BAYHAM: Witnessing Grand Theft From The Cheap Seats

I was there at the game. In the end zone, Section 630, Row 20, arguably the worst seats in the Superdome.

Fans joke that those seats require oxygen from the thin air at that elevation but the truth is that after climbing the high steps from a terrace section constructed before the death (or birth) of Disco many a fan could use a few minutes of oxygen.

Yet even from my paupers’ perch I could see a Rams defensive back sprint like lightning towards the sideline without hint of stopping.

By his own admission, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman had no intention of hitting the brakes to cover the diminutive Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis.

“I just got there and whacked his ass,” beamed the cornerback.

He wasn’t looking to break up a pass but flatten the likely target of a Drew Brees pass.

Sure it was pass interference, said the perpetrator of said whacker of Lewis’s ass.

Better to take the penalty than give the touchdown, right?

Well the play didn’t even cost Robey-Coleman that.

The referees who were on the field mere feet away from the pummeling that transpired before Brees’s throw approached within the vicinity of Lewis didn’t see nothing.

“It was a judgment call by the covering official,” said referee Bill Vinovich to a reporter wondering what the hell happened.

And as if to give himself plausible deniability, Vinovich absurdly added in his best Frank Pentangelli, “I personally have not seen the play.”

But that is a lie.

The footage of Lewis getting blown up has immediately become the Zapruder film of the New Orleans Saints and it unmistakably shows Vinovich following the football and staring at the entire hit.

I saw it. 70,000 football fans (minus a handful of “professionals” in black and white striped shirts) saw it as have tens of millions of people on television and on the world wide web.

As has the NFL office, which almost immediately apologized to Saints head coach Sean Payton for the two penalties.

In addition to being blind, the refs are deaf as well since they didn’t pick up with eyes nor ears the crack from the helmet-to-helmet collision that occurred on that same play.

70,000 people who paid a premium to watch that game in person saw something that a group of men who are PAID TO WATCH up close did not.

Amazing isn’t the word I’d use to describe this scenario.

Impossible is a much better fit.

Yes, there were decisions and poorly executed plays throughout the contest that would have made that blown call moot.

But those errors were committed by people either running or playing the game. This error was made by a supposedly disinterested party under far less pressure.

And at a critical moment in a consequential game they failed to do their job.

Those refs didn’t “let the guys play” as Rams coach Sean McVay observed in a blatant attempt to legitimize a tainted victory.

No, they were derelict in their duty for reasons not yet determined.

Was it parochial favoritism, as some of the members of the officiating crew hail from the LA area?

Was it an unspoken understanding that the NFL would be very pleased to see a franchise only recently reestablished in the nation’s second largest media market compete in the Super Bowl?

Was it to avoid drama in light of Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ decidedly classless comments about Saints fans sullying her city with our presence?

To think the Who Dat Nation will now be denied the fine dining experience of The Varsity, the Galatoire’s of the ATL!

Or something far more nefarious as this is the first NFL season since the expansion of sports betting

And that non-call that kept the Saints out of the end zone wasn’t just the difference between the Saints winning or losing, but also the Saints covering the spread.

If per chance the aforementioned is ever proven, it’ll make the Black Sox scandal look like a minor scandal, destroying the NFL and its fallout touching every professional sports league.

Or was the no-call merely a result of incompetence, cowardice, and stubbornness?

And the scary part is that it has to be one of the above, with not a one being acceptable.

Thus far NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been amazingly mum.

For a man who likes to style himself the defender of the vaunted NFL shield, his officials took a big collective dump on it.

And his silence exposes his hypocrisy.

Remember the wreckage he inflicted on the Saints’ franchise after BountyGate, suspending coaches and plucking away premium draft picks that denied the Saints the opportunity to reload their roster.

Goodell’s punitive actions against the New Orleans franchise set the team back years and robbed Brees of chances to further cement his legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

It was all about player safety and the integrity of the game.

So they said.

By essentially rewarding a dirty play on an international stage, what kind of message does that send?

And the worst part is this isn’t even the first time NFL officials permitted a blatant helmet hit keep the Saints out of the Super Bowl.

In 2011 the Saints fielded their best team and traveled to San Francisco to play the 49ers in the divisional round.

With the Black and Gold heading towards the end zone, Brees fired a pass to running back Pierre Thomas just shy of the goal line but he was met with a direct helmet smack by a defender knocking Thomas out and causing him to fumble.

No flag, San Francisco’s ball.

More than any play during that game, including the Vernon Davis torching of the Saints’ secondary, that instance changed the game.

Yet after being denied a spot in a Super Bowl they likely would’ve won, it would be the Saints that would pay the price for alleged headhunting.

Frivolous lawsuits, angry letters from the governor, boycotts, and obscure rulebook citations might feel good but won’t make things right.

A Super Bowl spot was stolen by those who had the easiest job of anyone running on the field or standing on the sidelines.

People who are paid to catch such egregious actions.

Goodell can hide from the cameras a bit longer but this game will forever be a part of his legacy.

League referees didn’t just break the hearts of Who Dats across the Gulf South but the trust of football fans everywhere.

After last Sunday, professional football won’t be the same in our lifetime.

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