Search the Site

Cheating in the N.F.L.?

It’s something that a lot of people think about, but rarely does anyone come right out and accuse the National Football League of rigging its games. For a conspiracy theorist, or even just a guy holding a losing betting slip that was a winner right up ’til that bogus call with 30 seconds left that allowed the underdog to close the spread, there are all sorts of reasons that referees might slant their calls: protecting big-name players; punishing bad-boy players; helping out big-market teams; calling back a touchdown that would have easily put the score over the over/under line.

I’ve never given much credence to such thinking. I’ve had occasion over the years to deal with the N.F.L. on a number of levels, and I think it’s a pretty remarkable industry (well, okay, a pretty remarkable cartel). But yesterday’s Steelers-Colts game contained three mind-boggling calls (or non-calls) that went against the Steelers, and made me wonder what was happening.

The first was the non-call of pass interference against Antwaan Randle-El on a play in which Randle-El was practically tackled as the ball came toward him.

The second was another non-call: as the Steelers were about to run a play, the Colts’ defensive line jumped the snap and crossed the line of scrimmage; instead of calling illegal procedure against the Steelers (which, replays showed, may have happened) or off-sides against the Colts (which, replays showed, definitely happened), the officials did nothing, and basically called a do-over. As a kid, I loved do-overs; they often prevented fistfights; but I’ve never seen one in the N.F.L.

The third was the one that, had the Steelers managed to lose the game (which they nearly did when Jerome Bettis fumbled, and the Colts’ Nick Harper recovered and raced toward a score, and the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger made a remarkable tackle that prevented another Joe Pisarcik/Herman Edwards miracle play), every Steelers fan in the world would have recalled as the N.F.L.’s cruelest hoax of a call ever. Here’s what happened: the Colts’ Peyton Manning threw a pass that was intercepted by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who tumbled to the ground, got up to run, knocked the ball out of his own hands with his knee, and then fell on the ball. Somehow, however, the officials reviewed the tape and called the play an incomplete pass. I’m sure that even Peyton Manning’s own dad, Archie, realized it was a horrible call.

And now Joey Porter, the Steelers’ most voluble (if no longer most valuable) linebacker, has this to say of the officials: “I know they wanted Indy to win the game. The whole world loves Peyton Manning, but come on man, don’t take the game away from us. I felt they were cheating us. When the interception happened, everybody in the world knew that was an interception. Don’t cheat us that bad. When they did that, they really want Peyton Manning and these guys to win the Super Bowl. They are just going to straight take it for them. I felt that they were like, ‘We don’t even care if you know we’re cheating. We’re cheating for them.'”

I don’t think the N.F.L. will be as amused by Porter’s remarks as I am. As a Steelers fan, I’m hoping he’s not suspended for next week’s A.F.C. Championship game against the Denver Broncos. As it turns out, Porter has a rough Denver history. Three summers ago, while leaving a nightclub there, he was shot in the thigh and wound up missing the Steelers’ first few games. This time around, he may have some more people gunning for him.