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NFL replacement refs could be good for full-timers

By Terence Moore, Special to CNN
September 7, 2012 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Replacements will referee NFL games until a labor dispute is settled with the regular referees.
Replacements will referee NFL games until a labor dispute is settled with the regular referees.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Terence Moore: NFL's exhibition season was filled with gaffes, bloopers
  • Replacement officials were hired because of NFL's ongoing lockout of regular officials
  • One ref said "Arizona" instead of "Atlanta" multiple times during an Atlanta Falcons game
  • After 1979 baseball strike, hired replacements were shunned by returning umpires, called "scabs"

Editor's note: Terence Moore is a sports columnist of more than three decades. He has worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer, the San Francisco Examiner, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AOL Sports. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Are you clamoring for the real NFL officials yet? If not, just wait and then prepare to issue an apology to one of the most unjustly crucified groups in society this side of baseball umpires. For starters, the NFL's exhibition season was filled with gaffes, bloopers and worse than that involving its collection of replacement officials.

Blown pass interference calls.

Issues with spotting the football.

Confusion over the clock.

Plus, in a game between the home-team Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens, the referee kept saying "Arizona" instead of "Atlanta" when addressing the crowd.

Replacement refs a risk for NFL players?

So it was somewhat of a relief that during the NFL's season opener Wednesday night between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, the replacement officials were -- well, OK.

There were no glaring blunders, and none of the new guys tripped over the 50-yard line. Still, as former NFL director of officials Mike Pereira told FoxSports.com, "One game doesn't make a week, but it was definitely a good start. We'll all know more come Tuesday morning."

By then, the NFL's other 30 teams will have spent their opening game with these replacement officials who primarily work for Division II and Division III colleges. They were hired by the NFL courtesy of the league's ongoing lockout of the regular officials. The labor dispute is over money and other matters, and it has lasted for months.

Will replacement refs mar NFL's first week?

Not only that, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested during an open forum with fans at league headquarters in New York before the Cowboys-Giants game that he is willing to continue with the replacements to achieve a long-term solution.

As for the short term, there is encouraging news for those who know replacement officials are just a ticking bomb waiting to explode with a slew of errors. And, no, the encouraging news isn't that both sides will punt away their labor squabbles anytime soon.

The only silver (or shall we say black-and-white striped) lining is, the more the NFL uses replacement officials, the more folks will see the original ones were better than they thought.

Union negotiator: NFL referees won't start season

I'm talking about MUCH better.

This doesn't apply just to NFL officials, but to those of the NBA, the NHL and even baseball umpires, who have been known to have a few nose-to-nose chats with managers and players.

For every time that an NBA referee goes blind when a Michael Jordan shoves away a Bryon Russell to sink a jumper to clinch a world championship, there are tens, hundreds and thousands of calls that are dead-on target. The same goes for baseball, where you've had the likes of umpire Jim Joyce ruining a perfect game for Armando Gallarraga by calling a base runner safe when he actually was out.

Then in the NHL, there was Tony Sericolo's nonwhistle last season when the Philadelphia Flyers' Daniel Briere clearly was offside during a goal in a playoff game. The league issued a public apology to the losing Pittsburgh Penguins for the Sericolo gaffe, which was rare for NHL bosses to admit an officiating mistake. In fact, it is rare for those in charge of the other three major pro sports leagues in North America to do such a thing.

There is no need to apologize when your regular officials give you no reason to do so more often than not.

In contrast, history hasn't been kind to replacement officials.

You can start with 1979, when baseball swapped its striking umpires with minor league umpires, who quickly felt the wrath of everybody in their new world for brutal calls. When the 45-day strike ended, baseball retained eight of the replacements, but they were shunned forever on and off the field by the returning umpires and derisively called "scabs."

The NBA went the replacement route for 68 days during the 1995 season, and that was to the chagrin of those who disliked a massive increase in the amount of fouls called in games.

At one point, the New York Knicks' Charles Oakley spoke boldly for his peers, telling reporters, "They used five of these (replacements) to equal one of the regular refs. Terrible."

But back to the NFL, where I called Dan Reeves for some perspective on this officiating thing. He ranks among the league's all-time wise men, since he spent four decades in the NFL as an accomplished player, coach and administrator along the way to six Super Bowls. He also was associated with two of the NFL's most famous games -- as in the likely breeding grounds for officiating gaffes.

There was the 1967 NFL championship game, which became known as the Ice Bowl. With the temperature in Green Bay, Wisconsin, at minus-15 below zero and a wind-child factor of minus 48, Reeves was a running back for a Dallas Cowboys team that eventually lost to the Packers during the frantic, famous and frigid last seconds.

Then there was The Drive in 1987, when John Elway led a Denver Broncos team coached by Reeves 98 yards to victory inside the final minutes of the AFC Championship game in Cleveland.

Any blown calls in either of those games?

Reeves is still thinking.

"Golly, I don't remember anything that stuck out," said Reeves, still thinking from his home in Atlanta.

Then Reeves recalled the NFC championship game in Minnesota after the 1998 regular season, when the Atlanta Falcons team he coached won an overtime thriller against the Vikings. He forced a chuckle, saying, "No, I can't think of anything during that game, either."

You get the point.

Oh, Reeves does remember his version of a phantom "chop block" called by an NFL official against offensive lineman Jumbo Elliott when Reeves coached the New York Giants in the early 1990s. He also remembers what he said was a shaky call after a kickoff during Super Bowl XXII in 1988, when his Denver Broncos lost to the Washington Redskins.

Reeves laughed, saying, "Yeah. You do have some bad calls that stick out, but I'll tell you what. When you've been involved in the NFL for 39 years, and when you can only think of maybe a handful of calls -- if that -- that you can say, 'Well, gosh. We lost that game because of a bad call or something,' I tell you right now: There aren't many of those. Those (regular) officials do a great job, no question about it."

That said, Reeves isn't totally against the replacements. As a traditionalist, he doesn't believe coaches or players should concentrate on the quality of officials, period.

"I know when I played for Coach (Tom) Landry (with the Cowboys during the 1960s), and when I coached, we didn't spent a whole lot of time on the officials," Reeves said. "But as far as these new guys, there are a lot of them out there who just need an opportunity. You'll miss the experience, though, and they'll be taking more time making calls. The good thing is, the replay officials aren't on strike. They'll have them as a backup.

"But will they be as good as the guy who has been there doing for eight, nine, 10 years? I don't think so?"

Which is much of the point.

Replacement refs bad business for NFL?

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