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Zebra Report: Hochuli in Spotlight Again

Oct 7, 2008 – 2:40 PM
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Matt Snyder

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Once a week FanHouse's resident referee will chime in with thoughts on major topics relating to officiating. We call it The Zebra Report.

Once again, the NFL's only famous official came under significant scrutiny this week ... and the game was on a national stage, being the Monday night contest between the Vikings and the Saints. There were two calls in particular that we'll check out.

Incident 1: Reggie Bush's facemask mangled, and no one saw it.
MDS already covered this here on FanHouse, but I wanted to point a few things out. First of all, please do not blame Hochuli. If you blame him, you don't know anything about officiating. Ed Hochuli is the referee, and the ball was moving away from him. If he was in proper position -- and I'm assuming he was -- he would have been watching the lineman on the backside and protecting the quarterback from unnecessary roughness. Even if he did glance over at the ball, which admittedly we have a tendency to do, he would have seen Bush's head turn from behind.

You still can't assume that's a facemask from his point of view. Allow me to present a scenario:

A defensive player goes to tackle a ball carrier. In doing so, he grabs in the inside of the shoulder pads in the neck area of said ball carrier. It is very possible to violently turn the ball carrier's head in this manner of tackling, and I see it quite frequently at the younger levels. Invariably you'll have a coach and a handful of fans screaming for a facemask call, because they saw it from behind and assumed. As an official, you can't assume. If you see something that might be a facemask, you have to trust that a fellow crew mate will have seen the play from the front and will make the proper call.

And that's where Hochuli's mates failed him. I count four guys that could have seen the facemask, and at least two of them should have caught it. There should always be at least two sets of eyes on the ball, and the umpire, head linesman, side judge, and back judge all would have had the opportunity to see this. It is unacceptable to me that at least two didn't. By having zero flags, they failed miserably.

Incident 2: Adrian Peterson didn't fumble
Let's be real here, no matter which way the call went there would have been a public outcry. We must completely discount the opinions of all Vikings fans and Saints fans here (sorry Mantz), because you can't possibly judge a play when you have a pre-existing bias.

Really, this was as close as you'll ever see. The ball came out about simultaneously as the knee hit the ground, so it's an interpretation game. Hochuli's explanation is one that I can buy, but not one with which I agree. I believe the ball starting to spin before it comes out means it was loose. I would have ruled a fumble. Of course, I officiate high school and he's an NFL veteran, so you have to respect his opinion over mine based upon pedigree.

I do think this was close enough that the overriding factor is the call on the field. Had it been ruled a fumble, it wasn't getting changed either. That was so close that you aren't going to have "indisputable visual evidence."

Moving on from Ed ...

Incident 3: Brutal double-foul exchange in Baltimore
Guys, this is as bad as it gets. Basically, the game was over and the Ravens were going to get the win. Fourth and long, the Titans offense commits a false start. A false start. False starts are never live ball fouls like illegal formation or illegal motion are. Ever. Immediately the play must be stopped for a false start. The two wing officials (line judge and head linesman) should have been busting their humps to get into the play and make sure it never happened. Instead, the play happens, a defensive lineman waves his arm past the QB -- his arm nicking Kerry Collins on the helmet -- and gets flagged for roughing the passer. Seriously, look at the picture in the link on the first line of this paragraph. That's what got called.

The official reports that "by rule, we ignore the false start penalty." Well, that's true ... sort of. False start is supposed to be a dead ball foul, and if a more severe dead ball foul occurs, you do ignore it. Say the offense false starts and, as the officials are running in to stop the play, a defensive lineman clocks the QB in the head. The way we saw the penalty administered Sunday would be his this scenario is ruled.

The problem is, the play should have never happened, and the "roughing" was a joke. Bill Carollo was the referee, and he claimed the officials were trying to stop the play. They obviously didn't try hard enough. You have seven guys all armed with whistles. Do your job.

Incident 4: Waved off flag on DeSean Jackson's touchdown
DeSean Jackson takes back a punt. At the point of attack, which I explained last week, a member of the return team hits an opponent in the middle of the back. The nearest official throws his flag. Watch in this video at the nine second mark ... right when Jackson breaks across the numbers. There is a defender below the field marking zero (of the 30 yard-line).



It's blatant.

So the crew got it right.

And then they got together in true, "too many cooks in the kitchen" fashion, and picked up the flag. The explanation had something to do with the kicking team, which loses me. That was a textbook block in the back.

Incident 5: Roughing the passer on Steelers
James Harrison said it exactly right. He was full speed and hit David Garrard a split-second after Garrard released the ball.

Incidents 6: Tons of 15-yarders in that same game
I'm not sure if the NFL told the officials to watch extra hard, but the crew seemed pretty flag happy when it came to "personal foul ... unnecessary roughness." There were even a few taunting calls when said taunting didn't even seem to malicious. I'll give the benefit of the doubt to this crew here, because we can't hear what's being said and sometimes the game dictates more preventative calls of this nature.

They do need to beware, though, because calling everything like this creates a slippery slope of what constitutes a personal foul.

Incident 7: Pass interference on Packers
I haven't seen this play, so I'll let our own Bruce Ciskie explain:
Bogus pass interference called on Pat Lee of Green Bay yesterday. He broke up a third-and-long pass intended for Roddy White, and a flag came flying in from an official 25 yards behind the play. The contact looked minimal at best, Lee was playing the ball and not the man, he didn't appear to arrive early, and the flag came from an official who had no chance of seeing the "contact" happen, because White and Lee both had their backs to him. The official on the sideline who was in front of the play didn't throw his flag.

He also didn't appear to try to talk the out-of-position official out of making the call.
If this went down the way Bruce described it, that flag needs to get picked up. It's all in there ... the defender played the ball and not the receiver, didn't make contact early, and therefore didn't get an unfair advantage. He's just as entitled the play the ball as the offensive player.

I do want to take the opportunity to opine about the positioning statements, though. One thing I find hilarious is how far people can see in real life, but once they become officials, they are thought to be blind unless within 10 feet of a play. It's even funnier when you hear someone from up in the crowd screaming, "you can't see that from there." Dude, if I can't see a block in the back from 25 yards away, how you can even tell what's happening in the game from 100 away and 15 feet up the stands?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with throwing a long flag, as long as you saw the whole play. In this case, though, if a nearer official didn't believe it was interference, he definitely should have talked the flagger into picking it up; as Bruce implied.

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Finally, I'd like to take the opportunity to discuss Mr. Hochuli's penchant for giving lengthy explanations over the stadium's P.A. system. There are two sides to this:

1. Going to the mic to say things like, "there is no pass interference on the play because the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage" seems unnecessary. The coaches and the players all know the rule and understand why it wasn't called. It really seems like pandering to the crowd in reaction to getting booed. I'd love to be able to tell idiots from the stands screaming for illegal contact in high school that there is no such rule at that level ... but the coaches know it, so why bother with uneducated fans? Let them boo. It seems to make people feel tough.

2. Of course, Hochuli's long-windedness is helpful when it comes to replay. How much more frustrating would it be if he just came out after replay and said, "the call stands." Or what if he just said, "the play is going to be challenged," but didn't tell us why? You'd be begging for one of those long explanations.

There's a happy medium there, and the referees should hopefully stay in that medium.

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That's all the time we have for this week. Feel free to hit up the mailbag with calls you'd like analyzed.
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