Mac Engel

Change yellow flags for red tape: watching the NFL is like watching the US government

Watching an NFL game is not that much different than watching our beloved government hard at work, just switch out the yellow flags for red tape.

Rules and regulations are put place with the best of intentions and, typically, people just screw it all up. We can’t help it.

Regardless of the commissioner, or the men who comprise the rules committee, the NFL’s rule book does nothing but expand and become more complicated.

And regardless of political affiliation of who occupies our White House, the House or the Senate, all our government does is expand and become more complicated.

When have either of the two ever shrunk?

The difference is with an NFL game absolutely no one knows if any of these rules or regulations will be enforced on a given play.

In reviewing the Dallas Cowboys’ loss against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night, distinguishing what is and is not a penalty is no longer plausible. Players are guessing just as much as the poor referees themselves, who now rely on video replay for virtually everything to save them from the sport’s guillotine.

The Saints were penalized nine times for 80 yards. The Cowboys were penalized six times for 64 yards.

“It’s ticky-tack. After every game we send things in to the league just to ask them, ‘Is this legal?’ Or, ‘Is this illegal?’” Cowboys defensive back Chidobe Awuzie said. “It doesn’t really matter. We have to remove emotions out of it and just line up and play.”

Players and coaches in all sports, especially at the professional level, understand that officiating is hard and the refs are pros who try their best. Players and coaches grasp and accept human error. Mistakes are a big part of their jobs, too.

The goal is perfection, but the expectation is consistency.

In NFL games these days, consistency is now judged not by game to game but quarter to quarter, and play to play. The availability and expansion of replay has made the refs’ job about as much fun as the trash collector on Bourbon Street.

In passing plays, the ref has to look for pick routes (which are never called), offensive pass interference as well as defensive holding and/or defensive pass interference calls. One of those four is going to happen on nearly every passing play.

Then there are the late, or questionable, hits, of which the idea is well meaning but the execution is sporadic and unpredictable.

The question now is does the ref call it. Don’t worry if you are unsure. The players don’t have a clue, either.

“I pretty much know I am on the defensive side of the ball and the fans pay to see the offense,” Awuzie said. “That’s as much as I know.”

Wise logic.

In the Cowboys’ game in New Orleans, receiver Amari Cooper was called twice for offensive pass interference. Twice.

Before Sunday, he had been called for that infraction five times in his previous career 64 NFL games. Five.

All of this effort to make every play perfect has done exactly what the NFL wants to avoid, which is to slow the game down and make more plays available for review.

“It doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day that is the way the league is run. It’s what it is,” Awuzie said. “We just have to deal with it.”

What we see today is not unlike our government. It’s designed to make everything better, done nothing but grow, and we all just have to deal with it.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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