The supervisor of NFL officials said yesterday that the controversial referee's call that kept alive the Baltimore Colts' winning touchdown drive against the New England Patriots was a "judgment decision" and that no apology would be forthcoming to the Pats.
The controversy arose with about three minute remaining in the Colt-Pat game Sunday. With a first and 10 at the New England six-yard line, Colt quarterback Bert Jones took the center snap, was hit by linebacker Steve Zabel of New England and dropped the ball. Lanebacker Sam Hunt recovered for the Patriots.
Referee Fred Silva ruled that Jones was in the grasp of a tackler, that he blew his whistle to stop the play and that the ball then came loose.
Art McNally, supervisor of NFL officials, who was at the game, gave Silva's version of the play.
The Colts won, 30-24, and eliminated the Miami Dolphins from the playoffs while winning the AFC East title for Baltimore.
McNally was asked if perhaps the decision was wrong, whether the official would be reprimanded or even suspended. Might there be an apology to the Patriots as had been the case last week when commissioner Pete Rozelle told coach Bum Phillips of Houston that an official made a mistake that cost a touchdown and a l an official made a mistake that cost a touchdown and a loss to Cincinnati.
McNally said, "It was a judgment decision by the refereethere is a consistency of error. It's unfortunate if an official makes a mistake. In such a decision we do not make a statement one way or another, as to whether it was right or wrong.
"What the referee is conscious of is trying to protect the quarterback."
McNally said there would be no apology because that would of course, indicate the call was wrong. Asked if referee Silva would be eligible for playoff games. McNally said, "We evaluate the total picture long range, net on one play."
The announcement of the officials who will work this weekend's playoff games will be made on Thursday or Friday, he said.
McNally said the league received a pretty fair amount of complaints, "mostly from Miami fans."
Maimi would have been in the playoffs instead of Baltimore if the Patriots had defeated the Colts. New England already had been eliminated by Miami's victory over Buffalo Saturday.
Don Weiss, executive director of the NFL, pointed out that "the referee's chief responsibility once the play begins is the safety of the quarterback. The situation is more apt to happen with the quarterback involved.
"The referee stays with the quarterback until he is out of the play, as a passer or runner. Under the rules the referee is required to give the quarterback extra protection against injury.
"If the quarterback is upright (as Jones still was), he would be hit low and be hurt. If a quarterback was hurt on the eve of the playoffs, people would say, 'Why don't you change the rules to protect the quarterback?'"
Weiss corrected reports that it was referee Silva who made the wrong call against Houston in Cincinnati and in the infamous Med Gray decision against the Redskins two seasons ago.
"Another member of the officiating crew made the call against Houston," Weiss said, declining to name him.
"It was not Silva's crew that ruled that Mel Gray made a touchdown catch for St. Louis against Washington. Silva was substituting for another referee.
"In that game, one official signaled it was not a touchdown but a fumble, anotgnaled it was a touchdown. A third official agreed it wa a score without signaling that it was a touchdown.
"Silva merely called the officials together to get their opinions. He did not make an opinion. He did the right thing."
Rozelle said of the weekend games, "It was great the way that the Rams against the Redskins, the Giants against the Bears, the Oilgers against Cincinnati, the patriots against the Colts, and Chargers against the Steelers did their utmost to try to win, even if it meant little to them."
In the extra-period game on Sunday in which the Bears beat the Giants, the overnight television ratings, which are taken in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, snowed that contest had a 73 per cent share of the sets tuned in Chicago and 44 each in the other two markets.
The Redskin-Ram game on Saturday afternoon had a 56 share in los Angeles, 32 in Chicago, but was not shown in New York.
The Minnesota-Detroit game in prime time on Saturday night had a 37 share in Chicago, 31 in Los Angeles and 19 in New York.