This NFL season should be remembered for the excellence of play within the American conference and for the sad-sack squads that abounded in the National.
Unfortunately, too many fans will recall, instead, the controversy created by the officiating. Miami should have been in the playoffs. And Houston might have been, they will recall, except for costly mistakes by officials.
I would like to award a game whistle to the first referee or back judge who has the courage to admit, one of these days, that he blew a call.
One reason I enjoy betting NFL games instead of the fifth at Laurel is that the integrity of professional football today is almost above question. I think the NFL's front office honestly tries to do an outstanding job, and so do the officials even though the policing aspect of the operation could, admittedly, be accorded a bigger and more thorough security arm.
However, in recent years, league officials occasionally have become caught up in the important games. They have become part of the home team's "momentum," throwing their flags almost in concert with the hometown fans' waving of their pennants or handkerchiefs.
Again, I don't believe this is intentional on the officials' part. It just happens. When a bettor talks of the "home field advantage" for an important game, the possibility that the officials will get into the flow of the action, in the home team's favor, is one of the most important considerations.
Think back a little bit over recent seasons - to the Miami fumble that was ruled a nonfumble and kept Buffalo out of the playoffs; to Mel Gray's remarkable reception against the Redskins; to the calls late in the playoff game against New England that kept Oakland alive for its 1976-77 Super Bowl championship; to Rozelle's admission this year that Houston was deprived of a victory against Cincinnati; to the fumble by Baltimore's Bert Jones against New England that would have moved Miami into the round of eight and to last week's Denver fumble one play before the Broncos scored their second touchdown against Oakland.
All these calls had one important similarity. They all were ruled in favor of the home team.
I do not pretend to be an expert in rules interpretation. What I do kown, from watching every game available in the Baltimore-Washington area on television, is that these calls represented deviations from the norm in terms of the way the plays were interpreted. If these decisions were right, then the calls by other officials, in 99 per cent of the similar instances, were inaccurate.
A high level of consistency is what good officiating is all about, no matter how subjective the task. The aim is for the same play to be called the same way as often as possible. These calls represent inconsistencies.
But I'm not bitter about them.A few of them helped me win a bet, while others were costly. Officials simply made a mistake. They will make more, but overall they do a sound job and they should be permitted to carry on without being subjected to a camera's power of review and veto.
Just keep in mind, in the future, when an important game figures to be very close in your handicapping, that the home team has this built-in advantage. An official, for all his intention of bravery and fairness, should not be expected to display the heart of a lion. Not when it's so much easier, faced with a life-or-death situation, to run with the herd or the crowd.
The Stardust sports book in Las Vegas opened its betting on Super Bowl 12 with Dallas favored by four points.
"All the smarts (professionals) laid the four," Joey Boston declared. "We took the spread out to 4 1/2 and the smart money still showed for Dallas. The line now is five and the Public is staying with the Cowboys. I think the spread may go out to as much as six on the game."
To the bettor, this means there will be no better time than right now to back Dallas. Anyone interested in supporting Denver might do well to wait until closer to game time.