We gathered at my house Tuesday for an emergency meeting of my football fan friends. They didn't understand why I'd asked them to take off work -- until I explained.
"It's for our new NFL Replacement Referee Fantasy Draft!"
A brilliant idea, don't you think? I came up with it Monday night after that Seattle-Green Bay game. Seattle won on the final play after the officials looked directly at a bank holdup and ruled it to be a legal teller window transaction. I think they even gave the Seahawks a toaster and a $500 gift card from Visa, the NFL's preferred choice for buying incompetent products.
You saw it. I saw it. The whole country saw it. A bunch of players jumped up for the ball in the end zone. Either a Green Bay player made an interception or a Seattle player committed offensive pass interference. Or both. Instead, the officials ruled it a Seahawks touchdown.
Fans were outraged. Players were livid. Television analysts like Jon Gruden and Steve Young were breathing toxic fumes. Hazmat teams were alerted.
Rather than join the indignant chorus, however, I decided to go the opposite direction. To celebrate the travesty, as it were. Hey, I'm an American sports fan. I saw it as another fantasy league opportunity.
My new league works the same way all fantasy leagues do. You put money in the pot. Then you pick your favorite performers -- or in this case, your favorite inept crew of replacement officials, the ones being used in place of the locked-out experienced officials during this labor dispute. You pick one crew per week, then receive specific points for every atrocious or nonsensical call. Most points at the end of the lockout wins.
For example, which replacement crew do you want next week? Is it referee Wayne Elliott's replacement crew that botched Monday's game? Or is it referee Ken Roan's crew that began the 49ers' game last Sunday by calling a penalty for a rule that doesn't exist -- a kickoff team blocking someone in the back -- and ended the game by giving the 49ers two more replay challenges than they were entitled?
Once you make your crew selection, the point system works this way:
An incorrect 5-yard penalty is worth five points.
An incorrect 10-yard penalty is worth 10 points.
An incorrect 15-yard penalty is worth 15 points.
Non-calls work the same general way. If it's an obvious offside penalty and the replacement crew doesn't throw a flag, you get double points. If it's a 12-men-on-the-field violation and the crew doesn't call it, you get triple points for each man -- 36.
And of course, there are add-on points based on each minute that the replacement referee spends explaining his calls to the head coach on the sideline. If the head coach yanks off his headphones in irritation during the discussion, there are additional bonus points.
Then come the larger fantasy point opportunities. I call one the "Bad Subtraction Mark-Off Quadruple Bonus."
What's that? The best illustration occurred in the Tennessee-Detroit game Sunday. Instead of marching off a Lions penalty properly from the Tennessee 44-yard line, the replacement crew assessed it from the Detroit 44-yard line. This gave Tennessee 12 extra yards on the play. Bad subtraction mark-off quadruple bonus! Twelve extra yards, multiplied by four! Forty-eight points!
Only one thing would yield more points than that gold mine -- and that's if the horrendous call is made on the final play and decides the game. That's worth 100 points. Monday night's finish would have been a 100-pointer. Sorry, my mistake. It actually would have been 150 points. You get 50 additional points if, after the horrendous call is made, there's a replay review and the referee goes under the hood, then comes back out and confirms the horrendous call.
Trust me. If that happens again with the Wayne Elliott crew and you drafted his crew, I guarantee you'll be dancing around your living room, pumping your fist in the air and screaming: "You the Zebra, Wayne! You the Zebra!"
If common sense prevails, of course, you won't be doing that at all. The NFL will realize it's time to call up the real officials and settle this labor dispute. But I'm not counting on it, even after Monday's preposterous finish. The NFL owners, not commissioner Roger Goodell, are the ones pulling the strings. They're on a power trip and don't want to give the real officials their requested raise or pension increase. Meanwhile, the real officials are part-timers and have other jobs themselves. It's not as if they are eating Ramen soup every meal. They can hold out, too.
The owners, simply put, are convinced that fans will keep watching the games, no matter what -- and the television ratings show the owners are right. Ratings are better than ever. And my guess is, people will keep tuning in, if only to see the next officiating train wreck. Unless the ratings go down or people stop buying tickets -- and most tickets for this season are already sold -- then what's the incentive for the owners to end the lockout?
I know, I know. They might want to do it because the bad officiating isn't fair to the players or coaches or the game. Go ahead and pretend that makes a difference, if you want. It doesn't. I think you'll have a better time forming your own Replacement Ref Fantasy League. Then sit back and enjoy the games.
I don't want to influence your selection for this week. But I hear the Roan replacement crew is especially vulnerable to dome noise.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com or 408-920-5092.