LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - I realize that Super Bowl LIII is ancient history, but I’m not ready to let go of the unacceptable events that sullied it until the National Football League accepts accountability by make significant rules and policy changes.
The pass interference non-call in the NFC Championship Game between New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams will live in infamy.
To quickly recap, the score was 20-20 with 1:45 remaining in the final quarter, and the Saints were in a third-and-10 situation at the Rams’ 13-yard line. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw a pass to wideout Tommylee Lewis, who never had a chance to catch it because Rams’ defender Nickell Robey-Coleman absolutely clobbered him before the ball arrived.
It was a textbook case of pass interference. A rookie official at the middle-school level would have called It. But amazingly and inexplicably, nobody among the Saints-Rams crew did.
Had pass interference been called, the Saints could have run the clock down and set up a chip-shot field-goal attempt with only seconds remaining. Instead, the Rams forced the game into overtime and won, 26-23, to advance to the Super Bowl.
In a day when officials in all sports spend what seems like hours reviewing videotape of close calls, this crucial play was considered a “judgement” call and, therefore, not subject to review. How stupid is that? If that rule isn’t changed before next season, the NFL will take a crippling hit to its credibility. If ever a play deserved to be reviewed, this one was it.
Instead, the Rams got away with a mugging that enabled them to make a Super Bowl trip they didn’t deserve.
There’s also an argument to be made that the Patriots also shouldn’t have been there because of the NFL’s unfair sudden-death playoff rule.
With New England and the Kansas City Chiefs tied at 31-31 after a gripping regulation game, the Patriots had the good fortune to win the coin flip that would decide who got possession to start regulation. The incomparable Tom Brady marched the Pats to a TD that gave them a 37-31 win and the Super Bowl trip.
There was no need for the Patriots to tack on the extra point because the game was over. Under the current rules, Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the league’s likely MVP, did not get a chance to lead his team to a tie.
How dumb. In every other sport, including college football, every participant in an OT gets an equal chance to win. If the NFL does not adopt the college overtime rule — or something close to it — before next season, it will be telling its huge fan base that it’s not interested in a level playing field, which, of course, is the foundation of all sports.
Conspiracy theorists, of whom there is a growing number in the sports world, noted that four members of the Rams-Saints officiating crew live in Southern California. At the least, that’s not a good look.
Also, questions about gambling were louder and more persistent than usual, no doubt because a growing number of states have approved legalized sports gambling. If an official wants to make a bet on a game he’s working, there’s a wide variety of options, both legal and illegal, and no way to catch him.
Typically, NFL Commissior Roger Goddell has tried to minimize the damage. Of course, the league also has admitted the Saints-Rams officials were wrong, which is little consolation to the the Saints players and their fans. They deserved a better end to an outstanding season.
But Goddell must realize the game’s credibility is on the line as never before. Rule changes must be made. The integrity and competence of all officials must be re-evaluated. Transparency and accountability must replace spin and arrogance.
I don’t bet on sports and I’m not a diehard NFL fan. But I understand and acknowledge the special place the NFL holds in our culture, and I feel badly about how both Super Bowl contestants got their spots in the most hallowed game on the American sports calendar.
As far as I’m concerned, Super Bowl LIII always will have a big asterisk next to it, and I’ll remember the event more for how the Saints got jobbed than how the Patriots won another championship ring.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.