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Philadelphia sports talker claims private admission of McAulay botched call

Philadelphia sports anchor Howard Eskin says officials admitted a touchdown call should have been a safety.

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The well-worn aphorism that officiating is incompetent is being skillfully kindled for sports radio’s regular season conflagration … by sports radio. Philadelphia radio host and TV anchor Howard Eskin advances this insider item without context or follow-up from his back channels he’s established with Terry McAulay’s crew:

Actually, to parse his words, he refers to officials, which could refer to any officials, not necessarily the crew on the field. But, this would be a trivial matter if the goal is to chum the fan-infested waters. Update: As pointed out by reader Brian Rosenwald, Eskin was on the sideline as a reporter for the Eagles radio broadcast, and would have been in a position to overhear a conversation or have an opportunity to ask a question.

The play Eskin refers to is a blocked punt in the third quarter of the preseason game the Eagles against the Colts (video). The Eagles punt rolled near the goal line, and efforts to corral the ball brought it into the end zone. After unpiling the scrum, McAulay signaled a touchdown.

The only way this play could be ruled a safety is if an out-of-bounds player touched a live ball in the end zone, which Eskin mentioned in a reply tweet to one of his followers. Leodis McKelvin, the Eagles special-teamer wearing number 21, is the only player who this could apply to, as his foot touches out in the process of recovery. For the sake of argument, let’s say that McKelvin did touch the ball while out of bounds. This would be extraordinarily difficult to sort out in traffic with a live loose ball, as there are so many moving parts in the recovery. As the officials were in reverse mechanics from the punt block, there was only one official in position to make the call, head linesman John McGrath, where ordinarily there could be an extra pair of eyes on the sideline. That said, such a call would tend to come out of replay, unless there was an obvious case of a player out of bounds.

Replay official Earnie Frantz did trigger a replay review, as it was a scoring play with an element requiring further review. Replay needed to clearly establish an out-of-bounds McKelvin touching the loose ball to achieve a reversal of a touchdown to a safety. In fact, there is nothing that shows that McKelivin even touched the ball, in or out of bounds. With no clear shot that shows that, there is only one appropriate call, and the one that McAulay and the officiating command center arrived at: “stands.” By announcing “stands” instead of “confirmed,” McAulay indicated that this was exactly how this played out in replay.

If there was a subsequent second-guessing of the call, the crew is completely in the clear. If Dean Blandino or Al Riveron, the senior staff in the officiating command center, agreed on the call, it has the imprimatur of correctness. No official could possibly be downgraded if they agree with the grader’s judgement on the call, even if that judgement later changes.

Update 10:15 p.m.: NFL spokesman Michael Signora told Football Zebras that this was called properly:

The on-field ruling is only reversed when the referee has clear and obvious visual evidence available that warrants a change.  That was not the case on this play, so by rule the on-field ruling of touchdown stands.

There is absolutely no issue with the touchdown call. What there is an issue with is that allegedly the officials spoke privately about the call to the media and, at that, would have chosen someone with Eskin’s track record. It seems much more likely that such a conversation never took place.

In the long run, Eskin’s first attempt to ignite this year’s bonfire against incompetent officiating is nothing more than a pile of wet sticks. But, it will fill some time on broadcast.

Image: Indianapolis Colts photo; h/t Dan McKenzie

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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