The NFL’s Immaculate Deception
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - In this case, the shiny new bauble is Nickell Robey-Coleman arriving early on the right sideline and blasting Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis, a missed call late in the NFC Championship Game that likely changed the course of league history.
This is not a defense of a missed call, although it was far more bang-bang in real speed than those predicting the end of the NFL as we know it care to admit.
Most of the outrage, however, is focused in the wrong place.
The NFL has an officiating problem and really has had one for well over two decades but while any 12-stepper can tell you, the path to fixing a problem may start with admitting it, identifying the issue is a key part of the process as well.
Perhaps the approach to fixing problems is so indoctrinated in us due to our society as a whole. After all, the political class in our country [and don't kid yourself, it's both sides] believes the path to fixing any issue involves the next regulation.
From a football perspective, the debate needs to be defined first. Outrage has the focus on an egregious miss in a big spot but ask yourself if plays like that were consistently missed throughout the season?
There is a crisis here but the crisis that needs to be identified before it's fixed is the overlegislation of the game, not overreacting to one human error on the big stage.
The New Orleans Saints were not the first team to be done in by a miscue and if you don't believe that look up the name Mike Renfro and the Houston Oilers, or rewind to that famous Steve Young to Terrell Owens hook up that sunk the Green Bay Packers and remind yourself of the Jerry Rice fumble moments earlier.
The most famous play in league history is called "The Immaculate Reception" in one city and "The Immaculate Deception" in another. "The Music City Miracle?" -- illegal with the benefit of hindsight.
Heck, the last time the Saints were this close to the Super Bowl, it was consistent and systematic ignorance toward the rules and morality itself by targeting Brett Favre that got the NOLA over the top, a moment in time that got Sean Payton and Gregg Williams banned from the game for a period and sparked change in the way the league protects QBs, all because the officials swallowed their whistles in a big spot.
Anyone on Bourbon Street boycott the league over that result?
The treadmill we are on is an unsatisfying one.
First comes the outrage from the uneducated. The NFL, ever mindful of future litigation and television ratings, tweaks more rules to serve its purposes and fans bemoan how the game has been watered down. From there comes a slight adjustment by midseason and by the playoffs officials turn into hockey refs and swallow that whistle intent on making sure the "players decide" only the most important of games.
Pete Carroll built the Legion of Boom and Payton got his Super Bowl title preying on that very premise.
Rinse and repeat as 50 million-plus tune in for the championship games and far more for the Super Bowl, an end game that is a clear signal to Park Avenue that nothing needs to change.
There's your Immaculate Deception but by all means, keep focusing on that bauble.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen