Never before have NFL fans, coaches, players, everyone, appreciated the challenging task of officiating an NFL game.
The seed was planted for the full-fledged debacle known as the "Fail Mary" in June 2012 when the league and the NFL Referees Association failed to execute a new collective bargaining agreement. The referees demanded they were undercompensated; the league felt they were replaceable, or at least underestimated their importance to the integrity of the game.
The preseason serves as a rust-removing, conditioning trial run for teams and referees but in 2012, replacement referees from the collegiate and even high school ranks had to manage the big boys for the very first time. They appeared intimidated at worst and tentative at best. Undoubtedly, the majority were out of their league.
The shield pretended it was business as usual but players and fans began clamoring for the real zebras when blown calls began to pile up over the course of the preseason, into Week 1, Week 2, then Week 3 of the regular NFL season.
How long would this stubborn standoff last? Week after week the biggest blown calls hung over the game action, a dark cloud of greed and incompetence.
Then the Fail Mary happened — the entire circus captured in one absurd play, one plot, one completely laughable contradiction for a large national audience on Monday Night Football.
The Seahawks trailed 12-7 at home to the Green Bay Packers when the clock allowed enough time for Russell Wilson to make one final heave to the end zone, where Packers defenders swarmed wideout Golden Tate, who got a hand on the ball, but little else, it seemed.
You saw the image at top, now re-live the play.
After a lengthy review, referee Wayne Elliott annouced that the ruling on the field would stand; well, that one of the rulings on the field would stand — that Tate had a touchdown, causing the home crowd to rejoice over a 14-12 victory, and melting the brain of Packers head coach Mike McCarthy as his club dropped to 1-2.
"Don’t ask me a question about the officials," McCarthy said. "I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years in football. I know it’s been a wild weekend in the NFL and I guess we’re part of it now."
Only two days later, the NFL and the referees finalized an agreement that ended the lockout, restoring order with the real officials back on the field.
After a few weeks, interested parties went back to berating officials. The job remains the most thankless in the stadium except for the guy who has to clean up incompletions at the urinals.