Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Famous or infamous?

I was surprised to find out that Sunday’s game between the Steelers and the Chargers was the first 11-10 game in NFL history. I’m amazed that there wasn’t at least one other 11-10 game back in the low-scoring days of leather helmets and Bronko Nagurski.

The score gave the game a lot of attention, even outside the sports world. National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” ran a segment on the game, and NPR is as well-known for its sports reporting as modern-day MTV is known for music.

I hope the game isn’t known for less positive reasons before the season’s over.

The part about the game that stuck out for me wasn’t the score, but how it got there.

The story of the game was the officiating. We have heard all about Troy Polamalu’s fumble recovery on the final play that should have resulted in a touchdown, but Pittsburgh was also penalized 13 times for 115 yards, while San Diego was docked twice for five yards. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this blog is not the most objective place on the Internet, but few games are this lopsided in the flag department.

It’s not just the number of penalties against the Steelers, but the overall result that’s suspicious. The penalties, and the blown call on the final play, had the effect of assuring that the Steelers would not cover the 4 ½-point spread.

Most blatant was the pass interference call on Ike Taylor that set up the Chargers’ first-quarter touchdown. Whether Taylor interfered with the receiver should not have been an issue because Philip Rivers’ pass was thrown to a hot dog vendor in the 10th row.

Then there was the holding penalty on Sean McHugh that nullified Willie Parker’s touchdown. McHugh did put the “habeas grabbus” on (thank you, Tunch Ilkin), but I see much worse holding go uncalled in most NFL games. And that touchdown, with the extra point, would have made the score 15-10, covering the spread. Hmm….

Am I paranoid? I think not. Although the NFL would like you to think otherwise, people—including players—have been betting on pro football games as long as there’s been pro football. Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were suspended in 1963 for betting on NFL games. Former Colts QB Art Schlichter may have the most destructive gambling problem of any athlete in modern times.

But most players aren’t going to risk a multi-million dollar career to win thousands on a bet. So, if someone wants to fix a game, what do they do? As the recent NBA scandal has shown, they go to the officials.

Far be it from me to say that Sunday’s game was fixed. I have no access to information that would prove such a thing. But for the good of the sport, the NFL should take a good, serious look at that game’s officiating.

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