The National Football League confirmed yesterday that a game official with 10 years' experience has been suspended for two weeks for an error that deprived the Buffalo Bills of an opportunity to defeat the Colts on Sunday in Baltimore.
The Colts won the game, 17-14, after umpire Gerry Hart prevented the Bills from putting the ball in play at the Baltimore 39-yard line, with "six or seven" seconds left, by continuing to straddle the ball after referee Dick Jorgensen had given the signal to resume play.
Art McNally, supervisor of officials, termed it a "mechanical error" rather than "an error of judgment."
A league spokesman said the Bills "cannot do anything" about the unfortunate episode. It was the winless Bills' third straight loss and the Colts' third straight victory in the American Conference Eastern Division.
Behind, 17-14, the Bills got the ball on their 47-yard line. There were 28 seconds remaining and the Bills had no time-outs left. Quarterback Joe Ferguson then passed 10 yards to running back O.J. Simpson for a first down on the Baltimore 43.
With 22 seconds remaining. Ferguson passed four yards to wide receiver Lou Piccone, who did not get out of bounds and the clock continued to run.
McNally explained that when a team is in a hurry-up offense, as the Bills were, the umpire stays close to the ball and stands over it between plays.
He said the referee gives the two teams "a reasonable opportunity to assemble" for the next play, blows the whistle and drops his right arm as a signal to the umpire to step back to his normal position and let the offensive center put the ball in play.
McNally said umpire Hart did not back off and McNally judged from watching the game film that the last six or seven seconds of play were taken away from the Bills.
It was the first time in memory that the NFL confirmed publicly that the game official had been suspended to 1968 an entire crew was grounded [WORD ILLEGIBLE] a game and ruled out of consideration of assignment to the playoff that season.
That suspension was announced of after George Allen's Rams lost 17-16. In the Chicago Bears in Los Angeles, Vegerheck of the play-by play [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the game disclosed that the Rams were deprived of a down in the last minute of play.
The league spokesman recalled that the Rams had a first down but were changed with holding on the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] play. The Bears accepted the penalty, but instead of signaling that it was still first down, the officials signaled it was second down and eventually the Rams did not get a fourth down.
Sunday's game in Baltimore was held up for about a minute with less than two minutes remaining when referee Jorgensen went to the sideline and telephoned the personnel in the press box recording the play-by play to be certain game officials had the right down slowing on the sticks. It was correct as it turned out.