NFL fans took to the airwaves, social media and the streets on Tuesday to vent their anger over a controversial refereeing decision which handed the Seattle Seahawks victory over the Green Bay Packers.
The NFL is using replacement referees from the lower ranks of college and semi-professional football during a lockout of regular officials caused by a dispute over a new contract.
While the replacements have been criticized throughout the first three weeks of the season for perceived indecisive and confusing calls, unprecedented levels of frustration spilled over after Monday’s prime time game.
Trailing 12-7 with seconds left on the clock, the Seahawks were facing a fourth down on the Packers’ 24-yard line and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson heaved a ‘Hail Mary’ pass into the end zone.
Seahawks receiver Golden Tate pushed off on Packers cornerback Sam Shields with what looked a clear case of offensive pass interference before he rose to attempt to challenge Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings.
Jennings appeared to have caught and gained control of the ball before Tate’s hands made contact with it but as they fell to the ground the two referees close by made differing calls - one ruled a touchdown and the other an interception.
The ruling on the field was touchdown by simultaneous catch and was upheld after being sent up for video review - with some confusion about whether the NFL’s byzantine rules allow for a review of a ‘simultaneous’ catch.
The Packers players fired off protests on Twitter with wide receiver Greg Jennings tweeting: “NFL C’mon Man! Can’t even be upset anymore. All I can do is laugh. Laugh at the NFL for allowing America’s game to come (to) this.”
Other players used stronger language to express their feelings while fans flooded sports radio stations to protest and the media in Wisconsin backed their view.
“Grand Larceny” declared the Oshkosh Northwestern while even the Seattle Times hinted at some sympathy with their rivals, their front page headline stating “Hawks steal one”.
On Tuesday some Packers fans gathered outside Lambeau Field to protest while passing drivers hooted in support of placards declaring “We Were Robbed” and “Speechless in Seattle”.
“We’re trying to get the (original) refs back. With the refs that we have now, they’re not qualified to do the job like the other refs are. They’re high school and college officials,” one of the protesters, Seth Wagnitz, told the Green Bay Press Gazette.
“We really need the refs back because now it has cost us a game and that shouldn’t be happening,” he added.
Politicians were also quick to join the outrage.
New Jersey state Senate President Stephen Sweeney said in a statement that he plans to introduce legislation prohibiting the playing of professional sporting events with replacement officials.
“This past weekend in the NFL has not only made a mockery of a great sport, but shined a very bright light on how important fully trained and professional officiating is to player safety,” said Sweeney.
“We wouldn’t allow a factory or construction site to operate without fully trained supervisors on hand to ensure the safety of employees. Why should we do anything differently when the job site is a playing field?”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s office telephone number was circulated on Twitter by a Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach who urged fans to “leave a message”.
Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker called via Twitter for the locked-out referees to be brought back.
However, it is by no means only Packers fans who have raised criticism of the NFL for allowing under-qualified officials to take charge of games.
From LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki of the NBA to actor Samuel L.Jackson, social media sites were full of opinion, most of it highly critical of the referees and the NFL for allowing them to be in charge.
NFL.com reported the NFL will make a statement on the incident later on Tuesday.