As a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan since 1978, despite that glorious decade that started in the mid-90s, I’ve seen more bad years than good. I’ve watched inept offenses, horrible defenses, mystifying coaching decisions, baffling draft picks, and double-digit losses. And along the way, I’ve seen some really bad calls go against us. Opposing receivers pushing off without a flag, our defenders penalized for the merest touch, leaping — LEAPING — and the Burt Emanuel catch. But while I complained and griped and made all kinds of unflattering guesses as to the parentage of the officials involved, I never once held up those bad calls as the sole reasons why we lost those games.
Hello, Detroit Lions fans.
Look, yes, that was a screwy turn of events. Regardless of what could have been called a penalty and on whom, to go from thinking you have a first down to looking at third down had to really suck. But you know what? Good teams overcome that. They don’t dwell on it, don’t cling to it, don’t blame it, They shrug and move on. And preferably take out their frustrations on the opposing team, instead of shanking a punt and letting them drive down the field for the go-ahead touchdown.
And that call came with a little over eight minutes left in the game. There was way too much hammering left for that to be the final nail. Besides, the Lions had already done a pretty good job digging the grave by scoring all of three points the entire second half. Unless we’re talking about the game-winning field goal being blocked or the game-winning touchdown pass being knocked down, NFL games rarely turn on the basis of a single play. A win — or a loss — is a collection of moments, of big things and little things done right or wrong by one side or the other. It takes sixty minutes to put a game in the record books. Not the time it takes to pick up a flag.
But it’s the sports fan’s right to feel like the world is against them. There’s a reason we say “we” and “us” regarding groups of athletes we have absolutely nothing to do with. In the grand scheme of things, one team scored more points than the other and gets to keep playing. But for those three hours on Sunday, it’s a life or death struggle on which everything hinges. Yes, it’s irrational. But it’s fun.
Except when the stupid refs don’t know a catch when they see one…Wherein