No weekend of NFL football would be complete without at least one official ruling that made you sit back and either scratch your head or slam it directly through a plate glass window; but I’m getting ahead of myself. The NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks was exactly the kind of nail biting, gut wrenching, momentum swinging, hair pulling, eye gouging, pins and needles slug fest everyone was expecting. The 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl last year and have Super Bowl Champion banners draped all over their home stadium. They haven’t actually won a championship in almost two decades but that still trumps anything the Seahawks have accomplished. In the history of the franchise, Seattle has just one NFC title, which they followed up by losing perhaps the ugliest Super Bowl in recent memory. The officiating was bad but the play was worse and the Seahawks and their fans have spent the past eight years trying to get the bitter taste out of their mouths. To add to the drama, the Seahawks and 49ers are division rivals. They hate each other. The fans hate each other. The coaches really, really hate each other. If the stakes were high on Sunday, the tension level was stratospheric.
From the first snap, when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson turned the ball over and the 49ers capitalized with a quick 3 points, it was clear it was going to be one of those games when one big play could make all the difference. We only hoped that play would come from a guy wearing a helmet instead of black and white stripes. San Francisco was up 3 – 0, then 10 – 0, and then 10 – 3. Seattle played catch up most of the game, clawing and scrabbling and not taking the lead until they scored a touchdown several minutes into the 4th quarter. And then it happened. With less than nine minutes remaining, the Seahawks were knocking on the door once again. Another touchdown could have put an end to the 49ers’ season right then. Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse caught a Russell Wilson pass, stretched for the goal line… and fumbled. 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman stripped the ball right out of his hands and made a clear recovery before falling to the ground. 49ERS FOOTBALL!!! Except it wasn’t. For whatever reason, the officials either didn’t see the fumble or didn’t see the recovery. Regardless, as far as they were concerned, it was still Seattle’s ball. Hey, with all those big bodies flying around and slamming into each other with tremendous force, no one expects the officiating crew to get every call exactly right the first time. That’s why every touchdown and every turnover is automatically reviewed, and why coaches can challenge a ruling if they don’t agree with the call that was made. So why, I ask for perhaps the one hundredth time, is there a section of the NFL rule book devoted to non-reviewable plays? The fact that instant replay exists at all is proof enough that these refs are not infallible. People make mistakes. So why in hell would you create a system where those mistakes cannot be corrected? The rule in question reads something like this. The recovery of a loose ball in the field of play isn’t reviewable because the fumble itself cannot be reviewed unless it’s been called on the field by the refs. So, because it wasn’t immediately ruled a fumble, it basically never happened. If, however, the fumble call had been made, the play would be reviewed and the official would go under the hood where he’d presumably find some other way `to screw things up. Ridiculous, right? It gets better. If that same play had taken place either on the goal line or the side line, it would have been subject to review. In other words, we can look at it here or here, but not here. How stupid is that? And now I’ll do you one stupider. While the Fox broadcasting team was trying to figure out what the heck was going on, their “replay expert” said the rule had already been discussed and would likely be changed for 2014. I guess they figured, since it hadn’t actually cost anyone a trip to the Super Bowl yet, there was really no need to rush. So did that non-call cost the 49ers the game? It’s tough to tell. Say what you want about the football gods but they’ve got a sense of humor. The Seahawks fumbled on the very next play, for real this time, but the 48ers gave it back two plays later.
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