Compiling Officials' Mistakes Is a Full-Time Job

Made three bad calls this week, and although that would be a good week for an NFL referee, you would think an NFL executive and rules-minded fella like Jerry Seeman would respond to telephone messages.

"What do you want to talk to [the NFL's director of officiating] about?" asked his secretary on the first call.

World peace.

"He's in a meeting," his secretary said after the second call. Apparently, even off the field the officials have to confer to determine how they are going to handle every situation.

"He has your message," his secretary said after the third call, and it became apparent Seeman would rather be charged with unsportsmanlike conduct than respond to questions about his crews' troublesome performances this season.

Talk about throwing a flag: If you were having the kind of year many of Seeman's officials are having, you would no longer be working. Pro football has been victimized by incompetence this year, and whereas the sport has always had its ups and downs with officials, this year's results have been shameful.

Monday night football alone has produced a lowlight film:

--Green Bay's Don Beebe caught a pass on the bounce, then was allowed to get up and run for a touchdown after having been downed by San Francisco's Marquez Pope.

--San Diego's Tony Martin never made it to the goal line but an official, standing right there, signaled a touchdown.

--In last Monday night's debacle in Oakland, the game began with a Raider defender tackling tight end Shannon Sharpe before he caught the ball. Again, an official was standing right there, but he allowed another Raider defender to intercept the pass without indicating a penalty.

Throw in last Sunday night's call in New Orleans--the referee ruled San Francisco quarterback Steve Young in the grasp of a defender, thereby negating a fumble--and the list of botched calls goes on and on.

And the criticism, largely muffled by the threat of fines, is becoming audible.

Lindy Infante, Indianapolis coach: "I don't know what they have against us. If we've done anything to upset anybody who's wearing a striped shirt, we apologize."

Ray Rhodes, Philadelphia coach: "I just think that when you go down there and play, you have to play not only the Dallas Cowboys, but . . . also the officials. . . . They do get all the calls. All the calls."

Bobby Ross, San Diego coach: "I just don't see the level of consistency" in the officials.

Jimmy Johnson, Miami coach: "Obviously, I'm not happy with calls. At times, we've sent [complaints] to the league. I get tired of them calling me and saying they made a bad call, so I don't even send them in."

Raider quarterback Jeff Hostetler: "The officiating stunk."

Jim Tunney, a former Los Angeles-area school superintendent and longtime NFL official who is now giving motivational speeches around the country, had Vince Lombardi and George Halas yelling at him but acknowledged that things are not going well for today's officials.

"I'm not very happy with it," said Tunney, who works on an NFL committee charged with the task of reviewing officials and making recommendations.

"The communication among the crew should be better and moving more quickly. I watched the same conference you watched in Monday night's game and I don't know what they could have been talking about."

Tunney believes the NFL lacks the necessary experience, and in some cases, leadership required from its referees, who head each crew. In addition, he said, too many officials tried to "hang on" after growing old and out of shape, and now an influx of young officials has added to each crew's inexperience.

"Ask anyone on the street if a 66-year-old man should be officiating and the answer would be no," Tunney said.

"We had a whole bunch leave after the 1994 and 1995 seasons and brought in a number of new officials. In my judgment, it takes four to five years for a really good Division I official to really see and understand the game.

"You take that call earlier this season with the Jets' Keyshawn Johnson catching the ball in the end zone [against Washington] and then the ball being taken away from him. The side judge made that call and he was a rookie. He just doesn't see those things where he's coming from and it just takes time. There's just a lot of inexperience in the league right now."

So why not full-time NFL officials?

"Rich Garcia made a call between Baltimore and New York where that kid caught the home run ball and he's a full-time official," Tunney said of baseball's American League championship series. "Remember the last game of the World Series and the argument at second base and the tag wasn't there? That was made by a full-time official. I just don't think full-time officiating is the answer. You have to work games to get better and there are no games, no scrimmages during the week."

Are there any better answers beyond more experience?

Tunney, who last refereed in 1991, said the game needs instant replay.

"I've seen too many games where that one catch is very important to the outcome and instant replay can make the difference when done right," he said. "If Timmie Millis had not moved to the proper position last year on the final pass play between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, Indianapolis might very well have gone to the Super Bowl because it looked like a catch. It was a great call, but instant replay would help in making sure the right team went to the Super Bowl."

The officials selected to work the Super Bowl, of course, are determined by their weekly grades during the season. Based on this year's grades to date, the Super Bowl will have to be played without officials.

IN QUOTATION MARKS

Dallas Coach Barry Switzer on defensive end Charles Haley: "The guy is hurt; he's not near the player he has been. I wouldn't be surprised if Charles can't play the rest of the year. He's just at the end of the road here."

The Packers are 0-6 in Texas Stadium under Coach Mike Holmgren, and Green Bay has a date there a week from Monday. But Packer safety LeRoy Butler isn't all that concerned about the Cowboys.

"I think they have slipped," he said. "They're in a position where they probably won't make the playoffs, as hard as their schedule is going to be."

If Cincinnati wins Sunday, Bruce Coslet will become the first Bengal coach in history to have won his first three games.

"Bring your tiger towels and your orange whatevers," he told the fans. "Paint your faces and let's rock and roll. We've got to get better music in that stadium. I'll have to talk to the people in charge of that. Heavy metal. This isn't like Lawrence Welk stuff here. This is going to be banging and clashing going on Sunday."

How big is the home-field advantage in the playoffs?

"Let's put it in perspective," said Denver defensive tackle Mike Lodish. "It's everything."

Since 1974, Denver has the NFL's best home record, 128-45-1.

Raider defensive end Aundray Bruce on Denver quarterback John Elway: "[Dan] Marino has the quick release, but Elway has it all. He has the strength, the accuracy, the mobility, he's smart. Just put a saddle on him, that's basically what the Broncos are doing right now. They're riding him."

NEW STADIUMS

Voters in the Detroit area approved a proposition allowing for a 1% tax on hotel rooms and 2% tax on rental cars to fund the construction of a new baseball stadium for the Tigers and a new football stadium for the Lions.

The tourist tax is expected to generate $80 million, and the Ford family will provide the rest for a new football stadium. No other public money will be used. The Lions' lease of the Silverdome runs through 2004, and it's unclear whether they will try to buy it out or wait until 2005.

In Houston, voters passed a proposition approving $265 million for a new baseball stadium and $200 million to reconfigure the Astrodome into a 70,000-seat football-only stadium or to build a new football stadium next to the Astrodome.

Houston, therefore, has $200 million to entice a new football owner and team after the Oilers move to Nashville in 1998.

PETER O'MALLEY, TAKE NOTE

The NFL finance committee voted 6-1 in favor of changing NFL rules and allowing cross-ownership--a baseball owner, for example, also owning an NFL franchise. However, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was unable to swing the necessary 23 votes from league owners for ratification, so the matter was tabled until March.

Under current NFL rules, Dodger owner Peter O'Malley is unable to own an NFL franchise.

The rule will have to be changed if Paul Allen is to save the Seahawks in Seattle. Allen, who owns the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers, has an option to buy the Seahawks and there have been reports he would like to exercise it as early as February.

A RIP JOB

After getting cut and replaced by former Chicago kicker Kevin Butler, Greg Davis burned his Arizona bridges.

"They've been waiting for the chance to screw me and that's crazy," said Davis, who believes he was cut for filing a grievance against the team last off-season.

Davis had missed his last three kicks.

"And you're out when you were an 81% kicker before that?" he asked. "I'm amazed that three kicks can get you fired. It goes far beyond that. I just made a lot of enemies upstairs."

EXTRA POINTS

--The New York Jets have been in last place or tied for last in the AFC East for 31 consecutive weeks, dating to 1994, when Pete Carroll was the coach.

--Mike Ditka, in his days as a tight end, had 14 games in which he piled up more than 100 yards receiving for the Bears. Since Ditka left Chicago as a player in 1967, only Bob Wallace in 1969 and Emory Moorehead in 1985 have had 100-yard games from the tight end position.

--Last week's Detroit-Green Bay game drew a 43.6 rating and 76 share on TV in Milwaukee. At the same time on another channel, San Diego at Indianapolis drew a 1.9 rating and 3 share.

NICE TRY

New Orleans defensive end Renaldo Turnbull stormed from the field Sunday night and later told Coach Rick Venturi that he just had to go to the bathroom.

Defensive line coach Wayne Nunnely bought the excuse, but Venturi did some homework and learned that Turnbull had left the field because he had been criticized by a coach on the sideline. Venturi suspended Turnbull for a game, costing him $80,000.

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