I’m generally a big fan of letting football players play the game with as little interference from the officials as possible. Maybe it’s a backlash from watching too much NBA, where you’re not allowed to defend anyone who makes more than $5 million a year, but it’s more enjoyable to watch the players rely on talent rather than a whistle.
That said, the officials have to be able to retain control over the game, and the Super Bowl XLVII officiating crew was unable to do so on Sunday night.
From the opening kickoff, just about every play ended with Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers players getting in each other faces, talking trash, bumping face masks, a little shoving. If this just happens once during the game, sure, let it go. These are mostly overgrown children with a lot of ego and adrenaline and, mostly, they work these things out themselves.
It happened far too frequently, however, in the Super Bowl. Whether it was a one-yard gain or a 15-yard gain, gums were flapping near constantly. It was no surprise, then, when a skirmish broke out in the second quarter. Late hits, shoving, tackles, punches thrown – and then Ravens cornerback Cary Williams, being pulled out of the scrum by an official, stood up, and shoved the official.
Astonishingly, the refs called offsetting personal foul penalties, resulting in absolutely nothing. Williams not only pushed a ref, but the video clearly shows him throwing two punches while in the pile. Both the punches and the shove should have been automatic ejections.
I understand the officiating crew wanting to be as nondisruptive as possible in the biggest game of the year, and I understand their hesitation in ejecting a player in the Super Bowl, but they lost control of the game in allowing that level of conduct to go uncheck. The fight could have been avoided with one taunting penalty early on that would have put the players on notice and avoided escalating tempers. Offsetting penalties only gave the players further encouragement of their behavior.
Though I actually support the most controversial officiating instance of the Super Bowl – the no-call on Jimmy Smith – the refs let too many things go. There were multiple off-sides on both teams that went uncalled, but the unsportsmanlike conduct was what really bothered me. The weak officiating led to some ugly moments in what was an otherwise fun and interesting game.