The latest unusual twist in the ongoing replacement official saga came Sunday courtesy of Brian Stropolo. Stropolo was scheduled to serve as the side judge in Week 2's Saints-Panthers game -- at least, until the NFL discovered that Stropolo appears to be a Saints fan.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday that Stropolo, a New Orleans area native, posted pictures of himself on Facebook from a tailgate prior to the Saints' Aug. 25 preseason game against Houston. As of noon on Sunday, Stropolo appeared to have deleted his Facebook page.
Each NFL officiating crew carries an alternate with it, mostly in case of injury. Such a scenario arose in last week's Lions-Rams game, when one of the game's officials suffered an injury during a play and had to be replaced. However, Stropolo's early dismissal will leave the Saints-Panthers crew shorthanded if one of the other game officials has to exit for some reason.
While the on-field performance has not resulted in any major, game-changing errors thus far, Stropolo's incident adds a little more indignity to the situation. Earlier during this process, replacement official Shannon Eastin -- who became the first female to officiate an NFL regular-season game (also that Lions-Rams contest) -- came under some fire when it was revealed that she had competed as a professional poker player. This morning, Albert Breer reported that an official who worked last week's Seahawks/Cardinals game has in the past worked as an official at Seahawks practices, possibly creating a conflict. And SI's Peter King wrote a couple weeks back about an official who picked up a flag after being yelled at by a coach, a big-time no-no in the refereeing world.
FOX's Mike Pereira, the former NFL VP of Officiating, alleged in August, too, that the league was embellishing the credentials of its replacement officials to save face.
There's been no official verdict from the league yet on Stropolo's status moving forward. At the very least, he figures to be barred from officiating any more Saints games, but can the league trust him to work others? Would Panthers, Falcons or Bucs fans feel comfortable with Stropolo working one of their teams' contests?
The NFL's regular officials have not had a lot of moments that gave them obvious leverage in their dispute with the league, but Stropolo's hiccup might do just that.