Referees Face Controversy After Costly Non-Call in N.F.C. Championship

On January 20, 2019, the lively city of New Orleans and the nation watched as the Saints battled the Los Angeles Rams for the title of the conference championship and the advancement to the highest platform of football in the world, the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this championship game was not determined by talent or the effort of the players, but by an egregious performance by the referees, from the beginning of the game to the end where they ignored an obvious pass interference and helmet to helmet hit which would have changed the fate of the game. In fact, sports journalists and former players are calling this the worst non-call in the history of the NFL. Meanwhile, head coach of the Saints, Sean Payton simply summarizes it by angrily saying, “They blew the call.”

After reviewing it, experts have found multiple ignored penalties throughout the course of the game, but have highlighted one that occurred in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, which most believe costed the Saints an appearance in the Super Bowl. Beginning their drive on their own side of the field, quarterback, Drew Brees led the offense to march down the field. Quickly, through a screen pass to skilled, agile running back, Alvin Kamara and a streak pass to experienced wide receiver, Ted Ginn Jr., the Saints offense was able to find themselves in scoring position in the red zone.

But, the referees changed the course of the game on third down with thirteen yards to the end zone. On a simple route directed to the sidelines, Saints wide receiver, TommyLee Lewis attempted to catch the football, but was unable to as he was aggressively tackled by a member of the Rams secondary defense, Nickell Robey-Coleman. The play should have resulted in an automatic first down, the punishment for either a pass interference or helmet to helmet hit. If it has been called, the Saints would have allowed the game clock to nearly expire and conclude the game by kicking a field goal, giving them a three-point advantage and the victory. After the game, Lewis said, “I saw the defender coming. He got up under me. I got up looking around for a flag and didn’t see one. It was a bad call.”

From the perspective of a fan, it is truly disheartening to have your team ‘robbed’ of a Super Bowl. But, in the eyes of a player, coach, manager, or owner, it is devastating as you realize the loss in the financial aspect. Each year, the NFL awards the players participating in the Super Bowl a bonus of $200,000 each. Also, the team in which wins the Super Bowl is given a massive bonus of $5,000,000. Therefore, the referees not only disappointed the fans, but the non-call negatively impacted the team’s cap space for the off-season.

In the days following the controversial game, the NFL fined Coleman for the extreme helmet to helmet hit, yet allowed the wrong call to stand. So, not only have the referees wrote their names in the wrong side of history, but the league office has angered many loyal fans nationwide. Due to this incident and those before it, it is questionable how the NFL will regain the trust of its upset fans.