a special report


Addendum, August 7, 2010

Wow, is this long-dormant page getting some attention.

Four years after my original post below, Super Bowl XL official Bill Leavy visited Seattle for the first time since Hasselbeck's phantom low block. Trying to get ahead of the obvious line of questioning, he said the following gathering of very receptive Seattle media:

"It was a tough thing for me. I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that."

Referee Bill Leavy apologizes to Seahawks, read the triumphant headline in the Seattle Times, and then they listed all the "questionable" calls in the game, regardless of the quarter in which they took place. Again, I'm hearing from the locals about the Jackson first-quarter pushoff. My God, I have no respect for these people. Are they unable to separate comforting fictions from fact—or just unwilling?

Toward that end, okay, Leavy thinks he "kicked" a couple of calls in the fourth quarter. I assume that means "blew." Maddeningly, he didn't specify which calls, let alone why he now thinks they were errors. So we're left to speculate.

There were exactly two penalties in the fourth quarter:

  • Hasselbeck's low block, which admittedly was pretty bogus, and
  • Locklear's holding call, which as you can see in the below sequence was pretty far from bogus. Its apparent inclusion further baffles me because holding is typically called by the umpire and would not have been reviewable by referee Leavy.

The holding call was undoubtedly a drive-killer, nullifying a 1st and goal from the 1. The ball was intercepted on the next play. It was during that interception that Hasselbeck was called for the low block, moving Pittsburgh's ensuing possession from the 29 to the 44. A few plays after that was Randel El's bomb to Ward.

So while Seattle fans rejoice in their vindication on the Jackson calls, where does leave those of us who listened to what Leavy said?

  • Was Locklear innocent? The eye in the sky don't lie.
  • Did Leavy even call that holding penalty? Mail me if you know.
  • Did Hasselbeck throw a low block? Iffy. For the sake of argument, let's say he didn't. So...
  • Did the extra 15 yards matter on the bomb? They certainly didn't hurt. But then again, Ward was ten yards behind any Seahawk. That play could have gone for 150 yards. Nope. Not feeling a lot of sympathy here.
  • In the eleven minutes after the last penalty, did Seattle stop Pittsburgh from scoring or running out the clock in a single-score game—a game in which Seattle had already missed two field goals and dropped one touchdown pass? Why, no. No, Seattle did not. Thanks for asking.
  • After Pittsburgh's final points, did Seattle have nine more freaking minutes to score in which they did absolutely nothing to win the game? Absolutely.

A few months ago, I watched NFL Films footage of the Steelers' playoff game with Indianapolis that same year. Troy Polamalu's game-sealing interception was under review, and the camera caught Cowher exhorting his players on the sideline. He must have known that ref was gonna kick it in the fourth quarter. "You cannot control what happens here," he snarled to his team. "Keep your heads in the game and on what you can control," he said. And sure enough, the refs botched the call and Indianapolis made it close—but the Steelers prevailed anyway.

It was impossible for me not to contrast Cowher's quote with that of the losing Super Bowl coach a few weeks later: "We knew it was going to be tough going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts, as well," said Holmgren.

If there are better embodiments of the words "winner" and "loser," I haven't seen them.



I've gotten lots of hate mail in the years since I posted the below, the basic theme of which was "See how bogus it was? You had to write a rebuttal! haha lol" Lots of those. Only misspelled. Very convincing stuff. Funny thing, though: can you guess how how many emails I've gotten that refuted a single one of my arguments? Or that included new evidence, like a different photo angle?

Hint: it's the same as the number of points Seattle scored in the final nine minutes.


April 9, 2006

super bowl xlTwo months of unabated mutual masturbation has made Hawks fans delirious and spiteful. 

I am not to enjoy this Super Bowl win, I'm reminded nearly every day, because the refs jobbed Seattle. Seahawk coach Mike Holmgren, perhaps sensing that he has the means of throwing attention off the worst Super Bowl coaching performance since Packer coach Mike Holmgren ordered his defense to let Terrell Davis score, fanned the flames. "We knew it was going to be tough going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts, as well," he told circle-jerking Hawks fans at a pep rally. Curiously, his egregious clock management and utter failure to counter the Steelers' halftime adjustments were not mentioned,

It worked. "Just you wait," Seahawks fans predicted to me Very Importantly. "The NFL will issue one of their customary apologies." When the NFL instead issued a detailed explanation as to why the calls were correct, the same fans demonstrated astounding intellectual dexterity: "Figures! What did you expect them to say?"

It was then that I realized that whatever the facts, these fans were determined to guzzle bitter whine made from sour grapes. I've been in this territory before. When it comes to championship losses, fans always have to blame someone besides their team. As soon as the gun sounded on Super Bowl XIII, Dallas fans hung their wounded pride on the pass interference call on Bennie Barnes (which was admittedly pretty iffy). A year later, it was Rams fans harping on the same thing. And University of Miami fans still howl about a 2002 pass interference call on contact that wasn't even televised. And on and on. In short, no championship that my teams have won has been earned. Ever. Isn't that odd.

Did the Steelers repeatedly benefit from penalties in the game? No doubt. I said "Thank God" at least twice in response to a call. But in blaming the messenger, Seattle fans are presupposing that their team played within the rules on the plays in question—a demonstrably dubious assumption. One might as well have blamed Mills Lane for disqualifying Tyson after he bit off Holyfield's ear. Stupid Mills Lane. Those were Tyson's best plays! Every time Tyson hurt Holyfield, Mills stopped him. Why, he just handed the fight to Holyfield. I knew if would be tough for Tyson to go up against Holyfield, but I didn't know he was going up against the guy in the bow tie, too!

An exaggerated analogy, but sometimes it's how I feel. Now, I'm not entirely unsympathetic. I know how much it hurts to lose a Super Bowl to a team that in many respects you outplayed, and I understand preferring to say "we wuz robbed" over "we were sloppy." And I'm not ungracious; I didn't rub it in, and I celebrated discreetly. You saw no party pictures on Stank. I even indulged Hawks fans' coping mechanism—right up to the point where they felt compelled to reach out and shit on me and my team. There's a line, and Seattle fans have crossed it.

We will now deal with the available evidence—not with oral tradition, not with collective wishful thinking. Toward that end, I'd like to examine the controversial calls, one at a time. Why? So I have a club with which to beat the aforementioned whiney bitches senseless. I'll skip the various interference, holding and clipping penalties the refs let Seattle get away with and just focus on the Hawks fans' points of contention.

If you have better pics or footage, do send it along. These were the best I could find.

Remember, the accusation is that these calls were demonstrably wrong.

Roethlisberger's touchdown
Argument: He ball didn't break the plane of the goal line.

Like you can tell. It's definitely not a touchdown on his second effort—only his initial lunge is in question. It happened right in front of me, but I'd be lying if I said I saw the play well enough to make the call. And that goes for replays, too. I've never seen an angle in which it can be definitively said that the ball crossed the plane. Or that it didn't. Here are the two best shots I could find. If at any point part of the ball is over even a millimeter of the white line, it's a touchdown.

Hmm. Is that Bettis' face mask being gripped, there? Never mind, moving along...

Yeah, I know. The angles suck. If you have better photos, send them in. From these, I can't honestly say whether or not this is a touchdown. Fortunately for me, the burden of proof is on those who shriek that this is a blown call. Pony up your evidence or shut up. One thing's for sure: either way, it was a question of centimeters, not inches, and it was only third down besides.

Hasselbeck's low block
Argument: What the...? Blocking? He was making the tackle!

Contrary to mythology rooted in Seattle, the refs did not invent this rule for the Super Bowl.

It's a crap rule, but its application here was consistent with how the rule was enforced all season. Low blocks are called, and called often, on interception returns against the team that threw the interception. Notable tacklers Brett Favre and Tiki Barber are on the list, right there with Matt Hasselbeck. (Notably, the exact same call had just been made against Steeler receiver Antwaan Randel El against Cincinnati, which makes me really unreceptive to all the whining.) Blocking (contact is either "tackling" or "blocking") below the waist is dangerous, and the rule exists on interception returns in order to protect the players' health. You are therefore not allowed to cut a non-ball-carrier below the waist. Well hell, here's how former NFL ref (and noted scoundrel) Jerry Markbreit breaks it down:

When a pass is intercepted, both teams are restricted from blocking below the waist. When a passing team man dives low in an attempt to tackle the intercepting player and, in the process, blocks a member of the intercepting team below the waist, even though he may make the tackle, a foul for illegal low block should be called. It does not matter whether the passing team player is attempting to make a tackle. If he intentionally goes low and, in the process, hits an opponent below the waist, it is an illegal block.

In other words, in trying to make the tackle on #24 Taylor, Hasselbeck supposedly contacted #23 below the knees. Was it on purpose? I don't know. Doesn't matter. Whether or not this rule should exist is certainly debatable, but the "he was making the tackle!" mythology is pure nonsense. A non-rule. It's irrelevant, and IMO its pervasiveness nicely illustrates the expertise level of Hawks fans. Better to argue that he didn't touch #23 at all. Which I'm pretty sure he didn't. That would make this a bogus call.

One other note about this play: after the tackle, the Seahawks' Sean Locklear illegally and quite obviously blocked Steeler Deshea Townsend in the back. No call. Clearly, the refs were handing the game to Seattle.

Jackson's catch out of bounds
Argument: he got one foot in bounds and the other hit the pylon.

I agree. That's exactly what happened. See "expertise level," above. Sayeth notable crook Markbreit:

The rule states that a receiver must get both feet inbounds with the ball in his possession to complete a catch. In the play in question, his left foot did get in, but the second foot hit the pylon, which is out of bounds in the end zone, thus making the play an incomplete pass.


Locklear's hold on Haggans
Argument: It wasn't holding because....um....because it I didn't want it to be!
(Hey, I'm doing my best with some pretty thin-ass arguments, here.)

I don't even know what to say, so I'll let the NFL rule book say it for me:

Hand(s) or arm(s) that hook an opponent are to be considered illegal and officials are to call a foul for holding. Blocker cannot use his hands or arms to push from behind, hang onto, or encircle an opponent in a manner that restricts his movement as the play develops.

Whazzat? You can't hook the guy? Hang on to him? Push him from behind? Can I call holding on Locklear three times on one play? Watch the hands and arms.

Where the hook sets. Note the sudden arrest of Haggans' forward lean.

If you don't think there's enough here to call holding, well, perhaps I can interest you in another sport?

Astoundingly, that's not their worst argument.

Jackson's offensive pass interference
Argument: it wasn't interference because...um....it would have been a touchdown otherwise!

The one I hear about the most, and also the most flagrant example of idiotic group-think. The rule:

Actions that constitute offensive pass interference include but are not limited to...(b) Initiating contact with a defender by shoving or pushing off thus creating a separation in an attempt to catch a pass.

And here's the pushing off that created separation a nanosecond before the catch:

I couldn't believe it when I finally saw this on tape. Both of Hope's feet go backward a couple feet! This is controversial? What's their argument, that the rule requires that three of his feet be shoved backward two yards?

An integrity test for any Seahawk fans still reading: if the roles are reversed, and Hope shoves Jackson and intercepts the ball, you're not screaming for a pass interference call? Right? Right. In any event, thanks. You took a crap Super Bowl in which my team played poorly and about which I was having trouble being excited, and you made winning it feel as gratifying and morally imperative as toppling Hirohito. So please. Continue. I'll bring you back photos from the ring ceremony, cheaters.