Wedge Issue: Replacement refs could leave scars

Wedge Issue: Replacement refs could leave scars
September 25, 2012, 4:16 am
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At this rate, Bill Belichick is going to wind up on this week's injury report with a tongue.

How much longer will he be able to bite down and resist unleashing an expletive-laden torrent of disbelief at what's passing for professional football in 2012?

The debate over who's right between the owners and locked-out officials is moot to the men who spend each week scheming, planning and pouring their lives into trying to win on Sunday.

And it's moot to the employees underneath the coaches - the assistants and the players - from whom the head coaches demand performance and focus from under unworkable conditions.

To the coaches, the game matters. A mud-wrestle over a pension plan? Indignation over locked-out officials who've gotten too haughty and need to be shown who's boss? The brand, the brand, the brand? Expansion into Europe? An overseas game in London? Thursday night games for every team?

That's not the coach's department. The game is where it begins and ends.

So now why are they banging their heads against the wall to prepare for games that will be butchered and left to the whims of some guy whose job interview must have consisted of proving he could blow a whistle and throw a Kleenex?

The inability of the owners and officials to come to an agreement has invaded the coach's work environment and - by extension - is putting coaches jobs at risk. Sunday night's game against the Ravens was altered throughout by the replacement officials. Monday night's game between the Packers and Seahawks? Even worse.

Phantom calls beget calls that are ignored, beget retribution, beget disrespect, beget chaos.

By the end of it Sunday night, Belichick was pinwheeling around the field, clutching in vain at an official's arm while trying to get an answer to what the hell was going on.

I wouldn't want to be Robert Kraft right now. He's got the greatest coach of this generation, arguably of all-time, having to mea culpa on Monday afternoon for grabbing one of the stand-in boobs that Kraft and the other owners have put in position to make a mockery of the game.

Bill Belichick has "screw you" money and he's got "screw you" influence. And he knows that Kraft - who had the clout to bring the players and owners through last summer's lockout - could probably hasten this resolution in a hurry if he brought his considerable influence to bear on the situation.

But admitting defeat now, admitting that they underestimated the importance of the real officials (as I did until last week), is not in their DNA.

They will not be forced to acquiesce at the point of a media or fan bayonet. The owners and the league are going to iron-fist this thing, first with the officials and second with any coach or player who doesn't toe the line.

Sunday night's game between two teams that will quite likely jockey for playoff seeding and the right to host home playoff games and get to the Super Bowl was left in the hands of hall monitors.

Remember that if and when the Patriots are on the road in Baltimore or Houston in the AFC Championship game. Because you can believe Bill Belichick will.

And with millions on the line and a chance to advance the "brand" with a trip to a Super Bowl, you can bet Robert Kraft will too.