End of Chargers-Steelers game a black eye for NFL

Troy PolamaluForget for a moment that gambling even exists. Take it out of the equation and focus on the reality of what transpired at the end of the Chargers-Steelers game, because it was a serious black eye for the National Football League.

By now, most of us know what happened, but I’ll set the scene again for those who have missed out on all the hoopla.

Down 11-10 with five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Chargers took possession at the 21-yard line. There, quarterback Philip Rivers threw a forward pass to LaDainian Tomlinson, who then flipped the ball backwards to teammate Chris Chambers, who then tossed the ball backwards to another teammate, but Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu intervened, knocked the ball out of the air and recovered it on the 11-yard line. From there, Polamalu returned the ball into the end zone, which referees signaled a touchdown. Pending review and an extra point, the Steelers should have won 18-10.

But that’s not what happened. Officials did review the play and determined that it was in fact a touchdown. However, after reconvening, they determined that one of the Chargers’ lateral passes (the one Tomlinson threw) was an illegal forward pass and therefore the touchdown didn’t count.

No harm no foul, right? The Steelers would have won the game regardless and everyone involved can rejoice at the fact that no game in the history of the NFL has ever ended with an 11-10 score.

But the call wasn’t right. Even if LT’s pass was deemed illegal, the ball never touched the ground and therefore the play continues. The result of the play was an illegal forward pass, which the Steelers would have declined, and the touchdown should have counted. Head official Scott Green even admitted after the game that he and his crew “misinterpreted” the rule and got it wrong.

People may disagree, but this blunder is just as bad as the Ed Hochuli game because it proves that the replay system in the NFL is broken. The most amazing thing about all of this is that the officials in the Chargers-Steelers game actually spent time getting the call wrong. What happened if the Steelers were down by one and something fluke like this happened and it cost them a win? Can we safely assume that the officials would have gotten the call right if a win was on the line? I can’t, certainly not after watching how the officials eventually handled the actual situation.

Now let’s reintroduce the gambling ramifications, because obviously that’s the main issue here.

An estimated $100 million was wagered worldwide on the game. And approximately 66% of those dollars were wagered on Steelers. Had the touchdown stood, bettors would have cashed in roughly $32 million, but because of the officials’ mistake, it turned out to be a $64 million swing in favor of the bookies.

Some people don’t like gambling because they think it’s stupid to wager your hard earned money on a game. That’s fair, but don’t forget that some people consider gambling as another form of entertainment, just like going to the movies. I might be comparing apples to oranges here, but if you took your family to the movies and only got to see half of it because the projector broke, then you’d want your money back right? The projector cost you your money and entertainment for the night and that’s not fair.

Well, a blown call cost people their money (and we’re talking about more dough than the average movie ticket) and entertainment and that’s not fair either. Again, that might not be the best example but you get the point.

Ed HochuliDon’t expect anything to be done about this though. Roger Goodell isn’t going to reverse the call just like he didn’t reverse the outcome of the Broncos-Chargers game that Hochuli blew. It was a mistake by the officials and I wouldn’t hold your breath hoping to get your money back.

But this is going to be more damaging to Goodell’s league than people think. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but it’s certainly questionable that the Steelers were flagged 23 times to only twice for Chargers (one of those penalties was the infamous “illegal pass” call), and the end of the game resulted in a San Diego cover because they were 4 or 5-point underdogs at most major sports books.

People are justifiably outraged and calling for foul play. In the wake of what transpired in the NBA with Tim Donaghy, suspicions are being raised of the legitimacy of NFL officiating. With that much on the line, how can you blow a call after you first made the correct ruling, then reviewed it, then still made the correct ruling only to eventually make the incorrect ruling? It’s completely ridiculous and I don’t blame anybody if they think NFL games are fixed now.

For the record, I don’t think games are fixed and I certainly don’t think the end of the Chargers-Steelers game was some masterful plan to insure a San Diego cover. I think this was a massive mistake, but I highly doubt anyone got on the phone to the head ref to tell him to call the game a certain way. Too many jobs would be lost and I doubt it’s worth the risk.

But after watching everything play out, I can definitely see why people buy into conspiracy theories. And it’s too bad that this is mostly about gambling because the situation deserves to have some light shed on it. Instead, the mainstream media will bury the story because they want to remain hush-hush about the gambling world.

Even those who don’t bet and didn’t wager on the game witnessed an injustice. And maybe you didn’t lose money – maybe you lost a fantasy game or a football pool at work. Either way, what happened wasn’t right and the NFL is going to be the one that really pays in the end because it no doubt lost some fans due to this fiasco.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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