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ControversyMicrophone is ref’s friend for no-sense rules

Microphone is ref’s friend for no-sense rules

It elicits snickers from football fans when it happens, and it sometimes trends on Twitter. Referee Ed Hochuli turns on his microphone to explain a ruling, and some fans joke that it is NFL open mic night. An example from 2009:

We reviewed whether the ball was fumbled down near the goal line and ultimately recovered by New York in the end zone. The ruling is, though, that the ball, although it had become loose from a hand, it was still pinned between the player’s arm and his shoulder pad. Therefore, he still had possession when his knee hit the ground. The ruling stands as called; it’s New Orleans’ ball, first down.

Walt Coleman on Thanksgiving was faced with a situation where replay could correct an obvious call, but he was prohibited from doing so because Lions coach Jim Schwartz initiated an illegal challenge of the play (video). Rather than explaining that the rule disallowed the review because of the Lions’ red flag, he simply stated the play was not reviewable, perplexing millions of viewers:

The result of the play is a touchdown. The play is not reviewable by Detroit. It will be a 15-yard penalty — on the kickoff — but the play is not reviewable. Touchdown.

The CBS Sports “A” team coverage of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were unable to extract the proper call, even though it happened only four days earlier to Falcons coach Mike Smith. Coleman is not one to go into voluminous explanations, just as he explained, arguably, the call of the decade in the 2001 playoffs (video):

After reviewing the play, the quarterback’s arm was going forward. It is an incomplete pass. Second and 10 on the 42.

That is how Coleman explained the nuance of the then-vastly unknown “Tuck Rule” (coincidentally, Simms was on that broadcast, also). Rather than explaining that the pass motion is declared over only when the quarterback tucks the ball back to his body, he leveled a simple explanation. The league saw how incensed the Raiders fans were over the call against their team that, 11 seasons later, Coleman has not worked a single Raiders game.

Brevity also sank referee Phil Luckett on Thanksgiving, while conducting an overtime coin toss in 1998.  He heard Steelers captain Jerome Bettis say “hea—tails” or “eh, tails” and continued with the standard coin-toss procedure, only deviating to repeat and emphasize, “the call was heads.” Luckett could have used the public address system to explain to everyone that he heard “heads” first followed by “tails,” and that, by rule, he is bound to take “heads.” To this day, Luckett’s name surfaces in ridicule, despite the fact that the league acknowledged (although not publicly) that the call was correct.

Coleman — an official since 1989 — and Luckett are from an era when the head of officiating, Jerry Seeman, was known for a very distinct and robotic cadence over the public-address system when he was referee. When he was in charge of the officiating department, his style could be seen in those he promoted to referee.

And while a microphone unfortunately cost referee Tony Corrente a game check for swearing, he redeemed his presence on the microphone by stepping the fans and the viewers through one of the most complicated calls in recent memory where the call could have been any of numerous options. (His call is explained in Week 11 quick calls, Bears vs. 49ers.)

While we appreciate the traffic to the site when the calls are not fully explained, we find ourselves writing two posts: one to explain the unexplained call, and one like this explaining the lack of an explanation.

Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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