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You lost, Roger; do the right thing and bring the real refs back

It's over, Roger. You lost. Your ridiculous little game of chicken with the refs ended the moment that Green Bay-Seattle game finished Monday night. And you can pretend you ended up with the ball, but we all know better.

Roger Goodell and the NFL should make an extremely generous offer to the referees' union. I'd start with the refs' old pension, an enormous bouquet of flowers and a big box of chocolates shaped like whistles.

If you have not seen how that Green Bay-Seattle debacle ended, I will give you a recap. Since I am clearly a Football Expert, I may use some Technical Terms to do it, but bear with me.

The Green Bay Guys had a 12-7 lead on the Seattle Guys with one play left. A Seattle Guy chucked the ball into the end zone, where a Green Bay Guy caught it. This was known as an "interception" in football for a long time, from roughly 1906, when the "forward pass" was invented, until Sept. 24, 2012, when the definition suddenly changed.

A Seattle Guy put his hands on the ball that the Green Bay Guy clearly caught, and so Roger Goodell's officials conferred and immediately called for a pizza. This was an odd decision, since the game was still going on, but replacement refs have metabolisms too, and it is exhausting to run around a football field all night trying to remember what the rules are. They decided the Seattle Guy was probably a good Guy, and he had his hands on the ball too, and he surely INTENDED to catch the ball, and who were they to judge what is in a man's soul? They gave the Seattle Guy a "touchdown".

This confused a few people, especially the Packers, the announcers, Football Experts like myself and the two billion people around the world who have watched a football game and were not recently concussed. Nonetheless, the Seahawks "won" the "game".

Now people are saying that was the first time the replacement refs actually decided one of these games. To which I say: How would we know? They have botched so many calls that we can't even tell what would have happened with decent officiating.

Goodell's big argument was that the refs would get better as time went on. If this is the definition of getting better, what would getting worse look like? Would they ask centers to snap the ball off a tee?

It doesn't matter anymore. The public has lost faith in the enterprise. We will stomach so much from our major sports leagues: Personal-seat licenses, TV blackout policies, late starting times, stars who blow off kids but have time for prostitutes. All we ask is that the games be legitimate competitive pursuits, where everybody is trying to determine the winner. And amazingly, that is now in question for the NFL.

I don't know if Goodell's referee nightmare is the worst mistake a commissioner has made in my lifetime, but it is surely the dumbest. At least when Bud Selig canceled the 1994 World Series and Gary Bettman canceled the 2004-05 NHL season, there were hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. Goodell put the integrity of his league on the line for vending-machine money.

Goodell is not the only one to blame. He works for the owners, after all. They have given him an incredible pass to do whatever he wants, because they are making a lot of money and he is a master at accumulating power. But how long can they stand this? One of Goodell's confidantes, New England owner Robert Kraft, watched his team lose one of the worst officiated games in memory Sunday night. Losing that could cost the Patriots home-field advantage in the playoffs, and that could cost Kraft another Super Bowl win.

I wonder if Kraft will do the math on this and realize how foolish his friend Roger has been. As I mentioned Monday, my colleague Peter King reported that the difference between the NFL and the refs' union is $3.3 million a year. Well, there are 256 regular season games. The NFL could have the real refs if it forked over an extra $12,891 per game.

That is less than 20 cents for every paying customer.

Let a man do whatever he wants, and he will do whatever he wants. This is the lesson of Goodell's replacement-referee mistake, and it's an ironic one, because Goodell has tried to teach this lesson to so many others. He fancies himself part-commissioner, part-sheriff. He hands out suspensions like Halloween candy.

Well, Roger Goodell has just destroyed three weeks of the NFL season. So what does Goodell give himself? An enormous fine? A monthlong suspension?

How about a settlement?

End this thing, Roger. You lost. And then do something painful: Publicly admit that you were wrong. Your father was a U.S. Senator, so you should know a fundamental lesson of political scandals: You have to hit bottom, get the worst behind you, and take full responsibility. Otherwise the scandal can swallow you.

Tell your players and fans that you're sorry, and then salute the real officials. You'll recognize them. They will be the ones lined up in the victory formation.

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