Plausible Deniability, Part Two

"Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in!" Yes, just when your intrepid Editor had decided to put the debacle that was Super Bowl XL behind him, up came that magical, mystical Head Zebra. Bad trip, dude...if you thought yesterday's Excuse-O-Matic slice and dice was bad, wait until you get a load of this!

Yesterday, we looked at the first three of five calls in Super Bowl XL discussed by host Rich Eisen and NFL Director of Officiating Mike Pereira on the NFL Network’s “Official Review” segment on Wednesday evening. We conclude with the two final calls discussed.

Eisen: All right, let’s get to the two other ones – starting with the Sean Locklear hold. So many people are talking about this, because it negated Jerramy Stevens’ catch that would have had the Seahawks right down at the one (yard line) – right on the doorstep to take the lead in the second half of this game. But Bill Leavy flags Sean Locklear for a hold on Clark Haggans, and it seems to me that he does have sort of a grab on him, but lets him go! I mean…I don’t really see a hold. Doesn’t that have to be some sort of actual grasp and tug? It really looks like he only had him for a split second, if at all.

Pereira: It’s another one of these plays like we had that were so tight. And they were certainly big down calls, like we had the offensive pass interference on Pittsburgh that called back a completion. It’s a tight play, but I want you to look at it from two different angles.

Here’s the live shot on television (overhead sideline angle from the left side), and you see the defender get around the end…doesn’t seem like a whole lot, although you see that – and one of the things that we talk about – are the “feet beat”? Are the feet of the blocker beat? Does he gain the edge?

Now, here’s Bill Leavy’s look at it, that he got, basically. You’ll see this (overhead angle, right side, about five yards behind the start of the play), which gives you a little more of an idea of feet getting beat. From a trail position, 53 (Haggans) has beaten him, and now he’s (Locklear’s) pulling on the shoulder after being beat. That’s got all of the ingredients of the hold. Is it the strongest? Probably not the strongest. But again…looking at position of feet, and saying that you’ve got to keep hands inside the frame from this position, with the right end around the shoulder, pulling on the arm, and eventually the defender going down to a knee…you’ve got the ingredients of a hold there.

That’s an example of a type of play that you’ll get from time to time. It’s got the ingredients of a hold – not the strongest, but in fact, it’s got what it takes to be considered a hold. And Bill Leavy, from his position, got that look that you just saw.

Eisen: Alright, let’s get to our last play, and I then want to ask you one more question in our remaining time. The last play is Matt Hasselbeck, after that hold, two plays later, throws a pick. This pick led to the possession that the Steelers would eventually score a touchdown on – the gamebreaker, basically. Matt Hasselbeck is called fifteen yards…for essentially tackling Ike Taylor. He’s called for a low block – we’ve seen this happen before where if you hit somebody below the waist on a change of possession that’s not the ballcarrier, it’s a penalty…but Ike Taylor is the ballcarrier. Hasselbeck is basically flagged for making a tackle here, Mike. What’s up with that?

Pereira: Well, he wasn’t really flagged for making the tackle. We’ll look at it again – he was flagged for, really, what we thought we saw. Here was the situation that the referee saw. First of all, you cannot play through a blocker low to make the tackle, alright? And we have had that throughout the year, a couple of different times, as you have talked about. What we thought we saw here – we thought we saw, from a distance, that Hasselbeck had gone low, playing through #26, this guy here. That’s what we called, when in fact, (Hasselbeck) whiffed him. And so, the call should not have been made. Tackling the ball carrier below the waist is not a foul, but you can’t go through #26 to make that tackle – which, in fact Hasselbeck did not, here. The call was not correct. The rationale was correct, but he whiffed on that block, and that was not the call that should have been made.

Eisen: So this should not have been a flag in the Super Bowl, is what you’re saying.

Pereira: That’s correct.

Beyond that, there’s not much worth transcribing. Eisen gives Pereira a fat softball of a question about officiating being the same in the Super Bowl as it is in the regular season, and Pereira whacks said softball with a self-serving soliloquy about the overall fairness of the calls from Week One through Week Eight into the Super Bowl. Given what was just discussed, I wonder how much Pereira wants to “brag” about the consistency of the calls – does he really want to go on record as saying that every game should be called like THIS?

My thoughts on the Locklear “hold” and the preposterous Hasselbeck illegal block call:

First, the hold. I have been asked before if I thought one call lost the Super Bowl for the Seahawks. My answer (which I still believe) is that none of the calls lost the game for Seattle per se…what they did as a group was to rob the two teams and the global viewership of the opportunity to participate in, and watch, an evenly-played game. Upon further review, so to speak, I suppose you could argue that the holding call on Locklear turned the game around to the point where the Seahawks simply ran out of hope.

Down 14-10, they began a drive on their own 2-yard line with 2:41 left in the third quarter, decimating Pittsburgh’s defense on their way downfield. If that holding call had not been made, Seattle would have had the ball on the Pittsburgh one-yard line, with the best red-zone offense in the game and a running back who hit the end zone 28 times in the regular season (27 times on the ground). Does that excuse Hasselbeck from throwing the pick two plays later? No. Is there any guarantee that Shaun Alexander wouldn’t have fumbled at the goal line? Absolutely not.

But when you’ve engineered one of the single most impressive drives in Super Bowl history, and the only lasting memory of that drive will be a hold that probably shouldn’t have been called…that’s an injustice to Matt Hasselbeck and his offense. If the Seahawks had scored, they would have gone up 17-14 with about twelve minutes left in the game, having beaten back a defense they were told for two straight weeks they couldn’t possibly solve. Now, you give the ball back to Pittsburgh, and it’s a fifteenth-round slugfest worthy of Ali-Frazier. Instead, you throw Seattle back from the one-yard line to the 29 on a call that Mike Pereira himself cannot justify.

Bill Leavy and his crew robbed YOU of one of the better storylines you’ll never know about. That crew also robbed the Seahawks of the ability to turn the game around and bend the game their way…fairly and legitimately.

The most interesting aspect of Pereira’s explanation of the hold is that he effectively digs Leavy a bigger grave with the second sightline. First, from any angle you want to take, it certainly appears that Haggans was offside. No surprise that Eisen and Pereira didn’t even discuss that.

Now…what you see on the “hold” is Locklear taking his right hand and establishing position on Haggans’ chest. Haggans slides around this to Locklear’s right, and Locklear’s right hand touches Haggans’ shoulder pad from behind as Haggans goes past. What you do NOT see is a grab of any sort – you can see Locklear’s momentum shift outward, which is when Haggans seemed to lose his ground and flail unsuccessfully at Hasselbeck.

There is no evidence of a prolonged hold, or a hold to gain advantage. There is some evidence of a push from Locklear’s right hand to the area around Haggans’ right shoulder. This is from the first angle Pereira gives us, which is right side, a few yards behind Locklear.

The second view, from the left sideline, is where you can clearly see that Haggans was offside – he moves before the ball is snapped, in front of God and everyone. Again, this was not discussed.

The third angle Pereira gives us is what he calls Leavy’s vantage point, which is about five yards behind the play, an aerial view (apparently, Leavy is 25 feet tall) and a few yards to the right of Locklear. From this angle, you cannot see Sean Locklear’s right hand when it’s on Clark Haggans – it is completely obstructed by Haggans’ jersey, and you don’t see it until Locklear falls to the ground. Pereira’s claim that Locklear is “pulling on the shoulder” is absolutely contrary to what the angle shows – in fact, we don’t know WHAT Sean Locklear was doing from that angle – Leavy could only go on what he thought was a holding-related result as opposed to what actually happened.

And he did this at a crucial point in the Super Bowl.

Pereira’s “all the ingredients of holding” argument is perhaps his most ridiculous – if I have bread, sliced turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and mustard residing in separate areas of my kitchen, it is evidently Pereira’s position that I have a turkey sandwich.

Saves me some prep time, I suppose…

While Pereira does admit that the illegal block call on Hasselbeck was a bad call, he can’t even own up here, blathering on about “playing through #26” (CB Deshea Townsend) to tackle Ike Taylor. This is where Pereira himself loses any credibility he had left. Hasselbeck has a clear shot at Taylor precisely because he moved out of Townsend’s way to get the right angle. Pereira’s attempt to gloss this over as “the correct rationale” and “a whiff on the block” is absolutely stupid.

Yes, stupid. This is the play where I can get away with saying that.

So, what are we left with here? We are left with a story that will live far longer than the NFL would like – very few people seem to be impressed with, or placated by, Pereira’s explanations. He comes off as an indulgent father, a supreme enabler who simply isn’t capable of saying that things are what they are unless they favor his (part-time) employees.

We are left with an unfinished Super Bowl, and two teams who live in Purgatory, waiting for a true and total validation that will never come.

Most tragically, we are left with a league that does not appear to take a Super Bowl in which the wrong team may very well have won (and we will never know), and the integrity of the sport itself has been called into question, as a galvanizing moment in the most essential area of officiating reform. Most likely, this game (and the mess of a postseason that led to it) will not cause the NFL to require full-time officials, more stringent testing, and that the officials themselves answer for their mistakes to the press and the public. Instead, the soft hand of justice put forth by Mike Pereira will continue to lead underqualified and overwhelmed individuals in their incompetent stranglehold over America’s most popular sport.

Maybe we’ll get those end zone cameras Bill Belichick was asking for last year, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the league to do what would be right and just on a larger scale so that this travesty can never happen again.

In the end, that is the true shame of Super Bowl XL - the fact that Super Bowl XLI could end in frighteningly similar fashion.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at Top Stories