Officially bad
By Tim Keown
Page 2 columnist

The worst officiating in professional sports is in professional football; and as crazy as it sounds, it's worse with instant replay.

Honestly. These guys are intellectually paralyzed. They stand out there afraid to make a call because it might be overruled or mocked or replayed 776 times over the next 41 minutes. They've been second-guessed and double-checked into submission. If you stop a game randomly in the third quarter, they'd have trouble telling you their names.

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You hear increased chatter about finding a place for instant replay in baseball; but if you use football for a model, you'd end up with a home-plate umpire standing there for five seconds with his finger in the air every time a pitch catches a corner of the plate. They'd struggle with every call, not only the tough ones.

Sunday night's Raider-Titan game was typical, with a poor call that couldn't be replayed allowing the conspiracy-theory folks in weird old Raiderland the chance to envision all the gunmen on the grassy knoll.

Or something like that.

But really, instant replay has made the NFL safe for mediocrity and hesitation. What's wrong with asking for competence, or even demanding it? As far as battle cries go, "We'll get it right eventually" hasn't won a war yet.

Here's the deal: Human error might change a few games over the course of 32 teams playing 16 games each. And, bypassing the thorny issue of gambling for a moment, is human error by an official really any different than an injury that costs a team a game? Or poor coaching? Or weather?

The human body isn't a foolproof machine, and neither is the brain of a 50-year-old official. But if you remove the electronics from the equation, maybe you'd find those 50-year-old men puffing up their chests and at least acting as if they're getting it right.

This Week's List

  • Ah, to tune in the radio and experience the glorious sounds of the season: "We've got critical inside information on tonight's huge matchup between the Bucs and the Eagles ... "

  • I don't know about you, but I'm listening to St. Louis sports-talk radio this week, just so I can hear those magical words: "Hello, Brenda? You're on the air."

  • If you happen to belong to a Fantasy Concussion League, here's a guy whose monstrous hits might create a few: Seahawks rookie safety Ken Hamlin.

  • And also this week, an added bonus for the Raider Conspiracy Congress: An opening-game loss it can blame on the officials.

  • For guys who claim to really like each other, these two really don't like each other: Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa.

  • What Cub Fan the Optimist thinks right now: Finally -- this is going to be great.

  • What Cub Fan the Pessimist thinks right now: Oh, God -- this is going to hurt more than usual.

  • Then there are those who look at the standings and see the obvious: Cubs-White Sox Series.

  • Elsewhere in Chicago: You simply can't lose a game more thoroughly than the Bears lost on Sunday.

  • Since ESPN The Network will continue to bring you the enduring hilarity of the Mike Vanderjagt interview on Peyton Manning, now's as good a time as any to point out the funniest moment of the whole Vanderjagt-Manning imbroglio: Vanderjagt saying, "I'm like, 'Come on, man -- you and me, we're going to win this thing.'"

  • He is, as you know, a kicker: "You and me" -- that's just too rich.

  • If you remember this, you know it's too funny to be forgotten: Operation Shutdown.

  • Another one that isn't terribly funny right now, but has the potential to gain momentum in the coming years: The Randy Ratio.

  • For a while on Saturday, it looked like Ohio State wanted a piece of that action: Who's more overrated -- Auburn or Maryland?

  • Kind of like Red Sox-Yankees, only with a few more Confederate flags: Ricky Rudd and Kevin Harvick.

  • Unintended but unavoidable consequence of Andy Roddick's U.S. Open win: More Brad Gilbert for everyone!

  • Come to think of it, my buddy's dad had one in 1975 that read, "Gas, Grass or Ass -- No One Rides Free": Speaking of Roddick, remember when the only people who wore the foam-front, mesh-back trucker's caps were truckers?

  • Oh, wait: And Fred McGriff, giving the Tom Emansky testimonial.

  • At some point, the statute of limitations on this fable has to be up: Any announcer who publicly praises Bill Romanowski's leadership ability should have to give equal time to Marcus Williams, the teammate whose eye socket was broken and career possibly finished by The Inspirational Romo.

  • It was hilarious and dead-on perfect, and I'm guessing someone's going to pay in a very large way: A teen-age Kevin Millar's videotaped impersonation of Bruce Springsteen somehow made it onto the Boston Globe website.

  • Is there anyone involved in sports-talk radio -- besides Jim Rome -- who understands the proper usage of good vs. well?

  • To conclude this unfortunate and unexpected appearance of Grammar Boy: Don't even get me started on the whole ly thing.

  • Just for the heck of it: John Wockenfuss, and that stance.

  • And finally, I've been saying this for years, and finally someone listened: A wire-service story last week suggested the L.A. Sparks (or is it Sparkzz?) are the team everybody loves to hate.

    Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.



    Tim Keown Archive

    Keown: NFL Season's dreams

    Keown: New Number won

    Keown: Preseason profiting

    Keown: From baseball to Clarett

    Keown: David Stern live!

    Keown: Great expectations

    Keown: Bring us your tired former broadcasters

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