NFL Stands Behind Its Officiating Crew

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

DETROIT, Feb. 6 -- The NFL backed game officials a day after a postseason marred by controversial calls concluded with a Super Bowl on Sunday that left the Seattle Seahawks feeling they'd been wronged on a few key rulings.

The Seahawks were particularly upset about a second-quarter call in their 21-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Ford Field in which an official ruled that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had gotten the ball to the goal line for a one-yard touchdown run. Referee Bill Leavy conducted an instant-replay review but did not overturn the call, and an NFL spokesman said Monday that the league had no problem with the call or the replay review.

"The call on the field was that the ball broke the goal line," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations. "All you have to do is have the tip of the ball break the goal line. Leavy reviewed that and determined there was not conclusive video evidence to reverse it."

The call was one of several costly rulings that went against the Seahawks. A first-quarter touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to wide receiver Darrell Jackson was nullified by an offensive pass-interference call on Jackson. Jackson used his right arm to lightly shove Steelers safety Chris Hope, and back judge Bob Waggoner threw a flag as Hope began to protest.

"I didn't even touch him," Jackson said. "I guess that's how it is when you are on the road, and I guess that's how it is when you are going against the world."

The game was played at a neutral site, but the crowd at Ford Field contained mostly Steelers fans.

In the fourth quarter, Hasselbeck's 18-yard completion to tight end Jerramy Stevens at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line was wiped out by a holding penalty on right tackle Sean Locklear. Hasselbeck finished that drive by throwing an interception on third and 18, and the Steelers sealed the outcome soon after with a 43-yard touchdown pass from one wide receiver, Antwaan Randle El, to another, Hines Ward, on a trick play.

"Referees have a hard job," Seahawks tailback Shaun Alexander said after the game. "I'm not going to just go out there and bash them. But at the same time, whenever there's a tough situation, you always want your call. If we had got all the calls, then Pittsburgh would be flipped around. That's football. Referees try their best, and that's all you can say."

But Seahawks Coach Mike Holmgren had plenty to say to Leavy after the Roethlisberger call, having an animated discussion with the referee as the two left the field at halftime. After the game, Holmgren remained adamant in his belief that Roethlisberger hadn't gotten the ball to the goal line.

"The one I thought was a tough one was that I don't think [Roethlisberger] scored," Holmgren said.

Roethlisberger ran to his left and dived for the goal line, where he was met by Seahawks linebacker D.D. Lewis. It was difficult to tell, even on replay, whether the ball reached the goal line. Head linesman Mark Hittner hesitated but then signaled touchdown, and Leavy conducted his replay review.

The Steelers perhaps were due for a break after the admittedly erroneous call that nearly cost them their win in Indianapolis in an AFC semifinal. An interception by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was overturned by a replay review. The Colts nearly pulled out a miraculous victory, and the league acknowledged the next day that the call had been wrong.

That play came during a weekend in which the New England Patriots were upset about a few calls during their loss at Denver, including a controversial pass-interference call on cornerback Asante Samuel and a replay ruling on a fumble by Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey on an interception return that might have given possession of the ball back to the Patriots but didn't.

That led to plenty of public scrutiny of the officiating, but Aiello said Monday the league is satisfied with the performance of its officials during the postseason.

"It was a very well-officiated playoffs, including the Super Bowl," he said.

Several Seahawks players, including Hasselbeck, said they'd wished the calls had gone their way but felt the bigger issue was their failure to capitalize on many opportunities during the game. Seattle defensive end Grant Wistrom said, "We're not going to blame this game on anyone but ourselves."

On Monday, as Steelers Coach Bill Cowher did a series of day-after-the-game interviews, he was asked at one point about the officiating Sunday and said: "All I can say is: 21-10."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company