Commentary by Mark Schultz
The NFL needs to stop worrying about reputation and P.R. and assign its officials without past games in mind. Specifically, the NFL needs to have referee Walt Coleman call an Oakland Raiders game.
Coleman’s last Raiders game was January 19, 2002, a divisional playoff in New England against the Patriots. In that game, Coleman properly enforced a very unpopular rule. And by the end of the day, all football fans were aware of The Tuck Rule. Coleman changed a Tom Brady fumble to an incomplete pass, keeping the Patriots alive (video). The Patriots beat the Raiders in overtime, and the outrage began.
Back in Oakland, Raiders’ fans, owners, coaches and players blamed Coleman for their defeat. Since then, Walt Coleman has not worked a Raiders game.
I can understand the NFL keeping officials away from a team for a year or so to let the team and fans cool off, but the NFL permanently scratching officials from a team does not make sense.
NFL has a history of keeping officials away from teams
Coleman is not the first NFL official kept away from a certain team after a controversial call (correct or incorrect).
Ed Hochuli made an error early in the 2008 season that cost the San Diego Chargers a victory against the Denver Broncos. He called a Broncos fumble and Chargers recovery an incomplete pass. He next worked a Chargers game in 2011.
After Super Bowl XL, the Seattle Seahawks and their fans complained about referee Bill Leavy’s crew. Leavy later admitted that he made mistakes in the The Big Game and felt bad about his performance. Leavy eventually officiated Seahawks games again after a five-year hiatus.
In 1978 referee Jerry Marbreit made a very controversial call against the San Diego Chargers in The Holy Roller game (video). I don’t remember if Markbreit took a hiatus from calling Chargers games, but the NFL let him call Super Bowl XXIX, when the Chargers played the San Francisco 49ers.
Until the Coleman/Raiders scratch, the most famous referee scratch was Ben Dreith. In the 1976 AFC Divisional Playoffs, Dreith officiated the Raiders (boy, they’re in a lot of these games!) and Patriots. In the waning moments Dreith called a controversial roughing the passer on the Patriots’ “Sugar Bear” Hamilton (video). The call kept the Raiders drive alive to beat the Patriots. Dreith officiated in the NFL until 1990, but he never called another Patriots game.
With Leavy, Dreith, Hochuli and Markbreit, the calls were either incorrect or 50-50.
But, Coleman’s call was correct!
No other pro officials get scratched
The NBA, NHL and MLB do not scratch officials after a controversial call.
Hugh Hollins made a call in the 1994 NBA playoffs against the Chicago Bulls that enraged The Windy City. But, Hollins worked Bulls home games the very next year.
NHL linesman Leon Stickle admitted making a bad offside non-call against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals Game 6. The New York Islanders clinched the series in that game. Stickle was back in Philadelphia calling Flyers games next year.
Philadelphia Phillies fans still think umpire Bruce Froemming blew a call in Game 3 of the 1977 NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Froemming ruled Manny Mota of the Dodgers safe on a close play at first (video). If he called Mota out the Phillies would have won and taken the series lead. The Dodgers rallied to take the lead a few batters later. The Dodgers won Game 3 and they clinched the series in Game 4. Bruce Froemming was back in the City of Brotherly Love the very next year calling games.
Safety worry work-around
The NFL may not want Coleman officiating games in Oakland due to safety concerns. The Raiders fans are … exuberant.
But, the Raiders play 31 other teams and Coleman could always call a Raiders road game. If the NFL doesn’t want him to work an AFC rivalry game, then put him on a non-conference road game — like this year’s Raiders-at-Eagles contest.
The NFL keeping Coleman off Raiders games for 16 years looks like the NFL is trying to “protect” Coleman from something, or they fear P.R. issues.
Walt Coleman is a 29-year veteran who has stood at the 50-yard line for many years while thousands have howled for his head. He is unflappable, like all his other brother and sister zebras.
The NFL needs to show confidence in their officials and show fans, media, players and owners it won’t be swayed in making assignments.
Jon Gruden is in the TV booth. Al Davis is not with us any more. Every player from The Tuck Rule game except Sebastian Janikowski is either retired or not on the Raiders. Sixteen years is enough of a cooling off period.
Give Walt Coleman a Raiders game.