Via one heartsick grunt, the NFL announced sideways, nearly half a decade afterward that, yes, the Seahawks were hosed in Super Bowl Ex-Hell.
Referee Bill Leavy’s unexpected, unprompted confessional Friday to the media at a routine Seahawks practice in Renton seemed to catch all by surprise, given that the NFL owns up publicly to errors only slightly more often than the Pope.
And it wasn’t really the NFL who owned up.
It was Leavy unburdening himself. Apparently suffering from years of guilt and lost sleep, Leavy decided to seek forgiveness from whatever football gods care about the Seahawks (I’m thinking it’s a single god, part-timer, doesn’t work weekends).
Leavy called the episode “the elephant in the room,” which in itself was surprising because most local fans and media think of it only when they see the elephant’s bones bleaching in the sun, and the NFL always considered it a mouse, if not merely an amoeba.
“It was a tough thing for me,” he said. “I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game and as an official, you never want to do that. It left me with a lot of sleepless nights. I think about it constantly. I’ll go to my grave wishing that I’d been better. I know that I did my best at that time, but it wasn’t good enough.
“When we make mistakes, you’ve got to step up and own them. It’s something that all officials have to deal with, but unfortunately, when you have to deal with it in the Super Bowl, it’s difficult.”
Just when it’s reasonable to believe there is little shame left in sports (we’re writing about you here, LeBron), Leavy followed the lead of baseball umpire Jim Joyce, who admitted that he blew a call at first base that robbed Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game in early June.
Joyce’s whiff was regarded as one of the worst blown calls in the game’s history, just as the Seahawks-Steelers game in Detroit is regarded nationally as the worst officiated Super Bowl in history.
Difference was, Joyce admitted it right after the game when he saw the replay. He even sought out Galarraga in the clubhouse and apologized.
Rarely has major league baseball been ahead of anything when it comes to reform. It wasn’t that long ago that MLB agreed to display the American flag with 50 stars, grudgingly accepting the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the union (just kidding, Bud Selig; you who stole the Pilots should know, of all people, that Seattle was always a part of Alaska).
But Joyce’s full, immediate acceptance of responsibility was so refreshing and endearing that he became a pop-culture hero and one of the best sports stories of 2010. A nation dope-slapped by prevaricators, dissemblers and BS artists from the Gulf to Congress/White House to Wall Street greeted Joyce’s gesture with herald trumpets and rose petals.
Are we desperate for public displays of sincere integrity, or what?
As far as Leavy, most Seahawks fans are grateful for any shred of candor, however belated, so they can at least forward the stories to all those Steelers fans who were delighted to call them whiners in the wake of Seattle’s 21-10 defeat.
But Leavy’s confessional was about only two plays in the fourth quarter: a dubious holding call against tackle Sean Locklear that took the Seahawks from a first down at the 1-yard line to the 29; and the absolutely absurd call of a low block on quarterback Matt Hasselbeck when he was attempting a tackle on an interception return. At least the NFL at the time allowed that the latter foul call was a dumber idea than sheet-metal underwear.
Leavy’s sole-proprietor notion doesn’t account for another official’s phantom call on a touchdown run by Ben Roethlisberger, nor a bogus offensive pass-interference call against Darrell Jackson.
Perhaps other officials are waiting to own up to those errors, on their own time. If America waits long enough, maybe we’ll also learn what happened to D.B. Cooper, Amelia Earhart and the lead character in the movie “Inception.”
But before the oceans evaporate, maybe the NFL, as well as the rest of big-time sports, could use the examples of Leavy and Joyce to take a look at the notion of earnest, swift accountability.
I realize that holding game officials to public account runs a risk of embarrassment, discomfort and even danger. But it doesn’t have to look like what North Korea did with its dismal showing in the World Cup: Forcing the team to stand in an auditorium for six hours of public heckling.
While leagues in the past have owned up to occasional officiating errors, it feels ad hoc, never seeming to have an institutional plan to reconcile the disparity known to virtually all concerned via TV replay. It sends the message that the leagues don’t care about honesty and accuracy. Since history has established that there’s very little money in honesty and accuracy, maybe that’s the case.
Nevertheless, as the Joyce episode demonstrated, most fans are accepting of an acknowledgment of human error. It’s the lying about it that makes everyone street-rat crazy.
Simply set up an accountability system in which sports review controversial major plays/developments, and disclose publicly the result without any retroactive changes to outcomes. (Please, no excuses about costs.)
The Seahawks made enough football mistakes in the Super Bowl to suggest that reversals on one, or all, bad calls wouldn’t have made the difference in the outcome. But to do as Leavy said and step up to own the mistakes helps keep the wound from bleeding for years.
Right now, as far as sports resolutions, we’re a little better than North Korea. Is it that difficult to be a lot better?