Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hochuli's crew got it right, like it or not....

For all that NFL referee Ed Hochuli and his crew have screwed up on the field this year, I really didn't think that this play was one of them.

In the third quarter of the Lions-Packers game, Ryan Grant ran for what appeared to be a 80-yard touchdown, but it was called back as replays showed that Grant's posterior touched the ground.

In yesterday's Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause claims this was another example of the horribleness of Hochuli and his crew.

Rant: It was a terrible season for Ed Hochuli and his officiating crew, and the men in stripes did nothing to redeem themselves in the regular-season finale. There were a number of questionable calls, and the crew’s cluelessness reached its peak on Ryan Grant’s alleged 80-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. There was doubt and confusion among the officials on whether Grant hit the ground on safety Leigh Bodden’s tackle. The play was reviewed and Grant’s run was reduced to 21 yards.

Grant himself chimed in on the play, sounding a bit tweaked that the play was called back when he was told that he wasn't down by an official.

He lost out on some yardage when his apparent 80-yard touchdown run was reduced to a 21-yard gain after the Lions challenged and referee Ed Hochuli ruled that Grant was down. Grant gained 14 more yards on that series but had the touchdown been allowed, he would have needed only 2 more yards to reach 1,250. He also played only one snap on the Packers’ final possession.

Grant said he thought his 80-yard touchdown run would stand because one of the officials told him during the play to keep running because he wasn’t down.

“I thought I rolled off the guy and as I’m rolling I’m saying I’m not on the ground,” Grant said. “I didn’t hear the whistle. I kept running. I run to the whistle. When I got to the end zone, (one of the officials) said, ‘Good job, you weren’t down.’”

Now, I don't know much more than what we've all seen on television, but not only do I think the criticism of Hochuli's crew is unwarranted, they actually demonstrated a high level of self-discipline on the play.

Having spent a few seasons as a high school football official, I can tell you one of the hardest things to do, even at that level, is laying off the whistle in the middle of a fast-moving play. Refs are taught to get the whistle blown as soon as they know the play is done, as it reduces the possibility of injury when the tackling has to stop.

There's a pretty good reason why my nickname in my few years as a football official was "Inadvertent Whistle". You blow that whistle, and the play is done. Finished. You can't go back and give a runner their yards back that they should have had if the whistle hadn't been blown.

Vandermause's criticism is more bitter than informed. He states that Hochuli, already under criticism this season for a blown call a couple months ago, is at fault for not making the right call immediately on the play (which would mean, of course, that a whistle should have been blown when Grant's bum touched the ground).

In super-slow-motion, it was (sort of) easy to see Grant's body touch the ground, but in normal speed, it is almost impossible.

The officials made the right call, especially given that they know they have instant replay to get the play right after the fact. Grant mentions that one official told him in the end zone that he wasn't down and that he had a touchdown. However, if you watch the replay shot from the end zone, you can clearly see another official pointing to the ground, signaling that the play was dead.

But, he didn't blow his whistle. He signaled that the play was down, but seeing other officials were still following the play, he allowed the play to continue in the event he would be overruled, or if the replay would show otherwise.

That shows a high degree of self-discipline, and a team that can look around and see what the others are doing. And it is exactly these kinds of plays where the refs make the best use of instant replay...the ones where it is nearly impossible to make the call on the field. Let the play go, discuss it, and if one of the coaches disagree you go to the booth and get it right.

Yes, as Packer fans, we wailed and gnashed our teeth when we saw a touchdown taken off the board, and threw our foam bricks at our plasma screens when Hochuli came up to explain it. Of course, we want the points.

Grant thought that replay cost him his million-dollar bonus.

Yeah, that’s the way the ball bounces,” Grant said. “I told [running backs coach Edgar Bennett], ‘If we were playing in your day, that’s a touchdown. No replay.’”

Actually, no, Ryan. In Edgar's day, that official pointing at the ground would have blown the whistle and brought the play back right away.

The reffing crew may have had a skittish day the rest of the day, but it certainly wasn't the worst crew the Packers have had all season. And on this one particular play, the crew actually handled it perfectly, whether we fans liked the end result or not.

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