What a joke. In a professional sport that allegedly prides itself on its wholesome image among all of its passionate fans nation-wide as well as the general public — particularly when it comes to a sense of “fair play” — the folks behind the scenes who operate and run the National Football League up in New York City, sure do have a twisted sense of humor.
For a league that’s currently battling the overwhelming criticism it’s gotten in the past two years for poor officiating of games by its referees, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his cronies at 345 Park Avenue apparently still have what seems to be an unspoken mission or agenda to make life MISERABLE for the New Orleans Saints organization and its passionate ‘Who Dat Nation’ fan-base.
The latest and most recent act of disrespect came yesterday when the League announced that Bill Vinovich, the NFL’s head referee forever linked to the infamous NOLA “no-call” late in the 4th quarter in the Saints’ heart-breaking loss to the Los Angeles Rams a year ago in the NFC Championship Game that cost the Black and Gold a Super Bowl appearance; will lead the officiating crew during Super Bowl LIV (54) in Miami, according to a NFL.com report.
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) January 15, 2020
Super Bowl LIV (54) will be played in two weeks from now on Sunday, February 2nd at 5:30 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida; between the winners of the two conference championship games this coming Sunday afternoon.
The AFC Championship Game will pit the Tennessee Titans against the Kansas City Chiefs; and the NFC Championship Game out in California will feature the visiting Green Bay Packers vs. the San Francisco 49ers. For the 59-year old Vinovich, it will be his first time working a Super Bowl since the New England Patriots played the Seattle Seahawks at Super Bowl XLIX (49) in 2015.
But given his direct involvement in what was probably the most egregious officiating error EVER in the entire 100-year history of the NFL and the sport of Pro Football, the appointment of Vinovich to the sport’s premier event is yet just another blatant “slap in the face” to the entire Saints franchise and their loyal fans.
Now granted: while no one associated with the Saints organization or any of its supporters will be harmed or affected by the appointment of Vinovich to his prime spot, the move itself reeks of hypocrisy for a League that supposedly was intent on repairing and “cleaning up” its poor image among fans when it comes to the officiating of games.
NFL officiating: Where you can be responsible for the crew that made one of the worst (no) calls in league history and get rewarded with the Super Bowl the next year. https://t.co/kPH9weJpkN
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) January 15, 2020
I don’t know, man. Seems like this guy should have done something. pic.twitter.com/9V6EON4i9z
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) January 15, 2020
Most ‘Who Dats’ are still angry over the “no-call” by Vinovich and his officiating crew last January on what should have been ruled as pass interference (as well as helmet-to-helmet contact) on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman against Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis late in the 4th quarter of that game, an occurrence that eventually affected the final outcome of the contest.
As it’s been well-documented over the course of the past year: Los Angeles went on to win the game in overtime by a score of 30-27, and the entire city of New Orleans along with the surrounding community and region, has still not forgotten it. That also includes the sizable portion of Saints fans either living out of state or abroad (such as serving overseas in the military).
Predictably, many Saints fans were upset upon hearing the news yesterday; and many of them took to Social Media on forums such as Facebook and Twitter, to voice their displeasure.
— Ed Pratt (@epratt1972) January 16, 2020
@nflcommish is trolling NOLA
— Ryan Pierret (@rpierret) January 15, 2020
Wonder how that compares to the heart shattering disappointment of @Saints fans last year in the Bill Vinovich refereed Championship Game. And then @NFLOfficiating appoints him to the super bowl. Now that’s a real lack of accountability.
— Hank Scorpio (@hank_scorpio05) January 15, 2020
But perhaps the most well-publicized reaction to the NFL’s announcement yesterday came from one of the Saints’ top superstars and most beloved players: 4th year All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas.
Thomas, who broke the League’s all-time record for catches in a single regular season (149) this past year, went on Twitter and gave his personal thoughts about the matter; but obviously they were quite far from being taken as a compliment in any possible sort of way.
O no 😭😂😂 he don’t even own any flags . Let me stop 😂😂 https://t.co/8rkXl60tew
— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) January 15, 2020
But while Thomas was able to have a laugh over the League’s most recently-questionable decision, it was widely criticized by analysts and observers who cover the NFL on a daily basis, and rightfully so.
For many people that religiously follow or cover the sport of football, yesterday’s appointment of Vinovich was a clear-cut case of what’s commonly referred to as “bad optics”.
But ultimately and inevitably, such a decision like the one yesterday comes from the very top of the NFL’s upper management, which undoubtedly came from the Commissioner himself.
While it’s actually true that Vinovich was given the assignment for being a referee that’s been widely-praised for throwing the least amount of penalties in his assigned games, one has to wonder if he was truly deserving of such an honor. But in fact, Vinovich’s consistency as a head referee actually helped him top ESPN NFL National writer Kevin Seifert‘s list of the best referees in the NFL last August.
“His crews usually average the fewest penalties per game in the league, producing crisp games with maximum focus on players and coaches,” Seifert wrote in his column last Summer. To that point: Vinovich’s officiating crews averaged 11.63 penalties per game during the just recently-completed 2019 NFL Season, nearly two penalties below the league average of 13.4, according to the good folks over at Pro Football Reference.
Those numbers are Goodell’s “out” for making such an appointment, since he had to have known that the move would be widely-criticized and draw even more scrutiny due to the lingering issues with bad officiating in several other games recently, besides last year’s horrendous decision (or “non”-decision) that cost the Black and Gold a spot in the Super Bowl.
It’s just further more evidence that Roger Goodell (and the upper management of the NFL) — in spite of their denials and outright objections to such implications — appear to have a grudge against the Saints franchise, and have now for nearly an entire decade.
One theory (unconfirmed) is that Goodell is not a fan of Saints head coach Sean Payton or his no-nonsense approach; an approach that often includes speaking his mind freely and saying exactly what he thinks about something at that particular time.
And that particular time dates all the way back to the Spring of 2012, when the League was investigating the Saints organization of the allegations associated with the “BountyGate” scandal; in which the Saints defensive players who played back then during the team’s one and only Super Bowl title run in 2009, were ultimately found guilty of intentionally trying to target and injure opposing offensive players.
Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis were both ultimately suspended for the entire 2012 Season for their alleged failure to put a stop to the ‘bounties” under their watch; and word has it that Payton and Goodell didn’t exactly see “eye to eye” on the results of the League’s supposed investigation which many observers as well as fans, to this very day still believe might have been greatly exaggerated.
Though the allegations were NEVER proven, the narrative that the Saints were “cheaters” became prevalent among football fans nation-wide; and as a result: the relationship between Goodell and Payton (and the entire Saints franchise) has become very contentious ever since.
Yesterday’s jaw-dropping decision was just the latest “swipe” by Goodell and his minions have now taken, as a way to piss off the Saints organization and their passionate fans without directly doing so; or giving off any sort of appearance that they somehow might be biased against (or “have it out”) for the Black and Gold.
A “tit for tat” or an insult for an insult, if you will.
Whatever you want to call it or however you choose to refer to it, the bottom line is that the NFL’s most recent move that was made yesterday was — and now still is — a blatant “slap in the face” to the Saints organization and their devoted fans everywhere.
What a joke….
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius