NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell does not have the authority to overturn the result of the NFC Championship game, despite an acknowledged missed call by officials on a key play late in the fourth quarter of the Rams’ victory over the New Orleans Saints, the league’s lawyers said in a brief filed in federal court Sunday.
Two Saints season ticket holders have filed a lawsuit seeking to have Goodell reverse or reschedule the game through the use of an NFL rule regarding “extraordinarily unfair acts.” U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan is set to hear arguments Monday.
The brief contains the league’s first public comment on the missed call. Saints coach Sean Payton said after the game that he received a call from an NFL executive admitting the error. Rams defender Nickell Robey-Coleman was fined $26,739 by the league Friday for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the play.
“The NFL parties do not dispute that they have previously advised the Saints, including the club’s head coach, that one or more penalties for pass interference or illegal helmet-to-helmet contact were mistakenly not called late in the NFC Championship Game, and that the NFL would like its officials on the field to make these calls,” the document states. “This was acknowledged immediately after the game to the coach of the New Orleans Saints by NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Al Riveron.”
With one minute and 49 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 20, Rams defensive back Robey-Coleman collided with Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis without ever looking back at a ball thrown by quarterback Drew Brees on third down.
Had a penalty been called, the Saints would have had the ball in field-goal range and a first down, with the ability to conceivably run down the clock before attempting a potential game-winning field goal.
Instead, the Saints had to attempt the field goal on the following play, giving the Rams enough time to tie the game, send it into overtime and eventually win to advance to the Super Bowl.
Since then, Saints fans have been trying to convince Goodell to enact Rule 17, Section 2, of the NFL rule book, which deals with acts “which the Commissioner deems so extraordinarily unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effect on the result of the game.”
Two lawsuits have been filed. In addition to the one being heard in federal court, a class-action suit seeking unspecified damages for season ticket holders is still pending in state court.
In the federal filing Sunday, the NFL lawyers stated that Rule 17 does not apply in this case.
“Overruling the Referee on the field and directing that a penalty be called is not within the Commissioner’s discretion under NFL Rules 15, 17, or any rule,” the document states. “Specifically, Rule 15, [Section] 1, Article 3 provides that ‘[t]he Referee is to have general oversight and control of the game[,]’ and that ‘[t]he Referee’s decisions upon all matters not specifically placed under the jurisdiction of other officials by rule are final.’