NEW ORLEANS — Numb. That’s how it feels. Numb. Even though you know you should have won the game. Even though every single expert, writer, pundit – even the player who committed the uncalled penalty – realize it too, It doesn’t change anything. It will be remembered for sometime by sports fans, forever by Saints fans, but eventually go into the dustbin of history with other missed calls.
There’s a helplessness since you can’t change things. “The game, and legacies, were changed,” Tweeted NFL expert Adam Schefter.
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It’s true. Drew Brees is a fantastic quarterback. Is he the best ever? Perhaps not, but as Bum Phillips used to say out Earl Campbell, “He may not be at the head of the class, but it sure doesn’t take long to call the roll.” Brees was looking for a second Super Bowl ring. It would still pale in comparison to Brady’s 5 (soon to be 6) or Montana’s 4, but it pretty much would have put him up there with everyone else – and he doesn’t get to face the league’s worst division year in and year out along with two 3rd and 4th place teams from the year before – basically 10 very winnable games every single year (Yes, I'm talking about New England).
But Brees won’t get that ring this year. He may not get it ever. The Saints play in a division where all 4 teams have been to Super Bowls since the Patriots began their run in 2001.
It’s just a call. Just one call. And people will say it shouldn’t come down to that. In the first quarter, the Saints looked invincible. Then there was the fake punt that kept the Rams from falling hopelessly behind. There was the holding call on a run play with the Saints in Rams territory that wiped out a nice gain and ended a drive. And there were the missed chances several times that ended in field goals instead of touchdowns.
But that call would likely have sealed the game. Sure, the Saints could have mishandled a snap. Sure, they could have botched a chip shot field goal (ask Tony Romo about that), but, the Saints had a 98 percent chance of winning with the ball inside the 10 and the Rams with one last timeout. .
When the play first happened my first thought was elation – at least as soon as Tommylee Lewis got up without injury. I was waiting for the yellow “Flag” sign to go onto the TV screen and figured it malfunctioned when I didn’t see it. I already had calculated that a first down meant the Saints could run the clock and kick it at :01.
A call like that does take the wind out. There’s no question that thinking you’ve won and feeling something out of your hands prevented you from doing so, alters a team’s thinking. It’s hard to get that injustice out of your head and focus just as hard the rest of the way against a very good team.
The fans are devastated. They put hard-earned money into tickets, jerseys, parking and other assorted fan items. They don’t make nearly what the players do and they invest a lot of passion. Some pundits decry the fan use of the word ‘we’ when talking about their team. Why? The team says ‘New Orleans’ in front of its name. The team represents the city. It is our team just as much as the LPO is our symphony or Audubon is our zoo.
Cameron Jordan said earlier this season on ESPN that New Orleans is like a college town. He’s right. There are a handful of Rams fans celebrating tonight. The entire city of New Orleans mourns.
And yet, they don’t hurt like the players do. The players work hours a day to fine tune their bodies. They spent countless time away from their families. They get hurt so badly – on a weekly basis – that they need six days to recover. They don’t get many chances to play for the ultimate team goal, so when they do, they can’t let it pass, because it may not come around again.
I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. The refs weren’t ‘out to get’ the Saints – and, while the NFL might like to have Los Angeles in the Super Bowl because 10 percent of 17.4 million people still aces out 70 percent of 1.3 million, they don’t rig the games.
If they did, do you really think the NFL would let it come down to that play? Wouldn’t the fix have been in much sooner? Do you really think the refs figure out how they can make the NFL’s dreams come true by making some bogus call late? What if the game wasn’t close?
No, probably the only people that feel as bad – or worse – than the Saints players, coaches and fans are the officials, at least the ones who could have thrown a flag on that play. They know now, if they didn’t before, that they are responsible for perhaps the biggest, costliest missed call in professional sports history. That’s a lot of weight.
See, last year the Saints lost on a tremendous play and a mistake by a young player trying his best. This year, they lost by a referee who probably didn’t want a flag to decide the game. Instead, the lack of a flag decided one and the referee who didn’t want to inject himself into the outcome, did so anyway.
The Rams didn’t want this officiating crew. Apparently they hadn’t won a game with them. Coaches sometimes plant a seed with officials in games to get a call later down the line. Perhaps the questioning of this group’s impartiality caused the flag and whistle to remain unused just a bit longer than they would have.
The most hated officiating crew for the Rams and their fans, is now the most beloved. For all the wrong reasons.