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Raging NFL Controversy Over A Blown Referee Call Turns Political


There has been a controversy raging in the NFL since Sunday that has now turned political. Louisiana's governor, John Bel Edwards, has sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell complaining about a missed penalty that New Orleans Saints fans say cost their team a chance to play in the Super Bowl. This letter follows lawsuits, a petition and just general rage about this now infamous no call by referees in the NFC championship game. And let's talk about this with NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi there, David.

GREENE: OK. So for people who were not watching that game, remind us what happened and what is causing all this.

GOLDMAN: Only one of the most obvious cases of pass interference you'll ever see, and it wasn't penalized. It happened late in the game between the Saints and the LA Rams. A Rams defender blasted a New Orleans receiver before a pass reached the receiver, and there was no flag. And after the game, the Rams defender acknowledged he interfered. The NFL head of officials admitted they blew the call, which, under NFL rules, wasn't reviewable, so they couldn't check replays and see what everyone else in the world saw.

Now, as a result, the Saints lost a chance to run down the clock and kick a short field goal for the win in the final seconds. Instead, they were forced to kick a tiebreaking field goal with over a minute and a half left. That gave the Rams lots of time to get the ball back, drive down the field, kick the tying field goal, which they did, and then they won in overtime.

GREENE: So Saints fans are going to want you to answer yes to this question, but I'm going to ask it. Would they have definitely won the game if this penalty had been called?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Highly likely, Saints fans, but not certain, David Greene. This is just between you and me. Even if the Saints had run down the game clock and attempted that very short field goal for the win, the kicker could have missed or it might have been blocked. Even with the botched call, the Saints could have won. Yes, the Rams got the ball with lots of time after the Saints went ahead, but, hey, what about that great Saints defense? They could have stopped the Rams from driving down the field, kicking the tying field goal. And then in overtime, the Saints had the ball first and had a chance to win.

So now that all Saints fans hate me, I will say, yes, the odds were pretty good that had the penalty been called, the Saints would be playing New England in the Super Bowl February 3.

GREENE: All right. Well, sports fans like me, we just suffer and deal with a bad call. It sounds like in Louisiana I guess you could do lots of things like file lawsuits and get your governor involved. So what - tell us - tell me more about the response here.

GOLDMAN: The governor sent that letter to Commissioner Goodell to make rule changes that allow for expanding use of replay. Otherwise, he said, the integrity of the game will be called into question. Edwards also said Louisiana football fans will move on but will not forget. There are these lawsuits by fans. One of them alleges damages of mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life. I know you've felt that as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

GREENE: Thanks.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Saints fan Matt Bowers has rented billboards in Atlanta, the host city for the Super Bowl, with messages like Saints got robbed. And there's an online petition asking for a rematch this Sunday. As of early this morning, David, the petition had over 680,000 signatures.

GREENE: OK. There's not going to be a rematch. I'm going to predict that right now. But what is the NFL going to do here going forward?

GOLDMAN: What should happen and probably will is replay needs to be expanded. That play should have been reviewed and the call corrected. The league has said subjective penalties like pass interference cannot be reviewed. The NFL, you know, worries that too much replay will slow down games. But if you watch the other conference championship game between New England and Kansas City, which I'm sure you did, there were a bunch of replays during a thrilling fourth quarter, and it didn't take away the excitement at all.

GREENE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: A pleasure, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.