The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Furious Saints fans target NFL with lawsuits, boycotts and billboards

A billboard in Atlanta proclaims the rightful winners of the NFC championship. (Courtesy of Matt Bowers)
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Frank D’Amico, a New Orleans-based attorney, is suing the NFL on behalf of Saints season ticket holders to change the outcome of the NFC championship game between New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams. His suit, filed in civil district court and slated for a hearing Monday morning, claims a missed pass-interference call against the Rams caused season ticket holders “mental anguish and emotional trauma” and “loss of enjoyment of life,” among other damages.

He sent a legal courier to New York to track down NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and serve him a subpoena, but well into Tuesday afternoon, the courier was without luck.

“He’s ducking us,” D’Amico said of Goodell in a phone interview.

Days — multiple days — have passed since Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman ran over Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis in a tied game late in the fourth quarter. A pass-interference penalty would have given New Orleans a first down, as well as the chance to run down the clock and kick a game-winning field goal to advance to Super Bowl LIII.

But there was no flag. The Saints lost in overtime. And New Orleans is still seething.

‘We’ll probably never get over it’: No-call leaves Saints crushed amid officiating controversy

“I’m going to humiliate and harass and embarrass [the NFL] leading up to the Super Bowl,” said Matt Bowers, who paid for seven billboards in Super Bowl host city Atlanta to display anti-NFL messages over the next two weeks. “Then I’m over it, but not a minute beforehand.”

The signs say, “NFL BLEAUX IT!” and “SAINTS GOT ROBBED” and “NFL SCREW’D DAT,” all flanked by fleurs-de-lis. Another sign that will post later in the week will read, “GOODELL KNEW DAT.”

“Here in New Orleans, there’s one kind of fan. It’s all in,” Bowers said. “It was just — walking out of the stadium that day, you could just feel the people next to you. My kids are little, they’re 9 and 10, they’re crying. My wife is crying. I was angry . . .

“When I was a kid, I went and watched Joe Montana rip our hearts out year after year. But this, we knew what this meant, and 55 million people around the world threw their flag. You’re never going to convince me that one or two professional people didn’t see what 55 million people saw. I think they saw it and didn’t call it.”

D’Amico’s lawsuit asks a court to compel the commissioner to act on Rule 17, article 2, Section 3 of the NFL rule book. Attorneys Cle Simon and Kevin Duck of Lafayette, La., sent a letter to the NFL threatening more legal action if Goodell doesn’t do the same.

The rule empowers the commissioner to reverse the outcome of a game or reschedule a game, either in its entirety or from a specific point, when an “extraordinary act” occurs. However, the commissioner may not act on “judgmental errors or routine errors of omission by game officials.”

“If this is not an ‘extraordinary’ circumstance, then when do they think that would occur?” Duck asked.

There are also plenty of conspiracy theories floating around. Two of the game’s officials are from Los Angeles. Video, D’Amico claimed, suggests that one official told others not to throw their penalty markers on the play. Robey-Coleman, the defensive back, admitted afterward he tackled Lewis early.

“It makes it look like the NFL rigged the game so the Rams would win,” D’Amico said.

‘I ain’t calming down!’: New Orleans Saints radio hosts lament blown call

But legal experts are far from convinced Saints fans have a case.

“It’s inane,” said Tammi Gaw, a Washington attorney focused on sports law.

For one, it’d be impossible to restage the game, she said. What about injured players; could they reenter the game? What about getting one team on an airplane across the country and back to the stadium? What about restaffing the entire arena for the final two minutes of the game?

Perhaps more importantly, courts have consistently held fans don’t have a right to sue because a game didn’t go their way.

“There was no breach of contract. There’s nothing on your seat disclaimer on the back of your ticket that says you have a right to see your team win,” she said. “That’s why you have a rule book. The redress for that would have been a rule in play.”

Or, she said, if you’re that upset, just don’t watch the Super Bowl.

Entertainer and New Orleans native Harry Connick Jr. already declared he’ll boycott the game. One sports bar in New Orleans will broadcast a replay of Super Bowl XLIV, in which the Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts, rather than show Super Bowl LIII, according to the New Orleans Advocate.

An event called the “Boycott Bowl,” a music festival set to run at the same time as the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, has more than 9,000 RSVPs on Facebook.

Bowers, for one, has no plans to watch the game.

“I might turn my phone off and take my kids fishing,” he said. “What do you do? It just hurts.”

Read more from The Post:

Sorry, Saints fans: Roger Goodell was never going to overturn the result of the NFC title game

Jerry Brewer: The blown call in Saints-Rams reminded us sports are messy. More replay won’t fix that.

The legend of Tony Romo grows with his AFC championship game performance

The NFL will consider making pass interference calls reviewable after the Saints-Rams gaffe