There are some around the NFL wondering if the NFC Championship problem was not the officials’ eyes, brain or judgment, but their past or present addresses.
In actual NFL whispers that sound closer to inane commentary from the bleachers, ESPN reported Sunday there is concern around the league that four officials with Southern California ties worked the Saints-Rams game that ended in controversy and New Orleans fury.
The piece cautions that the NFL does not actually believe the game was fixed and that these Angelenos skillfully directed a close game into overtime and ensured a Rams victory. However, there are some around the league concerned with the peripherals of the refs’ backgrounds, especially because those most responsible for blowing the Nickell Robey-Coleman-vs.-Tommylee Lewis pass-interference call near the end of regulation are from or live in California.
Lead official Bill Vinovich is from Newport Beach. According to ESPN, down judge Patrick Turner — who was supposed to follow Lewis on the play — is from Lakewood. The report states side judge Gary Cavaletto, whose eyes were on Lewis as Drew Brees passed to him, lives in Santa Barbara. And back judge Todd Prukop, essentially the safety on the play, lives in Mission Viejo.
“The NFL put [itself] in a bad situation,” one officiating source told ESPN. “This is stuff that has to be taken care of prior to game. It’s just guys not thinking of what’s going on, nobody doing their checks and balances. The league is usually pretty much on top of it. This is one that slipped through the cracks.”
The Saints declined comment to ESPN, but their fans have not denied any comment to anyone ever. There is a lawsuit from a New Orleans attorney demanding commissioner Roger Goodell overturn the result, which brought the Rams into the Super Bowl and left the Saints crushed.
“Officiating assignments are based on performance and not geographic location,” a league spokesman told ESPN.
The report points out that there have been referee assignments and reassignments in the past to avoid any sniff of bias. Ed Hochuli, who is from Phoenix, would not officiate Cardinals home games, and Mike Carey, who lives in San Diego, would not do Chargers home games.