Officiating favors the home teams

Last Sunday's game between New England and Indianapolis was the kind of game that fans usually love to see. There was plenty of offense, scoring, and a close finish.

But I didn't enjoy it. In fact, it made me sick to my stomach. The NFL and the referees in that game stole the victory away from New England.

As soon as the score became New England 21 and Indianapolis 3, the officials went to work. They called phantom illegal shift penalties against the Patriot offense. They gave the Colts at least one extra foot on a fourth down run that eventually led to a field goal. What was called pass interference and holding on the Patriots, was not called pass interference and holding when the Colts were guilty.

But the officials saved their worst for last. With two minutes left the head referee called a roughing the passer penalty against the Pats that, considering the hit, timing and magnitude, could have been the most completely bogus roughing the passer penalty in the history of football. It also almost nullified an Indianapolis fumble, but thank God, the Colt receiver regained control of the ball in mid-air, because an overturned fumble at that point would have been unbearably criminal.

The eight penalties on New England for 63 yards, compared to Indy's four infractions for 32, just begin to tell the story. The one-sided officiating potentially accounted for anywhere from a total of 20 to 32 points difference in the outcome of the game. It was just way too obvious what was going on, and it was disgusting to watch.

Of course, the New Orleans-Chicago game wasn't much better. It was pretty clear in the first quarter which way that one was going to go when Saint kickoff returner Michael Lewis was ruled to have fumbled, when replays showed that it was his hitting the ground that jarred the ball loose from his grasp. By rule, the ground is not supposed to cause a fumble.

Chicago went the first three periods without receiving a penalty, and finished with only one for five yards. New Orleans was penalized seven times for 47 yards, including a non-existent one for offensive pass interference, and blocking in the back on a huge punt return. Chicago never lost its lead, and if it wasn't for the Bears pulling away 21-0 in the fourth quarter, the referees undoubtedly would have been more of a factor.

The NFL hand-picks the refs in the playoffs, and the refs make the important calls, so the league has the power to get the results they want. With the billions of dollars involved in the business, it would be naive to accept everything that happens on the football field at face value, especially during the postseason. The league was originally built by members involved in gambling and organized crime, far too much money is involved now, and consistently one-sided officiating in the playoffs can not be just a coincidence. If someone wants to call the NFL the "No Fun League," or the "National Fixed League,: I can't argue with it.

Note - My prediction on the Super Bowl will be in next week's column.

TENNIS

You couldn't ask for a better final than tonight's match between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, in tennis' first of four major tournaments of the year, the Australian Open. You might want to turn the volume on your television down, or for amusement you might want to turn your head and just listen, as there will be plenty of grunting and screaming going on during this physical battle. She who grunts and screams last wins.

Predictions - I like Sharapova to win tonight, and Roger Federer continues to be unbeatable in tomorrow's men's final.

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