Week 1: Packers at 49ers
There were many controversies between the Packers and 49ers, but one of the more minor disagreements in the game could have erupted into a major fracas partly due to a lack of observation and game sense from the back judge, Peter Shafer, number 94.
With 4:47 remaining in the second quarter, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers fired a pass in the end zone intended for Jermichael Finley, number 88. There was pass interference on the play called on the 49ers Dashon Goldson, number 38. As Finley got up to argue for pass interference, he got tangled up with 49ers cornerback, Perrish Cox, number 20 (video at 1:30). Shafer turned his back on the two tangled players to go discuss the play with field judge Rusty Spindel, number 105 (who threw his hat because he already threw a flag for pass interference). Cox protested being stepped over by Finley and the two went to the ground. Cox got up and stepped on Finley’s ankle, enraging the Lambeau Field fans and causing some pushing and shoving between the two teams.
This could have been avoided had the back judge not turned his back on Cox and Finley. Shafer was the closest official and was standing right next to them. While I understand that Shafer wanted to get to Spindel quickly to discuss the pass interference, he left the scene of a potential physical altercation. Shafer could have and should have stayed close to Cox and Finley, used his voice to calm the two down, helped them separate, and possibly called a foul on Cox if he deemed his stepping on Finley malicious (I think it was accidental, but there was no official close enough to judge intent). After all had settled down, he could have gone to Spindel to hash out the play.
There are so many little things that go into officiating; so many things separate the good officials from the great ones — the replacement officials from the locked out members of the NFL Referees Association. All NFL-caliber officials have to be great dead-ball officials. Officials need have their head on a swivel when the ball is dead and be vigilant for potential conflicts. When they sense conflict brewing, they need get the situation under control. This little incident could have boiled over into fight.
Fortunately the players all calmed down. But, if Finley and Cox had gotten into a fight that drew flags or ejections, Shafer would have been blamed for leaving the scene and failing to stop a confrontation.
As we continue on, it will be these little things that the players, coaches, and, eventually, the fans will notice that replacement officials are lacking.