Commissioner Roger Goodell
National Football League 345 Park Avenue
New York, New York 10154
Dear Commissioner Goodell:
On behalf of the business and civic community of the New Orleans region, we are writing to you to express our deep disappointment with the handling of the NFC Championship game on Sunday.
Simply put, the ending of the game is being decried around the country as highway robbery: brazen, indefensible, and, some even speculate, deliberate.
The Saints players were robbed of an appearance at the Super Bowl. The Who Dat Nation’s fans were cheated of their commitment and money. New Orleans lost an invaluable economic and civic boost. America was deprived of a classic duel between the two greatest quarterbacks of our generation. And the NFL – a brand already under severe duress - was further robbed of its credibility.
There is no question that the no-call was an officiating crime. “Oh, hell yeah,” the Ram’s Robey- Coleman said upon being shown the play on a reporter’s phone. “That was P.I.”
And this pass interference was compounded by a second illegal act, a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit that sent the Saint’s Tommylee Lewis sprawling.
How did the NFL let this happen in such a crucial game?
First, inadequate rules. In a pass-happy NFL, pass interference is an increasingly consequential and high-impact call. No other penalty can change field position as dramatically.
Why, then, doesn’t the NFL allow pass interference to be reviewed, as the Canadian Football League has since 2014? And, given the league’s professed concern over player safety, why isn’t helmet-to-helmet targeting reviewable? It is in the NCAA.
Then, negligent oversight. Incredibly, three of the seven referees were from the Los Angeles market! (Zero were from New Orleans or even Louisiana.) At a minimum, the NFL should have seen the terrible optics of playing L.A. refs in an L.A. championship game. There is speculation now that Cavaletto – the ref who reached-for-but-didn’t-throw his flag – hesitated due to sub-conscious home-town bias, or worse. Maintaining rules which forbid real or perceived conflicts of interest amongst officiating crews should be a no-brainer.
Finally, there is the basic question of training and competence. How could the supposed best officials in the league be blind to what millions saw?
In total, the situation is so grossly unfair that a sportsbook in New Jersey is refunding bets on the Saints “due to the widespread belief that the team was victimized by a blown call by referees.” It says something when New Jersey bookies are acting more honorably than the NFL.
The right thing for the NFL to do, of course, is to replay the game. As of this writing, over 700,000 fans across the country have signed a petition demanding a replay as the only fair solution. In fact, Rule 17, Section 2, Article 3 says that you can do exactly this, in “extraordinarily unfair” circumstances that have “a major effect on the result of the game.”
Of course, money and logistics dictate that there will be no replay. Rather, Super Bowl LIII will be forever known as “Super Bowl LIE.” But going forward, the NFL can make changes so that, in the words of Saints coach Sean Payton, “No other team ever has to lose like this.”
It is simple: the rules should be changed. Pass interference and targeting should be challengeable and reviewable. Further, any potential conflict of interest amongst officiating crews should be eliminated. Above all, Commissioner Roger Goodell should be held accountable to deliver a product of sporting excellence.
At the end of the day, if the NFL does not provide fairness and integrity, fans will lose interest, and it will die. New Orleans will be fine. We have come back from far, far worse. But will the NFL?
We look forward to hearing your response.
The business and civic community of the New Orleans region: