to 2009. “It’s really just out of a player’s power. You want consistency, right? Well, according to media and everybody else down there they’re making consistently terrible calls. So at least they’re consistent.

“I think they’re trying their best. I’m sure they don’t want to feel horrible after every mishap. Never forget, it’s not completely their problem. The commissioner (Roger Goodell) needs to re-think the whole situation.”

And while the substitute officials have come in for a right hiding from fans, bettors and pundits throughout Fifth Estate, (Replacement Ref Rage becoming a popular parlor-game pastime) the real problem, as Mace said, lies in two sides not being able to strike a deal. One of which, the NFL itself, could never have envisioned how poorly it would come off.

“Same as I’ve always said about our league,” offered Dickenson. “You’ve got to do whatever you can to educate the refs, pay money, so that you get the best product possible on the field. I don’t know the numbers, but I’ve heard they’re basically $4 million apart. Split that up between 32 teams and, really, it’s not very much.

“So why fight? Let me tell you this: Successful people like owners — most, not all — become successful because they get what they want. I figure they just think ‘Hey, we think we’re giving you a good deal, either take it or don’t take it.’”

Monday night may well have served as a tipping point. On what will forevermore be known in infamy as the Fail Mary play, replacement refs awarded a 24-yard, Hail Mary touchdown to Seattle receiver Golden Tate with no time left agains the Packers. Most impartial observers felt Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings instead should have been awarded an interception instead.

More chaos. Added controversy. For a league already awash in both.

NFL headquarters was beseiged with 70,000 phone messages on Tuesday. Hundreds of millions of dollars in bets were sent topsy-turby.

“That call in the end zone,” contends Claybrooks, a Super Bowl ring recipient with the ’04 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, “was a tough call, even for regular officials.

“But what really drives guys crazy about officials is inconsistency. As players, you need to find an ebb and flow in a game. If on one play, the guy in front of me mugs me and there’s no call and the next play he barely touches me and a flag’s thrown, everybody’s confused.

“And that’s what’s happening down there now.”

It’s understood that officials in any sport are never going to be able to please everyone. Regular or replacement. Pro or peewee. That’s the unfortunate part of the gig. You need the hide of an old water buffalo or an Iron Man suit like Robert Downey Jr.’s in order to fend off the bullets flying in from all directions.

“What are you gonna do?” asked slotback Nik Lewis of the NFL zebra fill-ins. “Line ’em up in front of a firing squad and shoot ’em?

“I mean, they’re human. They make mistakes. We make mistakes. It’s a very tough job. Those guys are NAIA refs. The speed of the game from there just to Division I is a huge step. To the NFL? That’s like me going to a go-kart place, driving a go-kart around a couple of laps and saying ‘OK, I’m ready for NASCAR.’

“Uh uh. Not gonna happen.

“So until they get this settled, you gotta take the bad with the good. And right now there’s a lot more of one than the other.”

Suddenly, the gents handling three-down games aren’t looking so bad.

Watching the insanity unfold down south, though, doesn’t mean that a grateful Claybrooks will show his unabashed love for CFL zebras by bear-hugging a few of them on Friday night prior to kick-off at McMahon Stadium. Just to show how much they’re appreciated.

“Oh, no,” he shot back, waving an admonishing finger the size of a Havana stogie. “By no means. No hugging.

“NO hugging.

“Hugging,” he laughed, “simply ain’t happening.”

George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at gjohnson@calgaryherald.com

 
 
 
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