“It’s getting harder and harder to believe the refs are unaware of what they’re doing,” Frede, who was one of many fans to express her discontent on Twitter, said in a phone interview after Sunday’s game. “I’m at the point where the NFL needs to step up and . . . intervene. I just feel deflated all over again.”
The familiar feelings returned with about six minutes left in the second quarter. With the score tied at 3, Rams quarterback Jared Goff fumbled the ball, which was picked up by Saints’ defensive end Cam Jordan and returned 87 yards for a touchdown. It was during the return that the referees struck again: They blew their whistles and stopped the play, ruling that Goff had thrown an incomplete pass.
The call was changed to a fumble after a challenge by Saints Coach Sean Payton, but the touchdown didn’t count because the play was blown dead. Instead of taking a 10-3 lead, the Saints went scoreless on their next possession and trailed at halftime. The rest of the game didn’t go much better, as the Rams won 27-9.
“I want to believe every Sunday I’m watching a fair and unbiased game,” said Reynold Evans, a 48-year-old New Orleans native who became a diehard fan in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “But now, instead of betting whether we’re going to win or lose, we bet on how long it’s going to take for the officials to f--- it up. That’s the general consensus.”
Frede and Evans don’t think the play in question decided Sunday’s game. Rather, they see it as even more evidence that the referees or NFL (or both) have conspired against their favorite team. They aren’t alone in that opinion: To express their discontent with the officials in Week 1, many exasperated Saints fans in the crowd wore black-and-white-striped referee jerseys and carried oversize penalty flags.
Saints fans will tell you that game was nearly derailed by the referees, too. In its waning moments, a controversial roughing-the-kicker penalty gave the Houston Texans another chance at an extra point. Houston was able to take a 28-27 lead because of that penalty, but the Saints overcame it thanks to Drew Brees and a 58-yard field goal by Saints kicker Wil Lutz as time expired.
That, of course, was the Saints’ first game since the infamous non-call, which made fans so irate that multiple lawsuits were filed against the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Their anger was not unfounded: The missed call in the NFC championship game resulted in the NFL making pass interference calls and non-calls reviewable on instant replay after the fact.
With fans already on edge, Sunday’s game may have transformed some Saints supporters’ disdain for the referees into full-on resentment. Even Payton articulated his frustration with the officials at halftime. According to Erin Andrews of Fox, he stated: “I’m so tired of it. I’m so tired of being on the wrong side of it.”
“I have no idea what’s going on, to be honest,” Frede said. “We just want answers.”
After the game, Goff even admitted that he thought the play was a clear fumble, adding, “We might’ve got away with one.” Jordan was less jovial; the play would have marked his first career fumble recovery touchdown, and after the game, he told reporters he was “trying my best not to see red."
He compared the referees to Foot Locker employees, who famously wear referees’ uniforms in-store.
“I didn’t even hear the whistle,” Jordan said, according to nola.com. “I grabbed the ball, 15, 20 yards down the field. Allegedly a whistle was blown — clearly, I mean, a whistle was blown. Normally you let the play happen. Any Foot Locker — I mean, referee — usually tells you, you let the play happen, then you go back and review the play.”
NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron posted an explanation of the call to Twitter, but failed to explain why the play was ruled dead. Speaking to reporters after the game, according nola.com, Riverson elaborated and said the league tells its officials “when it doubt, to let it play out.”
The refs didn’t let it play out Sunday, however, and a serious injury to Drew Brees, who will reportedly miss six weeks after thumb surgery, has only made things worse for the Saints’ fan base. There are concerns it could be “significant.”
But Frede isn’t ready to give up. At least, not yet.
“I’ve said time and time again, ‘I’m done, I’m giving up for the NFL,’” she said. “But I love my team too much to just quit.”