The moralizing and pontificating began as soon as Football Night In America cameras captured New England coach Bill Belichick running and grabbing a member of the officiating crew’s arm in the chaotic aftermath of Sunday’s Patriots-Ravens game.
Media giddily tweeted: Get ready for a FedEx envelope, Billy.
Tony Dungy lectured from his bully pulpit.
The merits of a fine and, somewhat idiotically, a suspension have been debated.
And at some point this week, Belichick or a press release purporting to reflect his thinking will be trotted out to say how sorry he is, how wrong he was, that no matter how emotional he was he should never lay a hand on an official, that replacement refs are doing the best they can and that the league is right to vehemently defend them. It will be a lie, and Belichick should decline to be a party to it.
No apologies, no shucking for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, no more excuses for the travesty that has become replacement officials this season.
Here instead is what Belichick should say:
1. Yes, I was emotional, but not for the reasons you think. It was not about a specific call or my initial feelings that maybe the field goal was no good or even my frustration that the officiating crew did not provide clarity on whether it was being reviewed. Every day, for almost 40 years, I have poured my life into this game, getting up early and staying late, going through hours of film and practices because football is my religion. My life is in this game. I ask the same of my players. And so now, to have my livelihood depending upon replacement refs, feels wrong. It goes against everything I believe about the game, and you are damn right I am emotional about that reality.
2. I know the real officials make mistakes. I do as well. My players do. The thing is, in my job, you have to learn to live with mistakes and how you do it by realizing you have the best doing their best. That cannot be said about this group of refs. I get there is a contract being fought over. Y’all know I get this. But much like if I started the season with a rookie kicker for money reasons and he missed crucial kicks week after week, I’d swallow my pride and pay for a real kicker because the integrity of my team is at stake.
3. Do you know how short the lifespan of a player is? Most of them do not last five years in the league. They get cut for the smallest of mistakes, like forgetting a play. Their careers end on a wrong cut, a freak twist that blows out a knee. Or they play for a long while, only to later be crushed by the very real dangers we now understand come with playing this game, with hits just like Deion Branch took Sunday. He did it because it is his job, and it is not fair for him or any player to be out there without real refs. It is also wrong.
4. I wish you had been there, Roger. I wish you had been in Baltimore to hear that crowd chanting “b.s.” in unison so loud and so long to know what a joke you have made of our game. Officials are an important part of the game, just like players and owners and coaches like me, and what I was trying to tell him and, really, you after that game is we cannot stand for it anymore. I wish you had been there. I wish I could have grabbed your arm. I wish I could have asked you for an explanation for how somebody always talking about the integrity of the game, fuming about bounties and such, could stand for this.
So no, I am not apologizing but I’d be gracious enough to accept yours whenever it comes. Feel free to send it by FedEx envelope.