Dan Shaughnessy

Stop the madness with replacement NFL refs

A replacement referee questioned a call during the season opening game between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders on Sept. 10.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
A replacement referee questioned a call during the season opening game between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders on Sept. 10.

You are a billionaire. Money is no object. Ever. But you have your principles. And when you complete your $1 billion dream house, you get into a fight with the city’s public utility commission. You think the “little people” are taking advantage of your wealth, so you refuse to cave to their high-priced demands to flush the pipes that lead from your property to the city sewer system under the street in front of your house.

And then you throw a Jay Gatsbyesque party to show off your trophy house and your trophy wife and your trophy kids, and the tennis courts and swimming pools and bowling alleys.

And all of the toilets back up in the middle of your party. All of your guests are holding their noses as they get into the cars brought around by the 64 valets you hired to make sure none of your guests had to wait.


You are the NFL. And this is what you got yourself into when you held your ground and elected to go with “replacement” officials for the start of your season.

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We are two weeks into the football calendar, and the only thing fans are talking about is the incompetence of the replacement officials. The NFL dodged bullets in Week 1, last weekend was a disaster, and the Monday night game between the Broncos and Falcons was an outright calamity. It reminded me of the night the Rolling Stones decided it would be a good idea to have Hells Angels provide stage security for their concert at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California (look it up, young people).

It has been bad for coaches, players, fans, and bettors. It is the topic du jour of sports radio from Boston to San Diego. It is an embarrassment.

OK, we all know that the “real” officials also make mistakes, but suddenly a $9 billion industry has been brought to its knees by fan-boys, lingerie-league officials, and assorted nice guys and sincere men who should be working in the Hockomock League instead of the NFL.

Everybody was patient in Week 1. All the patience evaporated for Week 2. Players are taking cheap shots. Defenders are mauling wide receivers. Flags are flying, especially late. Many replacement officials don’t know the rules.


Coaches have lost their patience. They know the NFL wants them to go along with this charade, but their hard work and instincts take hold in the heat of the moment. Coaches on the bubble are not going to risk getting fired because a replacement official doesn’t know a rule.

There were moments Monday night when it looked like we might see a street brawl on the 50-yard line. The only thing missing was Roger Clemens wearing eyeblack and Ninja Turtle shoelaces, telling a zebra, “I know where you live!’’

All control was lost. It was a nationally televised embarrassment for a league obsessed with image and controlling its message.

Salary and pension are the issues splitting the league and its officials.

Fine. The league needs to fix this. Safety and integrity are at risk. The NFL game is simply too fast and too complex for officials with no experience working games at this level. It’s easy to dismiss the zebras by saying, “Nobody comes to the games to watch the officials,’’ but we all know that the best-policed games are the ones that produce zero commentary about officiating. What is happening is quite the opposite.


It’s a jail break. The experiment has failed. The competition is compromised, and now it’ll be OK for players and coaches to use replacement officials as an excuse for their own failures.

This crisis is very real. And Monday night was the tipping point.

We need commissioner Roger Goodell to step up for the good of the game. If Goodell is too arrogant or stubborn to do the right thing, then powerful NFL owners need to come forward.

This would include your very own Amos Alonzo Kraft. The Patriots owner enlarged his legacy when he helped settle the player lockout last summer.

Now it’s time for Kraft to speak out against the fraud being perpetrated on the paying public. We are talking about mere pennies compared with billions.

Stop the madness. Work it out. The pipes have backed up. The NFL mansion stinks. Give the officials the money and let’s all get on with our lives.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at