NFL using replacement refs

Friday, August 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Give the first round to the NFL in its labor dispute with officials.

On the first night of replacement officiating, there were no major gaffes in the six games played and no major injuries caused by inexperience or awkwardness, although one replacement got hit in the face by a pass and another almost got trampled by a tackler.

``I'm ecstatic about the way things went,'' said Larry Upson, the league's director of officiating operations, who worked the New York Jets-Philadelphia game Thursday night. All six of the NFL's officiating supervisors were assigned to games.

Oh, there were some problems, like the one Upson himself corrected about the spot of the ball and a safety call in New England overruled by instant replay. But overall, there was no more controversy over the officiating than there would have been in any exhibition game.

Tom Condon, the negotiator for the officials, said Friday morning that he hadn't seen any of the six games. But he said he had been in contact with Jeff Pash, chief negotiator for the league, and hoped to resume negotiations as soon as possible.

Most of the players saw no problems.

``We were kind of watching them to see if there would be any terrible calls. They did an outstanding job. It went real well,'' Jacksonville wide receiver Jimmy Smith said.

``I couldn't tell any major difference,'' Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday said. ``I thought they let guys play. It seemed like they were going to let it go unless it was a completely obvious call.''

That seemed to be the trend.

In the Eagles-Jets game, no flags were thrown until midway through the second quarter. In the Colts-Bengals game, there were two holding penalties, two offsides, one false start and one on the Bengals for having 12 defenders on the field.

All of this seems to work to the benefit of the NFL, which hopes that the eight games Friday go the same way.

That would give the league leverage with the NFL Referees union, which they locked out on Wednesday after breaking off talks when the two sides were 50-to-75 percent apart on the union's wage demands. But the pressure remains with the regular season just nine days off _ final exhibition games, which most teams treat like a walkthrough practice without regulars, are played much more slowly and without the pressure of a real contest.

In all, the presence of the replacements was an extra that brought a little extra spice to otherwise meaningless exercises.

For the most part, the officials, most from college, NFL Europe or the Arena League, were anonymous and were told by the NFL to remain so.

The league listed only names, numbers and colleges attended _ not where the replacements worked previously. And the only officials even faintly familiar were NFL supervisors like Ron Baynes in Pittsburgh and Jim Daopoulous in Cincinnati, both veterans of recent Super Bowls who now work in the league office.

``It was a great experience,'' said Ernie Briggs, who refereed the Eagles-Jets game. ``There's still a lot to learn, but it was a wonderful experience.''

There were two misadventures

In Pittsburgh, umpire David Hettema, was hit on the left side of his face by a pass by Buffalo's Alex Van Pelt, but didn't appear hurt. And in Cincinnati, field judge Gary Wise was run into by Bengals safety Corey Hall as he stood on the sideline to signal a touchdown.

Wise staggered back a few steps but stayed on his feet.

Not everyone was totally pleased.

While there was no picketing _ the referees association decided on that _ the NFL Players Association told its members to be careful about playing with inexperienced officials. And some NFLPA members responded.

``A professional game should be officiated by professionals,'' said Robert Porcher, the Detroit Lions' union representative. ``The group out there was competent, but the guys who practice officiating day in and out _ they're the ones we want.''