In this open season on "zebras," football game officials in striped shirts, their next recourse may be to join the rest of the people in second-guessing themselves at screenside.
Barring a squeaky-clean Super Bowl, the National Football League is going to have to make at least a public relations gesture to the fans who take their sport on television.
If it is television which keeps focusing on the blunders of officials, perhaps an experiment with a game official sitting in front of that same magic eye during exhibition games next season will prove something.
If he has the power to overrule an obviously improper call by a colleague on the field having the limitations of a human being, the confidence of the spectator may be restored.
One problem may be that the fellows operating the television cameras are human, too.
Despite cameras, shooting from "all the angles," in the 1976 Oakland-New England playoff game, an official at NBC admitted that his crew did not catch Ray Hamilton of the Patriots "roughing the passer," Ken Stabler of the Raiders, in play that was sald to have beaten New England.
This raisers another complicating question, a theoretical one. Suppose a television observer for the NFL empowered to reverse decisions of the on-the-field officials sees other violations while searching for evidence on the controversial play in question.
Should he call them if the officials on the field missed them? What would be fan reaction to such calls about plays unnoticed by the spectators?
If a coach had the right to call for an instant replay to determine if an on-the-field call was wrong, would the official looking at all the replays be obligated also to look for other violations at the same time?
Opponents of giving power to an official at screenside to reverse decisions contend that there is no guarantee of a conclusive picture.
One reason, unlike in baseball, is that there are 22 players running, in many directions, and the cameramen cannot know beforehand who likely will be going where.
It is predictable in which direction a better and a baserunner will go in given cirumstances.
One of the unspoken but fundamental concems that a league has is the personal safety of the official. He is out there alone in a sense. Neither feam figures to be kindly disposed toward him in the normal emotions of competition.
Nor do the crowds have any affection for him, by the nature of his position. If there are no steps to try curb aroused emotions against him, he might suffer fates similar to those which befall soccer officials in other parts of the world.
The sophisticated electronic equipment of television is at once a purveyor of truth and a distorter of that truth's relevance.
The television spectator now sees the truth - allowing for the limitations of the cameras.
And the controversial play is shown so many times on television in relation to other plays - which have become commonplace in an endless season of spectacular feats - that the officials have upstaged the athletes, even if in a notorious way.
Opinion now is so near unanimous against the competency of NFL officiating that is like a "lynch'em" mentality.
The emphasis on officiating can have a lingering effect. It may be thought now by people without total recall that the Mei Gray play two years ago, which was ruled a touchdown reception instead of an incompletion, beat the Redskins.
In fact, it only enabled the St. Louis Cardinals to tie the Redskins at the end of regulation time. The Cardinals won the game in overtime.
As to turning the television camera against the Frankenstein syndrome it has produced, it might be mentioned that after looking at films of the famous "immaculate reception" by Franco Harris hundreds of times, with the emotion of the game removed, neither the Pittsburgh Steelers nor the Oakland Raiders yet agree on what happened in the playoff game that was won by the Steelers.
The NFL invited media representatives attending its league meeting last spring in Phoenix to view film of some controversial plays of the 1976 season.
There were four pictures from four angles shown of each play and all came out different, without a satisfactory resolution of the absolutely correct decision.
It is suggested that the NFL put that show on the road after this season for the edification of at least professional critics in each city.
Or replace the game officials with sportswriters and let the officials second-guese them.
Short of that, the game officials are hereby alerted that the Orwellian year of 1984 is approaching and Big Brother is watching your every call with his magic eye.