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Official turns back to potential tinderbox

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  â€” 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.

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Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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3 thoughts on “Official turns back to potential tinderbox

  1. I would appreciate a more thorough explanation of the play where the refs picked up the flag following Randal Cobb’s punt return for a touchdown. What really led to the flag being picked up? Is is possible that whoever overruled the initial call was looking at a different set of players? Also, who is allowed to chime in on this discussion? I noticed sideline refs with radios conferring with the crew on the field. What really happened here? Any idea?

  2. My best guess is that the official threw a flag for a block in the back that wasn’t (the block where the punt returner was beginning to turn the corner that FOX first highlighted). If he threw the flag for that and they picked it up, that was right. Either the officials plain missed the block in the back on SF #24 (shot from the endzone at ground level) or they decided that wasn’t a block in the back and picked the flag up. Either way, it was a major miss. I’ll try to find video later today or tomorrow and break it down.

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