NFL’s apology doesn’t right a wrong

Sunday, February 3, 2019
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Over a week has passed since “the incident” on the turf of the Mercedez-Benz Superdome in the waning moments of the NFC Championship game between my beloved New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams, but the anger and bitterness still burn with a white-hot intensity. I suspect they’ll be with me for a while, maybe even heading into next season and beyond, but as we head into the final few days before Super Bowl LIII, those feelings are especially pronounced given that, by all that is good and righteous and holy (Saintly?), it should be the Saints taking the field to represent the NFC against the New England Patriots this Sunday. But instead of readying for the big game, thanks to yet another huge misfire by the NFL — a league that increasingly can’t seem to get anything right — my Sunday is instead wide-open, as I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste my time watching an illegitimate farce.

Though there are undoubtedly some folks out there who feel differently, at least about who should be playing in the game, I have yet to meet them. Everyone I’ve heard talk about it — from locals to the talking heads on ESPN and other sports networks — seem to have the same conclusion I do: the Saints got robbed of a Super Bowl thanks to egregiously incompetent officiating. Maybe the 100 or so Los Angelinos who actually give a wet fart about the Rams and are even aware they’re going to the Super Bowl don’t agree, but everyone else sure seems to.

What’s made this entire stinky stew even tougher to swallow in the days afterward is the slow rollout of the NFL’s mea culpa over it. It was first reported last week that the league office had issued an apology to Saints coach Sean Payton in a phone call immediately after the game. The NFL at first remained officially mum about that, but this Monday the news broke that they had, in fact, issued that formal apology. But their “sorry, our bad” has not righted the wrong done.

Then came the more than $26,000 fine the NFL levied late last week against Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman, the guilty party on the penalty that was two different penalties yet somehow got called for none on the field. Robey-Coleman was fined for making an illegal hit to the head of a defenseless receiver. But penalizing him ex-post-facto has not righted the wrong done.

Truth is, there is no righting the wrong done to the Saints and their fans. Yes, it has been highlighted in the past week that there is an obscure NFL rule which gives the commissioner the power to overturn the results of a game due to “extraordinary circumstances,” and two Saints season ticket holders even filed suit in federal court just one day after the game based on the demand that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should, in this clearly extraordinary circumstance, invoke that rule. But that was never going to happen. Goodell has neither the guts nor, it seems especially to Saints fans (who have hated Goodell since the ‘Bountygate’ episode of 2012) is capable of ever being fair or balanced or even doing the right thing.

All we Saints fans can do now is seethe and simmer over yet another injurious wrong done to our team by the Goodell-led NFL. We’ve never accepted that Bountygate and the lost 2012 season it caused for us was anything more than an overblown mountain made out of a tiny molehill by an overzealous and power-mad Goodell (a position we feel backed-up by the arbitrators who came to the same conclusion in overturning the lengthy suspensions handed down to several Saints defensive players that year). Losing the promise of that 2012 season stung, but it had largely subsided aside from our lingering distaste for Goodell. This latest injury will, however, sting a lot longer, because just when it looked like we were ready to punch our tickets to the Super Bowl, the league plays “Lucy with the football” with us leaving us angry, dejected and face-down in the mud.

Unlike 2012, however, at least this time we are not alone in our anger. The outrage over what happened to the Saints that fateful Sunday appears to be widespread amongst NFL fans, and it damn well should be. NFL fans everywhere should absolutely be righteously indignant about the NFL and its officials’ failure in the Superdome that day.

Because when they failed, they not only robbed the Saints of a Super Bowl appearance, they robbed the NFL’s fans as a whole of something that should have been truly special -— Tom Brady, 41, first ballot Hallof-Famer vs. Drew Brees, 40, first ballot Hall-of-Famer. We should all be celebrating and looking forward to a Super Bowl LIII where these two ageless, all-time greats — two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game — are slugging it out for the Lombardi Trophy, the kind of matchup that very rarely ever happens in Super Bowls. It should have been one of the most-hyped, most-anticipated Super Bowls ever.

But instead, the NFL, in its infinite wisdom (that is, stupidity) has delivered unto us a decided undercard; chopped liver; meh.

So what should have been a truly Super Sunday is instead not so super after all. You’d think at some point, the NFL would tire of the endless stream of bad press and egg on its face it has been through in the last few years. Be it domestic violence, concussion trauma/protocol, sexual harassment, minority coaching or player protests, the league has bungled nearly every time, coming off as either clueless, tone-deaf or outright idiotic. At least on some of those other issues, the NFL’s owners could console themselves with the thought that they are issues largely beyond their direct control. What happened in the Superdome however was something that they could control to an extent by fielding a competent officiating crew for one of the most important games of the NFL season. But once again, they fumbled the ball.

While the owners deserve a large share of the blame for all the PR disasters the league constantly seems to find itself in anymore, the one constant in this seemingly never-ending string of failures and public relations gaffes is Goodell. They’ve so far been inclined to stand by him through all of the previous PR nightmares that have taken place on his watch, but you’d hope maybe this would be the last straw — the wrong team got gifted a Super Bowl appearance on his watch. You screwed up the big game, and that should be unforgivable.

So the only football chant that will be running through my mind this Sunday is “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Goodell has got to go!” The league which I have loved watching all my life simply cannot continue to endure such slipshod management and oversight that it creates situations where deserving teams are getting screwed out of title shots by incompetent referees. I’ve been a sports fan all my life and have never seen anything even remotely close to what happened to the Saints happen to any other team in any other sport, and so it is incumbent upon the NFL’s owners that they take some action to ensure that it never happens to another team and its fans again.

As for this Sunday’s game, I could care less. It won’t be gracing my TV set, and I hope at least some of you fellow NFL fans out there will join me in boycotting it for the illegitimate debacle that it is. Hopefully, there’s something worth watching on Netflix.

Jason Stuart can be reached at .