GREEN BAY, Wis. – Entire stadiums have booed them. The Patriots’ Bill Belichick grabbed one by the arm, and the Redskins’ Kyle Shanahan was so hopping mad he followed one into the tunnel after the game.
But it took the team that Vince Lombardi built, playing in a “Monday Night Football” headliner, to put the NFL’s latest labor headache – locked-out officials and their struggling, under-fire replacements – front and center for the nation. Even President Barack Obama, a Bears fan slogging through a re-election campaign, weighed in Tuesday, saying, “We’ve got to get our refs back.”
Is this where the NFL’s lockout of its regular refs comes to an end? On a call that many believe cost the Packers and their Cheesehead-wearing followers a win at Seattle?
The NFL stood fast, giving no sign Tuesday that it was close to reaching a new labor pact with the referees union. That was after the league said the referee at CenturyLink Field was correct that no indisputable visual evidence existed on a replay review to overturn the touchdown call that awarded Golden Tate with a TD catch and Seattle with a 14-12 victory.
That’s certainly not how the Packers saw it. They insisted that M.D. Jennings clearly had intercepted the pass and there was no “simultaneous possession” – which, by rule, awards the ball to the offensive player.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers called it “awful” in his postgame interview and he didn’t let up Tuesday. He called the league’s conclusion “garbage” and said the officials were responsible for a “phantom” pass interference call earlier against the Packers before having “zero communication” after the final play.
“I’ve got to do something that the NFL is not going to do: I have to apologize to the fans,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on ESPN 540-AM in Milwaukee. “Our sport is generated – the multibillion-dollar machine – is generated by people who pay good money to watch us play. And the product that’s on the field is not being complemented by an appropriate set of officials.”
He added: “The game is being tarnished by an NFL who obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished.”
Packers guard T.J. Lang posted a message on his Twitter account criticizing the call, then challenged the NFL to “Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs.” On Tuesday, Lang apologized for using profanity in his posts but said that was the only thing he regretted.
Fellow Packers offensive lineman Josh Sitton used his Twitter account to call on the NFL to come to Green Bay and apologize to the Packers.
“The NFL needs to get the refs back (before) we strike and they make no money!” Sitton posted after the game.
Rodgers, a players union representative during the lockout, expressed skepticism about that happening and said, “Let’s remember who we’re dealing with.”
“We’re dealing with an NFL who locked out the players and said we’re going to stand firm on our position,” he said on the radio show. “This is an NFL who gambled on some low-level referees, including the guy who makes the most important call last night, who’s never had any professional experience.”
After the so-called “Inaccurate Reception,” a small Facebook group advocated an “Occupy Lambeau” protest movement before Sunday’s game against New Orleans. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker used his Twitter account to call for the return of the regular officials – a public show of support for locked-out unionized workers, an odd juxtaposition given his national reputation for going after public employee unions last year.