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09 Feb 2006

EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

By Michael David Smith

Hand(s) or arm(s) that encircle a defender -- i.e., hook an opponent -- are to be considered illegal and officials are to call a foul for holding. Blocker cannot use his hands or arms to push from behind, hang onto, or encircle an opponent in a manner that restricts his movement as the play develops.

-- Digest of rules, 2005 NFL Record & Fact Book, Page 770

By the above definition of holding, Seattle Seahawks right tackle Sean Locklear committed holding on the controversial fifth play of the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL. He hooked his right arm around the right shoulder of Pittsburgh linebacker Clark Haggans and restricted Haggans' movement. The call negated a pass that would have given Seattle first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. By the letter of the rules, it was the right call.

But if something is a penalty on one play, it should be a penalty on every play. And during the rest of the game, the officials didn't enforce holding by the letter of the rules. To determine whether the holding call was justified, I studied the tape of Super Bowl XL, watching both offensive tackles on every passing play to see how often they committed the type of infraction for which Locklear was penalized. The results are bad news for the NFL: Using the standard that was applied to Locklear on the infamous play, the four offensive tackles committed 22 uncalled holding penalties on passing plays.

By the letter of the rules, Locklear committed holding 10 times (he was flagged twice). Seattle left tackle Walter Jones should have been called six times. Pittsburgh tackles Marvel Smith and Max Starks should have been called four times each.

Here we present each of the four tackles and the plays on which they should have been flagged for holding:

Sean Locklear

Third-and-9, 12:40, first quarter: As Haggans rushed to the inside, Locklear reached his left arm out and hooked Haggans' left shoulder. Locklear was called for holding, and Haggans sacked Hasselbeck anyway.
Third-and-16, 5:53, first quarter: As Haggans rushed to the outside, Locklear used his arm to hang onto Haggans.
Third-and-23, 0:35, first quarter: At first Locklear engaged Haggans and seemed to get the better of the matchup, but as Haggans broke free and tried to rush to the outside, Locklear hooked him.
Third-and-5, 14:11, second quarter: Locklear got an arm around Haggans as Hasselbeck completed a pass to Joe Jurevicius.
Third-and-3, 8:47, second quarter: Haggans rushed to the inside and Locklear stuck his left arm out to restrict his rush.
Third-and-4, 13:45, third quarter: Locklear hooked defensive end Brett Keisel.
Third-and-15, 4:30, third quarter: Locklear wrapped his right arm around Haggans.
Third-and-5, 14:17, fourth quarter: Locklear hooked Haggans.
First-and-10, 12:35, fourth quarter: The infamous penalty call. Locklear's hold was no more flagrant here than on any of the previous seven uncalled holds. After he was flagged a second time, Seattle adjusted its offense to keep Locklear from having to block Haggans' outside rush, giving him outside help from Mack Strong for the rest of the game.
Second-and-10, 0:34, fourth quarter: One last time, Locklear hooked Haggans.

Walter Jones

Third-and-9, 12:40, first quarter: This was the first time Locklear was called for holding, and using the strict standard, Jones also should have been called. He hooked his left arm around Joey Porter.
Third-and-16, 5:53, first quarter: Smith again tried to get past Jones to the outside, and Jones hooked him.
First-and-10, 2:08, first quarter: This was the Darrell Jackson touchdown that was called back for offensive pass interference. If the officials had used the strict definition of holding all game, it also would have been called back for Jones getting his left arm around Porter as Porter rushed upfield.
Second-and-6, 1:13, second quarter: Porter tried to beat Jones to the inside, and Jones stuck his right arm around Porter's midsection.
Third-and-4, 13:45, third quarter: Jones used his left arm around Porter on an outside rush.
Third-and-15, 4:30, third quarter: Jones hooked Kimo von Oelhoffen with his left arm on an outside pass rush.

Max Starks

Third-and-19, 10:32, first quarter: Starks blatantly hooked Bryce Fisher -- a much more egregious hold than the one for which Locklear was flagged.
First-and-10, 4:53, second quarter: Craig Terrill looped to the outside and Starks hooked him with his right arm.
Second-and-10, 4:47, second quarter: Fisher rushed to the outside and Starks hooked him.
Third-and-4, 10:27, third quarter: Starks encircled Fisher with his right arm.

Marvel Smith

Third-and-19, 10:32, first quarter: Smith held Grant Wistrom.
First-and-10, 0:17, first quarter: Smith hooked Wistrom, then encircled him with both arms.
Second-and-20, 4:21, second quarter: Smith held Wistrom, Wistrom beat him for a sack anyway.
Third-and-2, 2:58, third quarter: Smith hooked Wistrom.

That's 16 uncalled holding penalties on Seattle and eight on Pittsburgh. Because Seattle passed more than twice as often as Pittsburgh did, Pittsburgh's tackles actually committed holding at a higher rate than Seattle's, although the Steelers were never flagged.

If the officials had called holding on two inconsequential plays and ignored it the rest of the time, no one would much care. But Locklear's penalty negated an 18-yard Jerramy Stevens catch that would have given the Seahawks first-and-goal from the one-yard line, where they very likely would have scored and taken a 17-14 lead with less than 12 minutes remaining in the game. Instead they faced first-and-20 from the 29-yard line, Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception three plays later, and Pittsburgh's subsequent touchdown effectively ended the game.

These are my opinions. Someone else watching the same plays might come to different conclusions, thinking there were more or fewer than 22 uncalled holds on the offensive tackles. But no fair observer can say that given the way the rest of the game was called, Locklear should have been assessed that game-changing penalty. Just as in boxing, two judges can watch the same fights and see different things, but when a judge goes beyond the pale, impartial analysts need to call him on it.

And if the NFL doesn't like having its officials compared to boxing judges, a good way to start would be to improve the way it defines penalties. The NFL needs tighten the definition of holding. Change the rules so that the actions described above, which happen on every play, are legal. Then, whatever is contained within the new, more narrow definition, needs to be called consistently and always.

As it stands, the definition of holding is a joke. Here's another part of the NFL's digest of rules:

A runner may ward off opponents with his hands and arms but no other player on offense may use his hands or arms to obstruct an opponent by grasping with hands, pushing, or encircling any part of his body during a block.

Pushing? PUSHING? If pushing is illegal, does anyone out there -- fan, player, coach, referee -- have a clue what is legal? Is there ever a play when an offensive lineman doesn't push a defensive lineman? The NFL has some explaining to do.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 09 Feb 2006

369 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2006, 4:27pm by dave


by jebmak (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:45am

I don't suppose that you could e-mail this helpful information to the NFL. It wouldn't do anything, but it might make us feel better. Thanks for doing the work to look at each play, I was wondering about it.

by James, London (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:46am

MDS, have you sent this analysis to the NFL? Someone should be made to explain the difference between the called and uncalled holds, and if they can't it's time to consider revision (clarification) of the rules.

EPC has been consistently excellent all year. Thanks, and looking forward to 2006.

by Sam B (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:47am

Mmm. Good article. Is it possible that it's just too much work for however many refs watch the line play? That everytime it was spotted in the SB it was called, but it wasn't spotted enough to be fair?

by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:49am

16 Seattle holds to 8 Pittsburgh holds?

Maybe we've discovered the secret sauce that makes Seattle's line so great - uncalled holding.

If Seattle got to cheat over a dozen times, while Pittsburgh cheats at half that number, Seattle probably deserved a couple of flags, and expecting every hold to be flagged is probably unrealistic (there are what, 7 Zebra's trying to watch 22 players over a couple of seconds?).

Them's the breaks.

Moral of the Story: Don't hold, and you can't get flagged for it.

Now stop whining about the officiating.

by Sam B (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:53am

Andrew, on a per play basis the Steelers held more often than the Hawks - the Hawks passed more than twice as much as the Steelers.

by Kevo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:53am

Great article. I often wonder if the NFL ever does any self-policing like this. If not, why?

by Tony (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:54am

Re #4 MDS states above that Pitt was actually holding at a higher rate then Pitt, due to the fewer number of pass attempts.

by Craig (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:56am

Another article about the refs?

Anyone who has ever watched a football game knows that holding is a stupidly called penalty. Holding could be called on every play. Sometimes it is called -- Sometimes it isn't called. I agree that it should be better. However, I think FO has gone over board with the complaining here.

Some have said that they feel cheated out out of a good Super Bowl. Well, I come to FO for football analysis, and for the last two years, it has been excellent. For the last week, though, it has just been complaining about the refs. I feel cheated out of the excellent analysis. I have talked up the site to my friends, and they come to it to read a bunch of whining about the refs. They aren't impressed. For the last week this site hasn't been any better than any other site out there, and that is disappointing.

by Sam B (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:58am

Having re-read Andrew's comment, I think I see his point. I think he's saying that the frequency of holding calls per hold is low, and that the frequency of holding calls the Steelers got (0/8) is within the standard error of the frequency of calls you would expect the Steelers to get (1/8) based on the frequency of Seahawks holding calls (2/16). Right?

by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:58am

The problem with this analysis is that it is missing key information: what the refs may have said. It's not uncommon for refs to warn OL about borderline holding infractions before throwing a flag on it. It's entirely possible they told Locklear "stop hooking Haggans on every play" and he didn't. If you notice, Jones was never called for holding despite hooking as often as the Steelers OL did.

by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:03pm

A couple of points:

1. The refs can only something they see. It's possible that some or many of these simply weren't seen. That doesn't say much for the refs, but nonetheless, it is a possible explanation for some being missed.

2. Depending on the referee's positioning, one play may look worse than another, and thus he chooses to flag that play. In this case, if the referee saw that Haggans would easily have sacked Hasslebeck without the hold, he may have deemed it to have been worse than another play he might have seen.

3. Considering how many plays Locklear should have been flagged for, perhaps the referee had just had enough. The refs may be willing to just let the guys play, and let things slide a little bit, but if you keep on doing it and keep on doing it, at some point the ref may decide to put a stop to it. It's also possible that some of the Steelers' players or Cowher had complained about the repeated uncalled holds, and the ref happened to throw them a bone on that play.

I imagine that one can look at a lot of games and find numerous uncalled holds that are no less egregious than the ones that get called. and I imagine that one can find numerous instances where the holding penalties are called onesided.

It happens. It sucks, but it happens. Teams just have to deal with it.

by Bob (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:06pm

Michael, This is an excellent article and one that I wish the more mainstream media would write. It actually I think makes the refs look pretty good. They nailed the guy doing the most holding. You always hear people say that you could call holding on every play, and your analysis comes close to backing that up, you didnt even look at guards, centers, TE, or RB and still got 22 holds. But when the refs flag it only twice, and both flags come on the guy doing it the most, then I think that speaks well of the refs.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:06pm

Great article, MDS. I agree with the conclusion of the article, but I think that the "infamous" Locklear hold was one that would get called most of the time because it seemed like Haggans got a great jump off the ball, and I imagine that everyone's attention was drawn to that, and then it was easier to see the Locklear hold and flag it.

Of course, I have not done the play-by-play analysis of each blocker, so perhaps there were other similar holds. I just think that Locklear caught a bad break because Haggans was in the backfield quickly, and holding was about the only way Locklear could stop Hasselbeck from getting clobbered.

by Craig (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:06pm

I understand expecting consistency, and I agree. However, this sort of comment confuses me:

But Locklear’s penalty negated an 18-yard Jerramy Stevens catch that would have given the Seahawks first-and-goal from the one-yard line, where they very likely would have scored and taken a 17-14 lead with less than 12 minutes remaining in the game.
Taken with:
But no fair observer can say that given the way the rest of the game was called, Locklear should have been assessed that game-changing penalty.

Make it seem like the outcome of the play was significant to whether there should have been a penalty called. The ref doesn't know the outcome of the play when he calls the penalty. Do you really think that he should wait to throw the flag, or do you think we should hear the ref make explanations like "There was no penalty on the play. The result of the play was too exciting."

I am honestly confused.

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:09pm

Hey, the NFL refs do a whole lot better job than the officials in Quidditch!

(Yes, the first thing I thought of when I saw the headline was "Harry Potter and the 22 Uncalled Holds".)

by jebmak (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:10pm

I'm not a big fan of, 'This part of the game isn't fair and won't be fair so deal with it.' It think that it is important to strive to make it fair (especially if that is your JOB). You could either call everything, or change the rules so that linemen can legally do what is now considered holding.

Also regarding everyone complaining, it happens when people feel cheated by anything, not just sports. Did you complain after the final Seinfeld episode? A lot of people did, and hopefully a lesson was learned and we won't have to watch a finale that sucks that bad again.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:11pm

*sucks that badly

by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:11pm

It would be a "reasonable call" if Haggans wasn't offsides on the play.

by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:14pm


Oh, I agree that improvement should be sought. But until it gets better, it's just something that teams have to deal with, like injuries. A holding penalty that negates a big gain isn't nearly as bad as tossing an interception a few plays later, you know.

by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:16pm


Except that he wasn't offsides. It's called figuring out the snap count and getting a good jump.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:19pm

If the game is going to improve, officiating is part of the equation for doing so, therefore it needs to be discussed. Along with tightening the definitions, and then enforcing the letter of the law more consistently, serious consideration needs to be given to expanding the officiating crews, to add an extra set of eyeballs to line play, and to the defensive backfield, to enforce pass interference more consistently. Making officials full-time employees has it's pros and cons, and I lean slightly to the pro side, but two extra set of eyeballs would undoubtedly expand the number of plays on which officials had good views of what happened between two players. If the rules were written better as well, things could improve.

by yunzer (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:19pm

I've been reading FO for 2+ years now, and I have to say that this is roughly the worst EPC ever.
I usually love EPC for the story behind the story, but today all I got was a complete lack of insight.
All you can come with is that the NFL doesn't call holding nearly as much as it occurs. Yeah, thanks, I too have seen more than one NFL game.
While I'm sure you probably did a very thorough job cataloging the uncalled holds and I applaud that, it's just not interesting because it's so blindingly obvious.

(Steeler homer disclaimer: I'm only grunting about this article being boring. I'll freely admit we got all the close calls.)

by admin :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:24pm

Football Outsiders has never been afraid to call things like it sees them. That hasn't changed. It just so happens that some of our readers don't like the opinions of some of the FO writers on this issue. And FO is not a monolithic force -- each writer has his own opinion on what happened Sunday.

But the point of this article is not "the Seahawks got jobbed." The point of this article is that the holding penalty as currently defined and called in the NFL makes no sense. According to that last bit Mike quoted, every single block in the NFL is illegal. Instead of having one side screaming conspiracy and the other side trying to pretend that everything is fine and dandy, perhaps we can all get together to fix this problem so that NFL officials call games in a more consistent fashion -- and so that fans of all 32 teams have more faith in those officials to not unfairly influence the game, whether the issue is a holding call or an overturned interception

If people don't want to read about officiating or the Super Bowl, there's plenty of other material on the site, including Scramble and tomorrow's first Four Downs.

by Michael David Smith :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:24pm

No, I haven't sent this analysis to the NFL. I'm sure they'll see it once it's on FoxSports.com, though.

johnt, I disagree with you strongly about the referees warning players. There's nothing in the digest of rules that says anything about the officials warning players. If the officials are only going to hold players to the letter of the rules after issuing warnings, that should be made clear in the digest of rules.

I do want to make clear that I was only focusing on whether or not the tackles committed holding on each passing play. Holding by other players, holding on running plays, whether or not Haggans was offside -- other people can argue about those, but I wanted to confine this piece to that specific question.

Craig, I'm honestly confused by your confusion. Of course I don't think the result of the play should have any bearing on whether the official throws a flag. I can't figure out why you think the passage you quoted indicates otherwise. Perhaps a neutral third party can tell us where we're not seeing eye to eye.

by Bob (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:24pm

Yunzer, well "getting all the close calls" is one thing, but the sentiment around this web site (although not necessarily in this article) seems to be that the League, the Refs, Tags, ESPN, and The Trilateral Commission all conspired to ensure that the desperately inferior Steelers were gifted a Super Bowl that they did not deserve to even be in, much less win. And of course, who can argue with that?

by pawnking (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:29pm

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Although Pitt might have won the game with more even officiating, the officials close calls all went to Pittsburgh, and they defintely came at critical points, taking the game out of the players' hands.

I am not impressed by fans saying "stop whining" and "well, you should have executed the two minite drill better." While there were poor parts of Seattle's game, there were terrible parts to Pittsburgh's. Pitt was lucky to win, and part of the luck was one-sided officiating.

I don't think the officials were biased or incompetent. But I do think they were inconsistent. And that's a shame.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:29pm

Craig, I interpreted that remark as saying that the penalized play wasn't even close to being among the most flagrant incidents of holding, and thus it should not have been called. Locklear's first hold, for instance, was clearly egregious holding, and should have been called. Other instances of egregious holding, much more blatant than Locklear's second penalty, went uncalled. If the penalties are not going to be assessed with anything close to 100%, or even 90% constancy, then at least it should be reserved for the most egregious incidents.

by bleyle (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:31pm

The conclusion that it was a bad call because it was a game-changing play is a stretch, don't you think? The flag is thrown before the completion of the play, there fore no knowledge of its effect can had by the official. I think it's interesting to note that holding was called on a first down play, as opposed to many third down plays (obviously there is more passing on third down than first). However, third down is a far more critical down in that its success or failure often determines possesion. By throwing a flag on a first down play, it's possible the referee is trying to make his point about holding, but doing it on a seemingly less critical down. In retrospect it seems critical because of the completion of the play to Stevens. Again, the referee doesn't know this when he removes the flag. I wonder if the officials are this subtle in their thinking in that they know holding goes on constantly. They can't call it constantly or the ganes would never end. They have to call the penalty at points in the game where it sends a message to the offenseive player while hopefully not dramatically affectting the outcome. Any play can be a zero gain or a TD, but by calling the penalty on first down as opposed the third down the officials are trying to minimize some of the risk. In this instance it failed. Again, it's important to note that there's no garuntee that the Seahakws score if the play goes there way. See Bettis Fumble.

by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:34pm

MDS: The point is that it is commonly accepted that there is far more holding going on than is actually called. In every game. Nobody disputes this. Your argument is presumably that this matters because it is applied inequitably or in an unfair manner.

Whether or not refs warn OL before calling less egregious technique holds has a direct bearing on this. Personally, what this article told me was that of the OT in the game, 3 were playing legitimately and one was mugging the hell out of rushers because he was being regularly beat by Haggans' great jump on the snap count. I don't have any problem with the flag on him. If there was a flag on Jones I would be rather disturbed.

by Tequila (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:37pm

I never knew that one could only hold on passing plays.

by Tequila (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:38pm

Eh, never mind. Just read the qualifier.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:38pm

johnt., you ignore that Pittsburgh's tackles were actually holding at a higher rate per examined play. They were mugging at a rate which exceeded Locklear.

by James Gibson (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:41pm

Assuming all the nubmers are right, Locklear still held at a higher rate than either of the Pittsburgh tackles (10/49 > 4/22). Maybe not at the rate of being called, but we're judging an incredibly small sample size by this.

by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:42pm

i haven't ventured into the morass that is the audibles comment thread but i'd like to comment briefly on the statement, "We were all robbed of a good Super Bowl by the officials," sentiment.

frankly, i think the refs didn't steal a good game from us. the teams did. however you happen to feel about the penalties, i have to say that even if none of those had occured it still would have been a lousy game. both teams easily played their worst games of the year. regardless of refs or outcome it still would have been a lousy, sloppy game.

by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:44pm

Will Allen: Do you think the refs are out on the field dividing the number of plays the Seahawks ran by the number of times they've hooked? The Steelers tackles hooked one time per quarter. Locklear was doing it 2.5 times per quarter. It's a lot more likely Locklear is going to get noticed and warned, then caught simply because he's doing it so much.

by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:46pm

To clarify, what I mean is that holding penalties are clearly not linear. If your team runs 10 plays and you hold on one of them you are a whole hell of a lot less likely to get called than if your team runs 50 plays and you hold on 5, despite the "adjusted hold rate" being the same.

by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:46pm

The voice in the wilderness cries, "Is FO going to do any analysis of or commentary on anything in the game other than the officiating?"

by Falco (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:46pm

And if the NFL doesn’t like having its officials compared to boxing judges, a good way to start would be to improve the way it defines penalties. The NFL needs tighten the definition of holding

I'm with you on that one. That definition is so ambiguous, potentially broad, and open to interpretation. One example is the word "encircle." Here is the definition I just looked up- "to shut in on all sides." I do not know how a player can encircle another player with his hands, unless that player is an action figure. With the arms, I am picturing a bear hug with both arms, or one arm wrapped around the neck.

But then, in parentheses, it says "i.e. hooking." I do not think those are synonmyms, you can hook (bend elbows/wrist?) and encircle, but you can also hook but not encircle.

The push from behind seems confusing and superfluous. I would think a push from behind would constitute a penalty for a "block in the back", and should not be in the definition for holding.

Maybe FO should draft and revise a more workable rule to put forth.

by Harry (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 12:47pm

Discussion of the officiating in the Superbowl is not only a legitimate topic on FO, it should be a concern to anyone who truly cares about the NFL. This is not "whining about the refs", the NFL is facing a serious image problem. With all the focus on statistics and analysis I think some people here have forgotten that the primary purpose of football is entertainment. I know quite a lot of casual football fans who were not "entertained" at all by the Superbowl, they were disgusted. Now you can point to all sorts of technical reasons why the refs are correct and the casual fans are wrong but if the fans stop watching and stop caring that argument quickly becomes irrelevant. Overcomplexity of rules and lack of consistent application of those rules is becoming a real problem and to just wish this away with a statement like 'there have always been bad calls' is whistling past the graveyard.

by Craig (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:05pm

MDS, so much of your discussion of that play is about how important the play was. I think that gave me the impression that the importance of the play should have some bearing on the the penalty. However, you made the important point earlier in the article. That if these penalties had been called on inconsequetial plays, then nobody would have cared. That's absolutely true. If that is the reason you focused on the importance of the play, then that's fine.

This particular play was very important not only because they should have had the ball on the 2 yard, but because of what happened after it. On the next three plays, they allowed a sack, gained a few yards on a run, and threw an interception. If they had gone on to score a touchdown, then nobody would have cared.

This sequence is particularly interesting because of what the Steelers did in a similar situation earlier in the game. Right before the Steelers scored at the end of the first half, they threw a screen pass to Jerome Bettis that gained 5 yards to the Seattle 17. The play was called back because of offensive pass interference on Heath Miller. They never showed a replay, but I can tell you that Heath Miller was no where near the action of the play. Instead of 3rd and 5, the Steelers are faced with 2nd and 20. After a sack, they are at 3rd and 28. It is a pretty similar situation to Seattle. The Steelers were lucky/good enough to still get a touchdown out of it. If Roethlisberger had thrown an interception, which led to a Seattle touchdown and a 10 point Seattle half time lead, we might be scrutinizing that offensive pass interference play a little more. As it is, this is a perfect example of what people are talking about when they say the Steelers made plays when they had to.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:05pm

MDS, could you take note of where the officials were on the uncalled holds when breaking this down?

People speed all the time, it's illegal, if there are not cops around they can't enforce it. Just because they can't enforce things they can't see doesn't mean they have no right to do so when they do catch it.

Maybe what we should do is have 22 officials on the field. Or have one guy with an array of monitors reviewing each play from multiple angles, looking for infractions. We'd make the play clock 2:00 and allow for full booth review before each snap. Seems like a good way to increase the entertainment value to me.

by James, London (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:09pm

Any system of rules should be simple to understand, and simple to enforce. Does anyone believe that the NFL rule book (or the part of it available to the plebs) meets that definition?

If the guys responsible for refereeing the game aren't certain, and this season and the playoffs in particular (not just the SB) has shown that, then it's time for a redrafting session.

by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:11pm

#33: It's actually 10/57 > 4/28. For Seattle, the plays with pass blocking are 49 pass attempts minus one spike (48), plus three sacks, plus 3 scrambles, plus three plays negated by penalty (57 total). For Pittsburgh, it's 22 pass attempts, plus one sack, plus 3 scrambles, plus one QB draw, plus one play negated by penalty. So Locklear was holding on 17.5% of plays with pass blocking, the Steelers' tackles were holding on 14.3% of plays with pass blocking (if you don't like my including the QB draw, call it 14.8%), and Jones was holding on 10.5% of plays with pass blocking.

I don't think the officials are thinking about "holding rates" in the game, though. I think it's more likely that an official sees this de jure holding over and over, lets it go (for both teams), and every so often a play comes up where the official says to himself, "Nope, I can't let that one go." It could be, in his eyes, too blatant to not call: the pass rusher goes to the ground as he's heading straight for the QB. It could be, in his eyes, the straw that breaks the camel's back: this hold is no worse than any of 6 others, but I gotta stop it. I don't know what Bill Leavy was thinking when he threw the flag; neither does anyone else but Bill Leavy.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:13pm

Just another thought on this. On the play that dare not speak its name, it seemed fairly clear to me that if Haggans isn't hooked, he gets to Hasselbeck before he throws the ball.

Does the official language on holding provide any sort of discretion regarding the impact of the holding (i.e. don't worry about it if it happens away from the play??). From a logical standpoint (which is probably not where the NFL rules come from) it makes sense to not penalize holds that have no impact on the outcome of the play. I guess it would be dubious if an official could know if a hold ultimately impacts the outcome of a play.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:13pm

I don’t think the officials were biased or incompetent. But I do think they were inconsistent. And that’s a shame.

#26, Pawnking, I liked all of your post, but I especially liked the comment above. It's not about "whining" or who got the calls, or even who won the game. It's about being consistent enough that the teams know how they have to play so that the game taken out of their hands.

by jeff t (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:18pm

According to some reports, Locklear was warned by the refs that his technique was holding/borderline holding throughout the game. On the call in question, it looked close from the replays shown during the game. From the other side angle, it was a clear hold. Haggans was by him and Locklear had is arm on Haggans chest. Linked is a still shot picture that shows this clearly, IMO[warning: the link is to a Steelers fan site]. That said, Haggans MAY have been offsides on the play. Should off-setting penalties have been called? Or does the offsides negate the holding call?

by calvin (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:20pm

another aspect to the discussion is whether the physical field positions of the officials responsible for calling holding on the line is optimal these days. The holding calls under discussion appear when the pass rusher turns the corner - the bodies turning away from the line judges, the holding occurring inside. The ref's first priority is the "protecting" the qb so picking the action from the tackles on each side is secondary.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:24pm

#44: Columns elsewhere from officials say that this is the case (if the penalty materially affected the outcome of the play). I doubt it would show up in the rules, but that's the only way that the game wouldn't last 15 hours.

by Craig (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:28pm


To say that there is plenty of other content on the site is a little silly. There have been 4 articles so far this week. Two of them have been nearly exclusively about the refs (audibles and EPC), one of them most of the text about the refs (Quick reads), the other had almost nothing about the Super Bowl. Reading FO on the Super Bowl, you might get the impression that two things happened in the game: the refs were horrible, and Tom Rouen can't punt.

I actually would love to read about the Super Bowl. There are some interesting questions left unanswered. The Steelers two biggest defensive players (Porter and Polamalu) were almost invisible in the game. Why was that (Walter Jones is probably the reason Porter didn't do anything)? Why did Jackson have 5 catches in the first quarter, and none the rest of the game (did he just step out of bounds too much)? Did the Seattle defense do something spectial to cause Ben to have a bad game? These are the types of questions that I expect FO to answer, and I am disappointed that it hasn't happened.

I love the site. It is clearly the best football site on the web. This week just hasn't been your best week in my opinion.

by Kris (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:28pm

Why stop here? Let's go back through all of football history, and rewrite the outcome of every game based on missed holding calls?

by GaryS (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:33pm

Great article. This underscores what I said earlier; there are too many types of penalties, and too much judgment is involved in their enforcement.

What would be wrong with eliminating holding, except for grabbing someone with your hand or hooking/tackling them from behind? If penalties are defined in a way that they are obvious, then they will be enforced more consistently.

I would be interested in am similar study on (1) pass interference/illegal contact, both off and def, and (2) blocking infractions on returns. How can these penalties be simplified so that an infraction is obvious and more likely to be consistently enforced? Fewer penalties make for a better game, for the fans, the players and the League.

With respect to penalties in general, the focus needs to be on the safety of the players first. For example, many rule changes in the recent have favored the offense, especially the passing game. To compensate, the defenses put more and more emphasis on rushing the QB. This results in more injuries to the QB, and more late season games where the fans get to see Todd Bollinger and Mike McMahon scatter the ball about the field, and who wants to see that? I'd much rather watch NFL caliber QBs struggle against good defenses, than 3rd and 4th stringers try to score against defenses that have the rules stacked against them.

by Joel Dias-Porter (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:42pm

#24 MDS
I'm a Steelers homer, but still, some of your sentiments above are ridiculous. It is common knowledge to all NFL players and coaches (and viewers of NFL Films) that officials warn players, then flag them if they continue their offending behavior. Why would this need to be in the digest? And your article makes way too big a deal about the outcome of the one big play, in a truly IMPARTIAL analysis, the outcome of the above plays where holding occurred would be irrelevant, since the official can't know that when he throws the flag. Basically what you're saying is that the guy who held the most, got the most calls, nothing unfair about that. Unlucky for SEA when it happened, certainly, very much so, but that's all it is, bad luck. Also it is entirely possible that the official threw the flag on the second SL hold, because the OT gained so much of an advantage on that play, after all if he doesn't hold, then MH gets sacked.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:42pm

Yes, John, and that's part of the problem; the rule is so inconsistently enforced, either due to a bad angle (which could be alleviated by an extra set of eyes), or because officials have differing interpretations of the rule, or even worse, that a single official will have the interpretation of the rule change as the game progresses, because the call is dependent on which player he has seen more often, or because of some other factor, like whether he has issued a warning, that the rule becomes meaningless, and a holding penalty just becomes a random event.

Heck, why not just have ping-pong balls drawn through a tube, lotto-style, and hand out penalties every twenty minutes or so? It'd be cheaper than hiring a referee, and more aesthetically pleasing; we could have the cheerleaders do it!

The goal of officiating is to call the infraction every time, in exactly the same manner, no matter if it is the first possession of the game, or the last possession, whether you have seen the player do it seven times, or if it is the first time you've seen him do it. Can perfection be attained? No, of course not, but right now, the NFL isn't even trying to meet this standard in regards to holding.

What I actually see more often in the NFL, and has been a constant source of irritation to me for years, is precisley the mirror image of what we saw Sunday; offcials whose interpretations of holding will grow increasingly lax as the game progresses, especially in tight games, or when a team is mounting a comeback. It gets to the last half of the fourth quarter, and pass rushers are flat-out getting tackled without drawing a flag. Who knows? Maybe the bad angles are more prevalent in the fourth quarter. That Leavey engaged in the same behavior on Sunday, except in the other direction, is no better.

It is not "whining" to make the observation that officiating affects the quality of the product, and that officiating in regards to holding is so wildly inconsistent now that the quality of the product is now being harmed. That it happened in the Super Bowl now just puts a larger spotlight on the issue.

by savac (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:43pm

To me this article can be viewed as defending the refs. The rules (as written) make it impossible to call the game fairly. It seems like the refs have to pick and choose when they are going to call holding to keep things clean, since they they can't call it on every play (even though the rule would require it). It's like in basketball when the refs call a few touch fouls when things start to get physical, to keep the game from getting out of hand. The difference is in basketball the refs know the play in question won't be pivotal to the game, and in football the refs don't.

by Craig (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:46pm

I would like to apologize for my use of the word 'whining'. It is unnecessarily inflammatory.

I agree that a discussion of the officiating is great. There should be changes made. My problem is that it is being discussed so much that nothing else is being discussed. Those of us who cared about the game would like to see some analysis of the game. People who didn't care about the outcome of the game would rather discuss topics that will improve the NFL product as a whole.

I just hoped to get some discussion of something other than the refs.

by the K (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:49pm

#46: I would think that, if the official throws a flag for offsides then lets the play continue, he'd be unlikely to throw a second flag for a hold on the OT if he commits holding on the guy who jumped. Even if he isn't "unabated to the quarterback" it would be foolish to penalize the OT for protecting his QB from getting killed by a guy who just got flagged 5 yards "for cheating" as Kenny Mayne might say. At the least, I seem to recall a couple instances where an offsides player looked held to me and no holding was called, and I never remember seeing holding and offsides be offsetting penalties.

Good EPC MDS, thanks for the research.

by Smeghead (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:49pm

MDS -- I'm a Seattle homer and as outraged about the Locklear hold as anyone.

But I can't agree with what you've written in #24. Anyone who's officiated any sport (at least, any with lots of players and plenty of contact) knows that the gray areas for these penalties are vast, and might be very differently enforced with internal consistency by different referees. It's a game-management tool for officials to talk to players, tell them to back off when they've done something that's close, or that's technically over the line but didn't affect the play, even in some cases to talk a player out of committing a penalty you see he's about to commit. You just can't throw the flag that often. Just as clearly, you can't write formally into the rules, "the first two holds are free."

I agree it would be nice if the rulebook as a whole were clearer, and the rules as written bore a closer resemblance to those that are actually called. But you're never going to get a completely bright line here. And for that matter, a lot of the ambiguity and contradictions in rulebooks results from attempts to legislate too much specificity. The horsecollar rule is a great example -- should there really be a specific rule about it? Is it a rule if it's never actually called? This word "immediately" in the statute ... how are you supposed to interpret that?

Discretion in officiating is like toothpaste in a closed tube. You can't get rid of it. You can only squeeze it to a different location.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:51pm

Joel, should not the NFL endeavor to reduce the degree to which luck decides the outcomes of games? Would not more consistent enforcement of the rules help in this regard, whithout harming the product in other ways?

by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 1:57pm

For whatever its worth, Haggans was not offsides. I saw a still the other day where you can see him not quite across the LOS after the ball is snapped. He and Hampton both got ridiculous jumps on the snap, I think they had Seattle's quick snap read.

by James Thrash (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:04pm

Excellent article. To those unhappy because they think all this talk of poor officiating takes away from the Steelers win, relax. Your team did a better job on Sunday, and deserved to win. As a fan of one of the other 30 NFL teams, I'm just interested to see how the top-rated NFL crew handled this aspect of the game. If I remember right, Aaron said a while back that FO had been doing research about officiating for the next book. Good timing.

by Israel (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:04pm

After he was flagged a second time, Seattle adjusted its offense to keep Locklear from having to block Haggans’ outside rush, giving him outside help from Mack Strong for the rest of the game.

I cannot help wondering how the game would have played out had the officials called Locklear for a second time on say his third or fourth hold, as they apparently should have. Would Mack Strong have played lineman for three full quarters? What effect would that have had?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:06pm

I disagree, Smeghead. I've refereed and umpired also, and I've found the quickest way to modify behavior which I wish to end is to apply the negative conditioning the first time I see the behavior which violates the rule , and then tell the player, if it isn't blindingly obvious, why the penalty was assessed. Humans, like mules, adjust their behavior more quickly in response to the actual application of the two by four, compared to the threatend application. If you've ever dealt with a drill instructor, you'll notice that they don't get people to modify behavior as quickly as possible by threatening punitive measures.

Of course, clearly written rules help in this regard as well, but the sooner the negative conditioning is applied, the sooner you are more likely to see the behavior end, and thus improve the flow of the game. If application of the current rules of holding would result in too many holding penalties, or too many sacks, to have a quality football game, then the rules need to be written differently, and then applied with as much consistency as humanly possible, from the first infraction to the last.

by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:09pm

#60: I'm not unhappy because all this talk of poor officiating takes away from the Steelers win, I'm with Craig: unhappy because all this talk of poor officiating takes away from talk of anything else.

by Don Denkinger (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:12pm

I'd agree with # 54. To my eye, this makes the refs' calls (at least with respect to holding) more defensible. I think it is safe to expect that the player with the most gross holds, rather than the highest holding rate, to get flagged. This is particularly the case if he has been warned. To put it into a real world context: who is likely to get more speeding tickets? A guy who drives every day and speeds half the time, or a guy who drives the same route 4 times a year and speeds every single time?

It's also interesting to note that 80% of Locklear's holds were on third down, which may suggest that he 'needed' to hold on obvious passing downs. In contrast, 4 of Jones' 6 holds were on 3rd, and only half of Smith and Starks' were. DISCLAIMER: sample sizes are small and I have no concrete recollection of what the down distribution of each teams' passes were.

by Steve Z (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:13pm

Re: Craig, #14

A slam dunk criticism.

A good rule of thumb for OL: You can test the officials and the rules by holding pass rushers, but you will get called for holding from time to time. You are taking a calculated gamble that won't always payoff in your favor.

by Joel Dias-Porter (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:14pm

#58 Of course they should, but nothing he suggested does that. No matter how finely you define some things there will always be gray areas, or room for judgement. For example, you Will have written that you didn't feel that this particular hold was that bad, but AFTER SL is beat, he clearly attempts to tackle (pull down) CH and almost succeeds, he doesn't let go until CH is all the way past him and starting to fall. I have written from the start (when I saw it live) that I felt this was BLATANT holding. We don't disagree on if holding occurred but as to the severity of it, how could this be anything other than a subjective judgement? I have Steeler homer eyes and you have Steeler hater eyes and that colors both of our judgements. My point is that what MDS claims he's asking for is impossible in the real world.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:16pm

Re: 49

My take from this article (which I enjoyed even though I'm tired of discussing the SB40 officiating) wasn't so much that the refs were horrible. The key points to me were that 1) the calls made may have influenced the outcome and 2) the holding rules as currently written are byzantine and in need of clarification.

by Chris Owen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:17pm

Commenting on Jackson's non-TD:

When I saw this play happen, I was convinced I knew what the rule was because of a play dealing with what I believe was the exact same situation in the 2002 season. This was Gannon's best season, and he had probably his best game on MNF in Denver. This was the game in which almost every pass he threw was complete, mostly in an effective dink and dunk passing, but then he went long to Rice at the goal line corner. I thought there was no way the pass would be caught in bounds, and to the best of my memory, Rice caught the ball, got one foot in, and kicked the pylon with the other. The play was ruled a TD (no review, I believe). At least Rice kicked the base of the pylon, but I'm convinced that there was no way that second foot was entirely in bounds.

So when the play went down at the Super Bowl, I told my buddies that if he kicked the pylon, it was a TD. They very quickly showed the replay, and in that one look at the replay, I thought he didn't kick the pylon, so I let it go. I finally watched it again, and I saw what everyone else agrees on: he did kick the pylon.

My memory of Rice's play could easily be faulty, but I think I see inconsistency here.

by Kevo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:22pm

This comment thread is ridiculous. Whether you think the Seahawks got jobbed or not, or whether you think MDS thinks the Seahawks got jobbed or not, is impertinent to the main point of the article.

The point is that if the NFL wants to avoid controversy over holding calls, they need to properly define what holding is, and be consistent in penalizing holding. MDS demonstrated clearly that the refs were inconsistent in calling holding. Go ahead and fire back with your smartass comments about how everybody already knows that the refs have never called holding consistently, but he does a good job by going over ever single specific case.

The NFL is missing the forest for the trees; MDS is just pointing out the trees.

by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:23pm

I think #40 and #41 above are perhaps the two best comments I've read on FO since the Superbowl.

I also think there's some sort of logical disconnect in that certain Seattle fans (not claiming MDS is such, as I know for a fact he isn't) would use the above analysis to claim that the holding call was bad, but also say the OPI shouldn't have been called because, in the playoffs, you're supposed to "let the players play" and not call a lot of penalties.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:43pm

To be more precise, Joel, I have written that this call was inconsistent with the most prevalent application of the rule, which is why I object to it. That isn't how holding is normally called.

Now, to prove my contention would require measures that nobody is going to take. Have a panel of recently retired offensive tackles and perimeter pass rushers sit down and, without knowledge of when flags were thrown, view several hundred randomly selected pass plays, and select 50 or so which they think most resemble the interaction which was seen on Sunday, and then see what percentage of that 50 actually resulted in a penalty. My hunch would be less than 10% of the time, and certainly less than 20% of the time, is what was seen on that play results in a flag, and this, to me , indicates it was a very bad call.

by JSG (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:44pm

Wow. I've heard more complaining from this site then Seattle (and I love what this site does). Again, yards, TOP, and turnovers are great stats, but they are just that - stats. They don't give points for stats.

Seattle could not sustain a drive for many reasons (notably the Steelers defense) The Steelers overcame mistakes and penalties better than Seattle. Hence they scored more points than Seattle and won. Strange game ... yes, but these games happen. yards, completions, TOP does not mean a THING if they don't lead to the endzone. How about Seattle's lack of any big play? They moved around the field but failed to break anything - Football games come down to a few plays and Seattle made none of them.

With regard to holding, its not as though the ref waited to see if the throw was a completion to the 1 before calling holding on locklear - if that was an incompletion (and Madden doesn't mention it on TV) no one ever talks about it. Besides the ref didn't make Hasselbeck throw an awful INT on the next play

This is really starting to sound like sour grapes.

by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:44pm

From someone who spent a fair amount of time educating people in new technology/industrial applications the NFL would be well served to

--define offensive holding

--generate examples available in text form, videotape, DVD, mpeg.

--gather all officials and review together and in crews.

Repeat last step over and over and over and over and over again.

Tabulate holding games called per game per crew over the course of a season (and seasons)

Look for crews comprising the maxs and mins. Analyze in more depth and review results with crews.

Folks can harp about "each game is different" and "what, are we setting quotas now?". But the only way to systematically alter a currently flawed method is to

--define the expectations

--educate folks on the expectations

--monitor their performance


You have to close the loop.

Where the NFL has REPEATEDLY failed is that some new rule is implemented or an "old" rule is believed to be going uncalled and the league makes a big hoo ha about reviewing this with the officials and the teams. And then for about three months into the following season fans watch as some arcane rule gets assessed. And by December it's forgotten.

Classic example, defense drawing offense offsides. Rule was created and for about two seasons you would see a defense get called for inducing the offense into moving prematurely. Now it's just illegal procedure like it was forever.

Oh, and make physical fitness a priority. These older guys with their pot bellies, bad reflexes, and 20/40 vision have got to go.

And as an old guy myself I can cast that stone. :)

by Duane (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:45pm

Unless I missed it, nobody has pointed out that part of the problem, in the case of the Super Bowl, is that the NFL still insists on creating an "All-Star" officiating crew for that game. How do they, and how can we, expect a group who has not worked together to perform at a high level? There have been discussions, quite probably on this site, as to the overall "quality" of the various crews, and the NFL grades crews as well as individual officials, so why don't they send the crew with the best season grade to call the biggest game of the year? That might go a long way, at least in the SB, to elevate the consistency of rule interpretations and enforcement on the field.

by tmac (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:46pm

I wonder how deep the conspiracy goes.Was it just the NFL or did the Rolling Stones also have the refs under their thumb?

by Kris (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:46pm

Much of the criticism has to do with claiming these calls took away a chance for an "exciting" game.

In that regard, the NFL and the refs deserve considerable credit. They have an interest in an "exciting" game; and from their point of view, excitement means offense and scoring. Look at the way they've tweaked the rules regarding the passing game over the last 30 years: they've generally been geared to make it easier to throw the ball.

The criticism of the refs is much ado about nothing; it's the result of increased scrutiny. Relative to most NFL games, not only was the Super Bowl not poorly officiated; it was actually well-officiated.

The attention on the refs is, in my opinion, more a result of a generally lazy media incapable of interpreting and narrating for readers a game which featured good defense, but not necessarily a lot of dramatic defensive plays.

by Tim (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 2:46pm

Aaron, the issue is not "It just so happens that some of our readers don’t like the opinions of some of the FO writers on this issue." You and the other writers (with the exception of Ned Macey, kudos to him), went way over the line in criticizing the officiating. Spouting the popular opinion on dubious evidence is certainly not up to the standard of the rest of your work. It was very disappointing.

by Tim (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:01pm

The reason the Locklear hold was called when others were ignored was that Locklear was beaten by a whole step by Haggans. The referee can clearly see the hold because of the seperation (an arms length) between Locklear and Haggans. He HAS to make that call. People are debating whether Haggans was offsides, and he might have been, it's very close on both that play and the next one where Hampton sacks Hasselbeck. If he got the great jump (and it's legal) because the snap count had gotten too predictable, then Hasselbeck is partly to blame here.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:02pm

How about something like this:

Holding is defined by two parts- position and contact. It occurs when the the definition is satisfied and the movement of the held player is impeded in a fashion such that it has a relatively immediate, meaningful impact on the flow of the game.

The holding player must be below, to the side, or behind the held player from the held player's frame of reference.

To constitute a hold, the holding player must have (1) grabbed the held player with his hands or (2) draped his hand or arm over the front or side of the held player while the players were moving in different directions.

"relatively immediate" shall mean a short peroid of time subsequent to the hold, no longer than 5 seconds.
"meaningful impact" shall mean inteference with the goals of the held player on the play including but not limited to rushing the quarterback, running a route, and pursuing the ball carrier.

All actions that satisfy the requirements of this rule shall be considered holding penalties. This rule does not, and is not designed to, encompass all actions considered a holding penalty, for performing which a player may therefore be penalized.

I like something like that. Some hard-and-fast rules that allow the refs to separate questionable holds, includes defensive holding, includes a way to throw out unimportant holds a team should not be penalized for, and lets the ref call obvious yet bizzare instances of holding.

I, also, am kind of disappointed by this article. I like the idea that we should talk about officiating, but it just seems a bit analysis-heavy, and really isn't all that damning of the refs. I understand that Aaron and I (and probably MDS) are never going to agree about the officiating. It would have been nice to see a discussion about some other aspects of the game.

I do like discussing the rules in abstract. What do people think about a rule like that?

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:09pm

Well, if we can all agree that holding happens on every play, and holding should be consistently called, are we ever going to be able to see a play run? For those who demand consistency, an entirely reasonably demand, what would you like to see? Change the rule to where it only applies when a lineman tackles someone? I would like to see some brave soul draft this new rule and post it on this site for our consideration. And when I say draft the new rule, I do not mean simply say "There are no holds unless you tackle someone." Write it out like you would like to see it in the rulebook.

Then, to insure greater consistency, also rewrite the rule on pass interference, because that one is not called consistently either. Then write one for illegal contact past five yards, because that is not called consistently either. Then write one for illegal hands to the face, cause that one happens very often and is rarely called. Write one on delay of game, because that one is not called consistently either.

Consistency would be nice, and I am sure that the NFL strives to achieve it. But I do not care what rule exists in any arena - there is a human element in officiating, and there is inconsistent officiating in every sport in every level. (Check various umpire's strike zones, for instance).

We would all like to have a Super Bowl (or any other game for that matter) decided on the merits of the teams, and to be totally free of controversy. So, I have no problem with those people who wish that had occurred in the Super Bowl. But I do not think it makes sense to bash referees for calling a penalty when it WAS a penalty. From what MDS has written, if holding had been called consistently Seattle would not have been able to ever put together any drives, because Locklear was a holding machine. I think Clark Haggans should file a protest, because if he hadn't been held so much he might have got the MVP and drove off in the Escalade.

by Ken (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:15pm

Thanks for doing the work on the penalties, but I just don't agree with your analysis of the data. The refs called more penalties on the team that committed more penalties. I think that's doing a good job. Your argument about the rate of penalties per play doesn't make sense in the real world. People have made good points about speeding. The more often you do it, the more likely you are to get a ticket. I'd like to see someone bring up the "but I never got ticketed before for going 70" defense or the "I only speed 30% of the time" defense in a court room.

It's almost like someone is conspiring to make officiating the only story from this game, even when the statistics say otherwise. The guilty parties here are the SeaHawks and Steelers who both played pretty lousy games. If they had played better no one would even care about the refs.

by nat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:22pm

MDS, great article (mostly). Though, I would have liked it if you had cited my audibles discussion post when you wrote about the effect of the number of pass plays on the number of penalties. (smile)

Your data, although subjective, is about the best we can hope for in looking at non-called penalties. That Pittsburgh committed 33% of the holds (in your judgment) while running 30% of the pass plays is a pretty good sign that the teams were similar in their blocking/holding techniques. If you had seen one less hold by Pittsburgh, it would have been 30% - almost too exact a match to be believed.

As I have said elsewhere, if the teams used similar techniques, then a 2-0 and 1-1 split on called penalties are equally likely. So no signs of a problem there.

In your analysis, you focus on the idea that one hold that was called was both (a) less deserving of a call than other holds, and (b) on a more important play than other holds. And you conclude that the rules on holding need to be changed to prevent this from happening again.

(b) was a little silly, in my opinion, and I hope in yours as well. The referee making the call might be able to see that the pass was thrown, but he's decided the penalty before he notices the completion. He may be aware of the game clock and score, but the NFL is never going to say that holding is legal in the last ten minnutes of a game, or for the team with fewer points, or on complete passes.

What's more, there were plenty of plays where a holding call would have been critical. Most drives will stop after a holding call. In terms of importance, I would think that third-down holding calls have the most impact.

(a) is more interesting. What makes a hold deserving of a penalty? Or more importantly, how would we want refs to make that judgment? (I'm assuming we want them to call enough holds to discourage the practice, but not enough to slow the games down)

Visibility: refs should only call holds they can see.

Clarity: the more flagrant the hold is, the more likely it should be that the ref calls it. For example, if you pull someone to the ground by grabbing them from behind, that should always be called. If you reach out sideways to hook someone and release them quickly (oops! didn't mean to do that!) that should be less likely to be called.

Impact: holds that have no more effect on the play than the equivalent legal block should rarely be called. Holds that prevent a sack or send the defender to the ground deserve more scrutiny.

That's a lot of judgment to ask in a split second from a ref, but they don't seem to mind, usually. Basically, if they see a hold, they have to answer "how bad was it?" and "how much did it matter?" and somehow combine those two into a call/non-call decision.

I didn't do your game tape review, so I can't comment on all of the holds, but I do know that the "infamous" hold resulted in the defender falling to the ground near the quarterback's feet as he was releasing the ball. Perhaps that apparent impact of the hold had more importance to the referee than the particular holding technique used. We can disagree on the ref's judgment, but it's harsh (and seems impartial) to call it "beyond the pale".

by Steve Z (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:25pm

From what MDS has written, if holding had been called consistently Seattle would not have been able to ever put together any drives, because Locklear was a holding machine. I think Clark Haggans should file a protest, because if he hadn’t been held so much he might have got the MVP and drove off in the Escalade.
Or, the officials might never call holding. This would have them consistently applying the rule by never applying the rule at all, by ignoring it absolutely.

Of course, if the officials were to legalistically apply the holding rule, thereby dramatically increasing the rate at which holding calls were made, the likely result would be something like this: Initially, offensive linemen would hold a lot, get called for holding a lot but would eventually adjust to the way the officials were calling holding by, by? By not holding if they can at all help themselves in this regard! See the NHL this season after it began to enforce the rules as written.

by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:32pm

Re: 83

I think the point is, if Locklear adjusts and stops holding, Haggans gets a lot of sacks and a new car.

by cthoover (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:33pm

Craig - I just wanted to let you know that I thought your comments on this thread were excellent. I especially enjoyed your point about the pass interference call on the Steelers' 2nd Qrt. TD drive which nicely illustrates how pulling plays out of the context of the game can inflate their importance.

FO - Can we please have an article on some other aspect of the game? I have become a huge fan of this site over the last year but I must say that my respect for it is decreasing by the day.

by blackwater (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:36pm

When the "cognoscenti" on this website start citing conspiracy theories and continually harp on penalty calls, it starts to tarnish what I had thought of it. I bet the 1980 game between seattle and San Diego in 1980, had hometown SD -10,and a 21-7 lead with five seconds left. Zorn took snap,ran straight back while being chased by
Leroy Jones and heaved it down the right sideline to steve Largent who caught bthe ball at the SD 1yd. line. My celebration was nipped when I spied a refs hat lying on the field (he threw his hat because he couldnt get to his flag).The agme cant end on a penalty so Seattle scored on the next play with no time on clock. I didnt think that game was "suspicious".I got over it and moved on.Perhaps some of you should do the same.

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:38pm

From the AP wire, Feb 5, 2007: The New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers 4-2 in yesterday's Super Bowl. The game ended at 2:14 am Eastern Standard Time and was the longest game in NFL history, primarily because 87 penalties were called. Both teams, backed up deep in their own territory by the constant flags, scored all their points on safeties. Victorious coach Bill Belichek stated at a rather subdued Lombardi trophy ceremony, "We're glad to win our fourth Super Bowl, but if I'd wanted to watch flags flying and guys walking back and forth, I would have gone to see a &*+#$% drill team."

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stated, "It may not have been the most exciting Super Bowl ever, but our new emphasis on officiating, we know that it was the most properly played Super Bowl ever. This was the first Super Bowl played with four extra officials on the field and no limits on reviewable calls.

In other sports news, ESPN2 announced that its telecast of the Minnesota state curling championship, which was shown at the same time as the second quarter of the Super Bowl, gained a record share and was one of the three highest rated programs in ESPN history.

by blackwater (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:38pm

However I should learn to type and proofread.

by Theo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:41pm

the the Minnesota state curling championship

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:41pm


If Pittsburgh got 0 of 8, and Seattle got 2 of 16, that means the game saw 2 of 24 called. Regardless of whether the other two are acceptable on their own, that grand total is laughable. Nobody at FO is saying Seattle got robbed, they're saying "Hey, why can't this penalty make more sense so that it doesn't become the centerpiece of major plays without any real consistent understanding of when it will and won't be called?"

Similarly, I'd like it if there was more uniformity with this "he made a football move" nonsense that either got ignored or neglected when Stevens non-called fumble occurred.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:42pm

#78, if Leavey HAS to make that call, why is it I can cite numerous examples in most games in which more flagrant infractions occur in full view of referees without drawing a flag? I mean, I'm tired of talking about this particular play as well, but the point is that the rule is so inconsistently applied right now, that it is readily apparent that there is nothing that a referee HAS to do.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:47pm

87, in a humourous fashion, makes an excellent argument for writing rules which openly allow for more contact without penalty than is currently the case.

by Theo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:50pm

You're just spoiled with all the narrow Patriot victories.
Steelers beat the Seahawks (best offense, MVP etc) with 11 points (2 points more than the Patriots in 3 Super Bowls combined) and bla bla bla Pittsburgh isn't that good.

by LetsGetLoud (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:52pm

These penalties we are debating, whether correct or not, were applied inconsistently in a game that was already conspicuously loaded in the Stealers favor. Without the inconsistent penalty calling the Seahawks would have been far ahead on the scoreboard and firing on all cylinders to victory. The refs completely changed the game starting with the Gray holding call in the first quarter. Possibly EVERY call they made killed the Seahawks in the red zone. I've never seen such biased officiating in my life. Hawk fans will be the first to admit when their team lost a game of its own accord. That's not what happened Sunday.

by JMM (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:54pm

Maybe inconsistent calls are really incomplete understanding! Post #73 is in the right direction. I do believe the NFL has all that, but gives it only to the refs.

This is not a problem with unfairness or sloppy officiating or a lack of definition; this is the result of the NFL trying to avoid criticism by not sharing with the fans the rule book and the qualifiers and special cases in full. Their attitude has been "trust us." The internet has made that attitude and approach obsolete.

As to the article, was the "true and active" definition of holding used, or did you use your best judgment which would make for a consistent, but flawed analysis?

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:54pm

#25, #41, and #50: thanks for illustrating the Straw Man in action so we all have a handy reference. It really adds to the discussion.

I don't get the complaining about what FO has been covering the last few days. It's been, what, 4 days since the Super Bowl? And like it or not, around the nation the biggest story of this game was the officiating. I'm quite sure that there will be plenty of actual football analysis in the days and weeks to come.

Officiating is an integral element in the game, officiating was poor to atrocious throughout the regular season and especially the playoffs, and despite the attempts by some to shout down discussion on the topic, NFL officiating has delivered, at minimum, the appearance of bias in how big games are called. Clearly, the system has major problems that the NFL seems loath to address.

Even if the issue of bias would somehow be proven nonexistent, it is abundantly clear that application of the rules is highly inconsistent and excessively open to interepretation by the officials on the field. Personally, I thought MDS's breakdown did an excellent job of illustrating this. It's impossible to completely eliminate the problems, but the issue is that the NFL isn't even trying.

And please, let's quit throwing around the term "conspiracy," which has been used almost exclusively to belittle those who believe there was a real problem with the officiating. Nobody except the most blind partisan yahoos actually believes there was a premeditated, orchestrated campaign to hand the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh. But bias, which unlike a conspiracy can be either conscious or unconscious, does exist in officiating – and based on this game, where one team's big plays were all wiped out by arguable judgment calls while the other team was given virtually a free pass – it certainly appears that it played a factor. Just as it did in the Pitt-Indy game, and the Den-NE game, etc.

by Steve Z (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:55pm

Re: #84

I believe I understood Loki9179’s point. I just wanted to add that the officials could also consistently apply the holding rule by not applying the rule at all. I brought it up because this particular use — or non-use! — of the holding rule would conform to MDS' claim that
...no fair observer can say that given the way the rest of the game was called, Locklear should have been assessed that game-changing penalty.
It is interesting that MDS doesn’t address the following issue: That the officials could have striven for a consistent use of the holding rule by calling every holding infraction. Why would we want to eliminate that option? Eventually, the offensive lines and Coordinators would have adjusted to the strict manner in which the referees were calling the offensive line play.

I believe my addition was consistent with his whole argument, of which I originally quoted only a small part:
Consistency would be nice, and I am sure that the NFL strives to achieve it. But I do not care what rule exists in any arena - there is a human element in officiating, and there is inconsistent officiating in every sport in every level. (Check various umpire’s strike zones, for instance).
We would all like to have a Super Bowl (or any other game for that matter) decided on the merits of the teams, and to be totally free of controversy. So, I have no problem with those people who wish that had occurred in the Super Bowl. But I do not think it makes sense to bash referees for calling a penalty when it WAS a penalty. From what MDS has written, if holding had been called consistently Seattle would not have been able to ever put together any drives, because Locklear was a holding machine. I think Clark Haggans should file a protest, because if he hadn’t been held so much he might have got the MVP and drove off in the Escalade.
I happen to agree with the sentiment that would have offensive linemen avoiding holding calls by not holding pass rushers!

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:56pm

This is too long to read all the comments and see if it came up already, but don't O-linemen hold on running plays too? So why compare the number of passing plays solely?

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:01pm

There is another thread with discussion on the game... that thread is the "FO on Fox: Quick Reads" Extra Points article. It's mainly officiatng free... but I'm not sure people have anything to say.

Everyone wants to talk about the officials, as the game boiled down to dropped passes on Seattle's side and 3 big plays for Pittsburgh. Then if you boil it down a little more, we see that Seattle's punter sucked, and Roethelisberger didn't have a great game.

The problem is the key drive of the game was the one that looked like Seattle was going to storm ahead and take a 17-14 lead... they really were bullying the Steelers on that drive, a drive that started on their 2 yardline, a drive where Seattle's offense was setting a quick pace.... and a drive that ended with a controversial penalty followed by a disputed non-horsecollar tackle, a sack where the player could've been off-sides, and a Matt Hasselbeck "I have the ball and I'm trying to score" interception.

Something underrated about this drive... ABC's presentation SUCKED. We never saw any replays on Haggans brilliant jump/off-sides twice (nary a mention)... we never saw a good replay of the horsecollar tackle, and I'm not sure we saw a good angle on the Hasselbeck interception. Were underneath routes open and did Hasselbeck try to do to much with the ball?

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:01pm

RE: 96

What reasons/theories can you offer as to why the referees would be biased in the Steelers favor? I have no problem with people who believe that the referees made mistakes during the game. I agree with them. But to claim that the mistakes were due to some bias strikes me as being without any foundation. To what bias are you referring, and what do you think caused that bias?

I think a clear answer to this question would resolve a lot of issues for those of us who have a hard time seeing the calls as anything but judgment calls that came at inopportune times for the Seahawks. Please enlighten me as to the bias.

by Bob (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:03pm

And please, let’s quit throwing around the term “conspiracy,� which has been used almost exclusively to belittle those who believe there was a real problem with the officiating. Nobody except the most blind partisan yahoos actually believes there was a premeditated, orchestrated campaign to hand the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh.

Well in his "Audibles" comment, Aaron did, he specifically said he started to wonder about conspiracies, so yes, in fact, one of the FO "insiders" HAS raised the "fix" issue.

by MikeT (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:03pm

#77 I'm glad to hear that I went way over the line. I'm an "over the line" kind of guy.

In fact, I am usually on the cutting edge outside the box.

Of course, I don't speak for the whole FO crew :)

by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:04pm

Re: 98

Run blocking and pass blocking are structurally different, and the nature and reasons for holding are different enough that the comparison isn't entirely useful. MDS was trying to establish how many holds were structurally simmilar to the now infamous one.

by Tim (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:05pm

#91, Because most games don't have the highest rated officials calling the penalties! Just kidding. I understand the point that holding is called inconsistently. But it is frustrating that all people are talking about is the horrible officiating, when in reality all the calls that were made were justified. I'm not surprised that the national media went with that "story," but I expect much better from the authors and posters at this website. Yes, both teams played uncharacteristically poorly at times (and especially Ben and Jerramy), making for a bad game of football, but there are still more interesting things to be discussing than some borderline calls.

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:07pm

-no other player on offense may use his hands or arms to obstruct an opponent by grasping with hands, pushing, or encircling any part of his body during a block-

hands or arms to obstruct an opponent (like, you have to keep your hands in on your body, you cant use them to reach out and grab someone), pushing (you have the right to defend your space, so you can keep them off your body with your hands, but you cant push them after they have beaten you... basically, no push in the back after they beat you), or encircling with the arms.

by Israel (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:09pm

79 (Fnor) To constitute a hold, the holding player must have (1) grabbed the held player with his hands or (2) draped his hand or arm over the front or side of the held player while the players were moving in different directions.

Not just the "held player" but his clothing as well. As long as you want to write the rules, Fnor...

by Countertorque (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:12pm

Good article. It's nice to have some data to discuss. I'm actually quite relieved that the data didn't show the Pit tackles guilty of holding twice as much as Sea. Showing that the players went 0/4, 0/4, 0/6, 2/10 (called/infractions) seems fairly consistent on the refs part.

Certainly the solution to this problem is not better refs, but better rules. And inventing better rules with objective criteria that is easy to observe, seems like a pretty difficult problem.

This article is a much better take on the issue than unfounded statements like "this will always be remembered as the Super Bowl that the referees screwed up."

by Paulo Sanchotene, Brazil (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:15pm

First of all, great article. That's a good start. Let me say somethings: (a) the refs didn't consider holding the same way through the game; (b) that's not a SB problem because the rule is extremely confused; (c) there are (many) others confused rules in Pro Football; (d) when you put a ALL-STAR crew, that never officiate together before, you are asking for more inconsistency; (e) if NFL keeps the same crew officiating week after week to the SuperBowl, it would be easier to coaches to prepare the players. After all, it would be clear the way the officials call the game; (f) there was a "in dubio pro Steelers" rule at SB but this is not the subject in this EPC article; (g) the Steelers deserved to win; (h) it's not a matter of right or wrong calls, we just want the same play to be called the same way through the game; (i) Fnor, #79, it's, at least, more clear. Outstanding job.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:25pm

I haven't had a chance to read all of the posts here, so apologies if I am repeating. However, I can only support the call for more clarity on holding calls, and want to extend this to kick returns. It seems like on kickoff returns of more than 40 yards and punt returns of more than 20 yards, 9 times out of 10 there is a flag for holding. I am not complaining about the officiating here, as I'm sure the officials call it the way it's written up in the book, but I'm suggesting that the game would probably be more exciting if the rules were changed so that fewer marginal/petty calls negated great returns.

When people complain about the refs I am often quick to blame the rule book rather than the officials, and I think this article points out clearly that officiating on the field might be less frustrating for all of us if the officials were working with a clearer rule book.

I think the Darrell Jackson pass interference call falls into this category too. Many think it was a lousy or "ticky-tack" call, but there's nothing in the rule book that says to only make the call if it is really, really bad, and Jackson does make deliberate contact with the defender. However, perhaps the game would benefit from the rules being re-written so that such minor transgressions are not penalized.

by Sean (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:33pm

What I particularly like about this article is that it states what was pretty obvious to me- Locklear did indeed hold on the play. In much the same manner, Darrell Jackson clearly engaged in a textbook example of offensive pass interference. All the screaming and shouting on talk radio and in the media about the terrible calls would lead you to believe that the officials were calling these plays incorrectly, but in truth they were not. The issue wasn't that the officials made the wrong calls, but that they were selective in the enforcement of the rules. And in each of the plays in question, the Seattle infraction allowed a big play to result.

I know everyone says that the players should get to decide the game on the field, but then you get travesties like the Patriots "gameplan" against Indy in the 2003 AFC Championship game. It's really a difficult issue to come to grips with.

by Zzyzx (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:37pm

This is going to be a problem as long as the rules and the play on the field don't match. If penalties are called pretty much at random, it leaves room for an appearance of bias. Think about how many people think the NBA is fixed these days for that reason. Either the rules have to be changed, the officiating has to change, or more and more people will think that games are fixed thanks to selective memory.

One thing to remember is that the vast majority of people watching the game don't care to think about it in this depth. The Seahawks beat teams that had similar winning percentages to other playoff teams, but that didn't stop people from saying that they didn't beat anyone. Similarly, you can point out that none of the calls were technically wrong, but it won't change the perception.

by Craig (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:40pm

The biggest problem I have with this controversy is the hyperbole involved. Actually, this EPC avoids hyperbole, as far as I can tell without reviewing the game. An example of hyperbole, is #96. All the close/questionable calls didn't go against the Seahawks. As I noted in #40, there may be other questionable calls that aren't being scrutinized because they ended up not being important, or because they don't support the storyline that the refs hurt the Seahawks. Since this is the storyline, every call against the Seahawks gets put under a microscope, and it doesn't look good. I wonder if every game were analyzed like this if the Super Bowl would look particularly bad. I suspect not. Which leads us to the conclusion that the officiating really does need to be fixed. Hopefully, the fact that it happened in the Super Bowl will lead to real improvements.

I still would like to read some analysis of the plays that counted. I disagree that there isn't anything else interesting to talk about.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:46pm

#91: Thanks for demonstrating the Parrot in action. That way we have a handy reference. It really adds to the discussion.

Do you know what the Straw Man Fallacy is? Do you know why it is fallicious reasoning? Have you just heard it somewhere and just though it sounded good? I'll give you an example of a Straw Man refutation of MDSs point.

From my reading and the author is free to correct me, his issue is that holding was called on some plays and not called on others. Assessing Locklear the penalty on "that game changing play" was not the least bit consistent with the way the rest of the game was called.

I would construct a straw man by distorting his argument and presenting it, let's say something like "the refs have too much discretion in calling penalties for games to be called fairly".

I would then refute that argument by saying "If you take that discretion from the refs you're going to ruin the game".

Notice carefully that I responded to MDSs complaint not by re-casting his argument, but by asking a question; could he see the official's positioning when breaking down the game tape? My hypothesis, which is not a restatement of his argument, but a hypothesis on why the inconsistency occurs was made as an analogy to speeding. Since you're clearly unable to understand analogy, I'll make the point explicitly.

Many times, calls which we can make because we have overhead camera angles, TiVo and we are looking specifically for that infraction go unseen by the official. That does not mean if an official sees an infraction he should not call it simply because he didn't see another infraction earlier in the game.

My solutions are totally tongue in cheek, but if you want absolutely every call made with perfect consistency they are going to get the job done.

Speaking of bias, it's not an unhealthy thing, humans are bias machines. Perhaps the reason Locklear was called is because Haggans had a good jump on him at the LOS, the official could see this and knows in these cases a hold is more likely to occur. I mean aren't there such things as "good holds" (like commiting good fouls in basketball) where a lineman's optimum strategy is to hold, because if he doesn't the QB is likely to be sacked, resulting in loss of yardage, down and possibly the ball, vs. yardage only?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:47pm

104, I think the other calls were justified , if so close that they easily could have gone the other way, because I see no reason to think that the exact same circumstances, when viewed exactly the same way, would unlikely be called differently by any large percentage, and certainly no more than 50% of the time.

In contrast, I firmly believe that the play which resulted in the this holding call, if replicated 100 times in front of randomly chosen referees, would not result in a flag AT LEAST 70% of the time. Thus, I can only see this as an unreasonably bad call.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:50pm

Make that...

"...I see no reason to think that the exact same circumstances, when viewed exactly the same way, would LIKELY be called differently by any large percentage, and certainly no more than 50% of the time."


by J.S. (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 4:58pm

Another article about the refs?

I know this is getting crazy huh?

Anyway MDS another good indepth look at someting. Perhaps you should have stayed away from this though... we really got enough of this on another FO post with approx 800 commetnts to it.

by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:06pm

Will Allen: I disagree on this one. After watching the play in question, I think the reason this one got called was that Haggans got an incredible jump on the ball and was rounding the corner as Locklear got out of his stance. Locklear was beat and if he doesn't hook Haggans it's unquestionably a sack. I think that is why it was called and I think it would be called most of the time.

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:09pm

Re: 100

Loki, I wasn't making the claim that there's an indisputable case of bias here, just that there was the strong appearance of it to the casual observer who didn't have a rooting stake in either team. Otherwise, the issue wouldn't be dominating discussion of the Super Bowl, both here and elsewhere. (In any case, bias is almost impossible to conclusively prove based on analysis because it is an inherently subjective phenomenon, but to dismiss it out of hand because it can't be proven without a shadow of a doubt is intellectually dishonest.)

It's not difficult at all to determine motivation for potential bias by the NFL in both the Super Bowl and the Pitt-Indy game, to pick the most glaring examples. In both games, the team that represented the greatest moneymaking and publicity potential for the NFL – and its media partners, who are all in the same business - was the recipient of officiating that granted significant advantage to them. (In the case of the Polomalu interception, this was so egregious it bordered on parody.)

Seattle, infamously described as "Egypt" by Shawn Springs upon his departure, is one of the youngest franchises in the league, has a low overall reputation with NFL fans in aggregate, and is geographically isolated. Simply put, it's quite possibly the smallest market team in the NFL because of these combined factors, whereas Pittsburgh is centrally located on the East Coast and has a storied reputation in NFL history, thereby making it the far more attractive champion. Factor in the NFL's love of tradition and the well-known old boys network that composes its power structure, and it's no stretch at all to find motivation for bias. They're not stupid (or competent) enough to work an actual conspiracy, but when games often hinge on a couple of key plays, a little bit of favoritism shown to one team can go a long way toward directing the outcome.

Off the field, the promo pieces during the game ran roughly 3:1 Steelers to Seahawks, and perhaps more telling, the NFL was selling, and then GIVING AWAY Terrible Towels to fans at the game, while no comparable Seahawk paraphenalia was even available for purchase. The combination of these factors plus the overall pattern of the officiating, make it a stretch to not see bias. Again, I'm not saying that it can be proven or even if it existed on any kind of conscious level, but to the outside observer it is a visible thing, and is why so many football fans are up in arms.

By the way, thanks for asking the question instead of just reflexively slamming my earlier statements because you may not have agreed with them.

by Billy Bob (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:10pm


Great comment. The officials made close calls against both teams: A possible Jerramy Stephens fumble was ruled an incomplete pass; A Matt Hasselback fubmle was reviewed and he was ruled down by contact(correct call, but if the pass interference was a 'ticky-tack' call, so was this); A clear block in the back against Roethlisberger wasn't called after his second int.

If the Steelers would have lost the game every ruling that went against them could be scrutinized and the media might well be saying the Steelers got jobbed.

I would love if someone could come up for a way to make the officiating better, I really would. I just haven't seen any good remedies presented.

In the end, I don't think the superbowl officiating was any better or worse than an average game. The media, including FO, simply seem to be digging for a story because the actual superbowl was poorly played by both teams, and thus not very exciting.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:17pm

#119: I've been trying to talk about possible rules revisions as an idea, but everyone's too busy having the same stupid argument over and over again, with 20% more straw men and 50% less compromise. At least this time there's 30% less invective.

Israel: good call. there'd have to be a cosmetic change to add in clothing (but not towels, etc).

by T-Bone Rib (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:19pm

Haggans was in the neutral zone and so was Hampton on the play that Locklear was called for holding. I think the reason the uproar over the officiating wont die down is because of the reprehensible nature of the calls being so ridiculously one-sided. This is a black mark on the product the NFL puts on the field. I didnt have a rooting interest going into the game and felt pretty unbiased over caring who won or lost. All I wanted to see was an entertaining game in the only sports holiday that is celebrated in our great land and instead I was dumbfounded by the egregious errors that the officials all deemed to be against the Hawks. That game featured the worst performance by a winning team I have seen in my lifetime. The officiating had the feel of an NBA game during the playoffs where the home team gets every call to propel its way to victory; I am still disgusted by it. I think one of the things that makes the NFL great is that there is never a real whiff that the officiating truly decides a game. Sure there have been calls that have made a difference in the outcome of a contest but it is typically one call or play that a ref has an impact on and those are the breaks you have to live with. This game featured so many questionable calls that it denigrates the whole playoff season. The Steelers may have won the game anyways, I am not discounting that, all I am saying is the outcome was taken out of the hands of the participants in this game more than any other game I have seen in the 25 years I have been watching football. I think it is weak that the NFL has come out in support of the officiating saying they made all the right calls in this joke of a Bowl. I think it is a shame that Steelers fans have to defend themselves over a title their team won when honestly I think the American public was deprived a true contest that was decided by the combatants. I hope the NFL steps up and admits the mistakes made and doesnt just treat the fan as a doe-eyed child that has to keep drinking the Kool Aid and buying the championship hats and videos.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:20pm

^ Like that.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:25pm

Can we please set the record straight that this wasn't an "All-Star" crew that was assembled from a bunch of different good crews, it was the highest-rated crew of the season, that had been working together all year.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:29pm

"By the way, thanks for asking the question instead of just reflexively slamming my earlier statements because you may not have agreed with them."

Paging Jake Brake...Jake Brake...please come to the white courtesy phone and refute an argument.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:31pm

117, we'll have to agree to disagree on that. I'd be less certain if I could hear one retired coach, offensive lineman, or pass rusher who was not currently employed by the NFL or one of it's teams, say that he thought that such contact was usually flagged. Instead, I've heard at least a half-dozen say precisely the opposite. Sure selection bias could play a role here, in that those who think the call was bad are more likely to say something and be heard, but on a matter that received this much attention, selection bias shouldn't completely eliminate the contrary response. I have to conclude, based on my own observation, and the observations of those who dealt with this issue for a living, that this sort of contact is NOT flagged a substantial majority of the time. That makes it a bad call.

by Steve Z (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:31pm

Re: Jake Brake, #118
It’s not difficult at all to determine motivation for potential bias by the NFL in both the Super Bowl and the Pitt-Indy game, to pick the most glaring examples. In both games, the team that represented the greatest moneymaking and publicity potential for the NFL – and its media partners, who are all in the same business - was the recipient of officiating that granted significant advantage to them. (In the case of the Polomalu interception, this was so egregious it bordered on parody.)
Identifying a possible motive for bias among the officials and the NFL in general provides no positive evidence whatsoever that the game officials and the NFL in general were in fact biased in favor of Pittsburgh and then executed their bias during the Superbowl. What you have accomplished here was to offer an unsubstantiated conjecture regarding the game officials and the NFL in general. It goes without saying that you are the one required to substantiate — provide evidence for — your argument; opponents of your argument need only to point out what is obvious about it, namely, that it lacks evidential support.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:32pm

"But bias, which unlike a conspiracy can be either conscious or unconscious, does exist in officiating – and based on this game, where one team’s big plays were all wiped out by arguable judgment calls while the other team was given virtually a free pass – it certainly appears that it played a factor."

See...an example of refutation would be this: a point I made in another thread is that those who claim that OMG all of Seattle's big plays were wiped out by penalties must not have noticed the little 76 yd. INT return. Does that not consitute a big play?

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that all of the bad calls occured on big plays by Seattle?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:41pm

As a follow on, johnt, MDS' count of 2 of 22 instances of holding called in the game, and his assertion that Locklear's second flag was not among the most egregious of the infractions, lends credence to my position, albeit with a very small sample size. To really get a much more definitive answer to what we are differing about, something along the lines of what I outlined in #71 would have to be done, which nobody is going to take the time and money to do.

by Billy Bob (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:41pm


I appreciate that you are proposing some rule changes. What you have come up with makes some sense. However, the officials are still going to have to make realtime calls in borderline situations; I just don't see a few tweaks to the rulebook being enough to make the officiating substantially better.

The way things are set up there are going to be missed/questionable calls. The small consolation is that the bad calls normally even out over the course of a game.

The only proposal I have seen that would make things somewhat foolproof is to sit a few officials in front of a bank of monitors and have every aspect of every play reviewed. This would come as close as possible to making sure every play was called properly, but do we want to watch a game with 2 minutes between every play.

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:42pm

Re: 112
Craig, if you re-read my post, you'll notice I didn't say all the questionable calls went against the Seahawks, I said that all of their big plays were wiped out by judgment calls. That's hardly the same thing. But you're right, I was engaging in hyperbole to some extent because if my statement were 100% true the touchdown they did score would have also been called back; I should have said "nearly all" instead of "all."

Re: 113
RRP, how is this statement not setting up a straw man?
Maybe what we should do is have 22 officials on the field. Or have one guy with an array of monitors reviewing each play from multiple angles, looking for infractions. We’d make the play clock 2:00 and allow for full booth review before each snap. Seems like a good way to increase the entertainment value to me.

Just because you stated it in the form of a question doesn't eliminate the fact that you set up an unreasonably exaggerated characterization of the argument in order to attack it. You've made some good points in other posts here, but that was not one of them. And who, exactly, was I supposed to be parroting? Glass houses, etc.

by Michael David Smith :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:43pm

This was an all-star crew. They did not work together this season prior to the Super Bowl.

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:51pm

Re: 126
Steve, I was responding to a question asking about potential motives behind the alleged bias, not asserting that I had any solid evidence to back them up. Reread the post and you'll find I stated this clearly, twice. I also noted that even if bias exists, it's a subjective phenomenon that is pretty much impossible to prove with indisputable evidence. That does not mean it doesn't exist, just that it can't be proven with analytical tools.

My point was to illustrate some of the reasons why so many football fans, the FO staff included, came away from the game feeling that the officiating was one-sided – NOT to claim that those reasons are valid or supported by tangible evidence.

by Bob (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 5:56pm

Wow, no wonder we are all arguing about this kind of stuff #123 and #131 can't even agree on whether this was an all-star crew or whether it was a crew that had worked together all season, and that is a FACT that should be easily checked. Both posts were made with no doubt whatsoever, but one of them is wrong. If we can't even agree on the facts, it's hopeless to think we might agree on opinion, which is what most of the argument is about ... opinion.

by Michael David Smith :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:01pm

From NFL.com: Under the NFL officiating program's evaluation system, the highest-rated officials at each position with the appropriate experience earn the right to work the Super Bowl. Super Bowl officials must have five years of NFL experience and previous playoff assignments.

I don't like the fact that if the best line judge has only four years of experience, he can't call the Super Bowl.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:06pm

The confusion is coming from the fact that in 2003 the NFL said that it would keep crews together in the postseason.

They actually said "mostly" - previously the conference championships were also all-star crews, whereas now they're highly-rated regular-season crews. The Super Bowl still remains "most highly rated only".

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:14pm

There you have it, MDS calls the officiating crew "All-Star"...debate should cease now.

Okay, I can probably do this again slowly.

The basis of a straw man argument fallacy is to take your opponents argument, restate it in a weaker form (the straw man), and refute that argument. It is fallicious logic, as you never address your opponent's original argument. You only refute the weakened argument attributed to your opponent.

The argument that I attributed to MDS (and again, if I'm not clearly understanding your argument then correct me), is that the hold Locklear was called for on one play was indistinguishable from holds that he made on other calls.

My argument is that perhaps the reason one call is made and another is not is that the official doesn't clearly see one infraction and clearly sees the other. As far as I know we don't have official-cam yet, so what appears obvious from one angle, may not be so from another angle.

Maybe what we should do is have 22 officials on the field. Or have one guy with an array of monitors reviewing each play from multiple angles, looking for infractions. We’d make the play clock 2:00 and allow for full booth review before each snap. Seems like a good way to increase the entertainment value to me.

That above is just plain old snark. If I had said that MDS is proposing we do this and argued against it, sure...that's a straw man. I am simply outlining one way that we can ensure every call is made accurately.

The Parrot thing, I'm not saying you are parroting anyone in particular. I am using it in the sense that a Parrot says something without knowing what it means. You throw out "Straw Man Fallacy" without knowing the elements of the logical fallacy. Parrot.

by nat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:15pm

Let's recap (the whole "worst ever" shebang):

There were eleven penalties called in the game. All but one have been shown to be correct calls in the sense that the penalty called actually happened. Hasselback's low block penalty was wrongly called, because he did not make contact with a blocker as the referee had thought. The NFL ackowledges this.

There were two challenged plays during the game. One went for Pittsburgh (on no conclusive evidence either way) and one went for Seattle (on conclusive evidence of "down by contact"). Both were correct reviews.

It is statistically proven that the number of penalties called on each team is consistent with the number of plays they ran (offense/defense, pass/run/return). No bias there.

MDS in this article showed that for pass blocking holds, the number of penalties actually committed was also consistent with the number of pass plays by each team. (Seattle ran 70% of the pass plays and committed 66% of the pass-play holds, if you trust his judgment.)

We don't have any other systematic study of non-calls, but as holding was singled out by both Aaron and MDS as the worst of the officiating, I'm willing to leave it at that.

We don't have stats on the number of plays that should have been reviewed, but the one reviewable play that has been most discussed (the pylon play) was correctly called, and assuming you know the rule, was clear enough that it didn't need a review.

There are a handful of accusations of game-fixing conspiricies, petty complaints about hands in the neutral zone (seen only in frame-by-frame analysis), uncalled blocks in the back, timeouts taken .02 seconds too late, etc that can safely be ignored.

We are left with MDS's assertion that the standards for calling holds are non-existent or inconsistently applied. The evidence for this is that of 24 holds that his tape review found, 23 are essentially indistinguishable to him in terms of "callability" and the one egregious hold was not called. His conclusion is that no fair observer can say that either of the calls that were made (he focuses on one of them) should have been made.

So, after careful scrutiny, the "Worst … Super Bowl officiating … ever" (not MDS's words, I know) comes down to this:

1 blown penalty call that didn't matter much (other than looking stupid),

many people (myself included) wondering how refs decide which holds to call,

and strong evidence of amazingly unbiased and tolerably accurate officiating.

The great thing about FO (and its posters)is that instead of ranting and raving, we seek out data and knowledge and do dispassionate analysis.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:17pm

Jake Brake #118

Simply put, it’s quite possibly the smallest market team in the NFL because of these combined factors, whereas Pittsburgh is centrally located on the East Coast and has a storied reputation in NFL history

Ummm ...

1) Pittsburgh is a much smaller market than Seattle. The Pittsburgh fanbase is essentially Pittsburgh and the surrounding area, central Pennsylvania, and northern West Virginia. You are as liekly to run into Browns and Bills fans 2 hours north and Steelers fans. My father-in-law and his family from the northern outskirts of Pittsburgh are not that atypical Browns fans.

2) Pittsburgh is not on the East Coast - it is essentially midwestern flyover country. East Coast cities like Philly, Boston, and New York do not accept Pittsburgh as one of them.

3) Pittsburgh's "storied" reputation consists of 8 years of glory since 1933 during the 1970's - say the Immaculate Reception to the 1980 Super Bowl, after not making the playoffs for about 40 years. Otherwise, it is one of relentless losing and blown big games and opportunities until this year. Sound familiar?

by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:25pm

RowdyRoddyPiper #127:

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that all of the bad calls occured on big plays by Seattle?

They weren't bad calls though! The penalties really happened.

Maybe what should really be said is that Pittsburgh managed to execute big plays without cheating, and Seattle did not. Thus, there was no need to call back the Randle El TD or the Parker TD run, or Big Ben's 3rd and 28 completion or the three Hasselbeck sacks or the Ike Taylor INT.

People seem to be complaining that because Seattle got away with cheating on some plays, they should have gotten away with it on all.

Maybe, Seattle should just try to play a clean game and not get penalized. Oh yeah, and catch the ball when they are playing cleanly.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:26pm

I'll believe Pittsburgh has a smaller fanbase at about the same time that I stop seeing nothing but Pittsburgh fans the next time they play Seattle for the Super Bowl, which I hope will be next year. Sorry, Andrew, but I encountered and know far, far too many Pittsburgh fans to buy into that.

Pittsburgh has been described as a team that defined a decade for many older fans, much like San Francisco was for fans in the 80s. I don't think there's any comparison between Pittsburgh's reputation and Seattle's. This is even truer if you consider that many people associate their city with more than one sports team, and that Pittsburgh had perennial Stanley Cup champions with the Penguins, as well. We're not talking about a city that's never seen the light of day, here.

by Don Denkinger (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:26pm

Andrew (138),

In fairness Pittsburgh hits WAY over its population 'weight' in terms of the level of nationwide support for the Steelers. Some Pittsburghers moved out during the 70's and 80's and spawned new Steeler fans all over the country. More to the point, many kids who grew up in the 70's in the hundreds if not thousands of cities and towns without an NFL team adpted the Steelers as their favourite team. Why? Because the Steelers won all the time and that's what kids do, they back a winner. I would venture to say that there are probably 10 times as many Steeler fans in the country than there are Seahawk fans. Certainly the Steelers always seem to have fans in opponents' stadia, and it certainly seems like Steeler fans outnumber Seahawk fans in these formus by a rather hefty margin.

by Michael David Smith :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:27pm

There you have it, MDS calls the officiating crew “All-Star�…debate should cease now.

I have no idea what this comment is supposed to mean. Please explain.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:29pm

Okay, so we have an authoritative source that it WAS an All-Star officiating crew. While it wasn't what I expected, I'm glad we finally ironed that out (again). Sorry for my inaccuracy.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:29pm

RowdyRoddyPiper #127:

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that all of the bad calls occured on big plays by Seattle?

You're preaching to the choir here. I didn't mean to say that it would be accurate to say, that. Rather that it would be more accurate than saying all of Seattle's big plays were called back by bad calls. I agree that most of the "bad calls" were not bad calls at all.

by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:29pm

#130: I don't think either statement is right. I think that selection bias is at work - a number of judgement calls that went against Seattle occurred on big plays for Seattle, and Seattle generally failed to recover from the setback, so it feels like "all of Seattle's big plays got wiped out by judgement calls." In addition, when they did get big plays that weren't wiped out by penalties, they frequently didn't follow up.

Second drive, 3-6, Hasselbeck completes for 18 yards and a first down to the PIT 23 to Jackson. A reasonably big play (3rd down conversion, >15 yards, gets into FG range). Holding Gray, no play; on 3-16 Hasselbeck passes incomplete, and Tom "Touchback" Rouen booms one into the end zone. (But I don't hear anyone saying that the holding call on Gray was a bad call.)

Steelers ball, 10:19 in the 2nd, 30-yard pass to Randle El picked by Boulware. Pretty big play, not wiped out. But then Seattle goes three-and-out, punts, and Pittsburgh gets the ball back 7 yards behind where they were when they threw the pick.

Steelers ball, 4:21 in the first half, immediately after an OPI on Miller puts the Steelers in 2-20, Roethlisberger sacked, bringing up 3-28 and pushing PIT out of FG range down 3-0. Pretty big play, not wiped out. But then Ben hits Ward for 37 yards and scores a TD.

Seattle ball, 8:40 left in the game, 2-6, Hasselbeck scrambles for 18 yards (the "down by contact" reversal). Pretty big play, not wiped out. But then, after the next first down, Seattle throws incomplete on first down, runs for only 2 yards on second, and gets sacked (the Townsend blitz) on 3-8, leading to 4-13, punt, and in GE's words, "Game Over".

You want a statistical analysis, in the spirit of FO? OK, we'll need to come up with some definition of a "big play". How about: Turnovers, sacks, touchdowns, and gains of more than 15 yards.

Seattle had a total of 16 "big plays", four of which were overturned (18 yard pass to Jackson: Gray holding; 16 yard TD pass to Jackson: OPI; 34-yard Warrick punt return; 18 yard pass to Stevens: Locklear holding). 12 were not.

The problem is that after the big plays that were overturned, Seattle tended to not recover; after the big plays that were not overturned, Seattle generally couldn't sustain the success. To me, the big story isn't the big plays that were overturned, it's Seattle's inability to sustain drives when held to less than 4 yards on first down.

by Don Denkinger (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:30pm

Putnamp, the overwhelming majority of the Steeler fans in Detroit was likely just as much a result of georgraphy (Pittsubrugh's proximity to Detroit relative to Seattle's) as it was 'raw' nationwide fan totals. Had the game been played in, say, LA or Phoenix, I suspect that the proportion would have been skewed towards the Steelers, but perhaps more like 75/25. Then again, given my 10:1 conjecture in my last post, maybe I'm wrong!

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:35pm

"All-Star" as in they were an All-Star (ie. great crew) not All-Star in the sense that you meant it (a crew composed of the most Highly Rated Individual Officials). Once author of the article, comes to his senses and realizes that the crew was indeed All-Star (ie. great) then we should quit debating it. It was a joke, but I just can't bring myself to use emoticons...they creep me out.

by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:36pm

Re: 146

I believe that some of the largest expatriot Steeler clubs are in the LA and SanFran areas, so probably not so much in SoCal or Arizona :)

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:41pm

I've read the first 100 comments, and no one has yet mentioned the most significant fact about the Locklear hold. If it's mentioned in the comments after that, I apologise for the redundancy. . .

Virtually any time an offensive lineman gets beat by a pass rusher with whom he is engaged, there is some period of holding -- this is the amount of time between the pass rusher's becoming parallel or better with the blocker, and the blocker's disengaging. This play was no different. What usually determines whether it is called or not is how quickly the defender disengages.

In my opinion, the block in question was in the "hold period" for an awkward amount of time -- run that same action 100 times, and sometimes it will be called, sometimes not (but usually not). Something like 80/20 sounds about right. My guess is that the reason it was called in this instance was that the action caused the pass rusher to stumble and ultimately fall to the ground, which is one of the main signals for the refs to throw a flag.

Just like extension of the arm for offensive pass interference calls, if the official sees a blocker do something after a pass rusher has beaten him that brings that pass rusher to the ground, a flag is coming most of the time.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:44pm

By the way, "Sean Locklear and the 22 uncalled holds" was my favorite Encyclopedia Brown book growing up.

by Steve Z (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 6:45pm

Re: Jake Brake, #132

You may not believe that indisputable evidence exists demonstrating bias on the part of the game officials and the NFL, but you did state [in post #118] that there was a ‘...strong appearance of [bias] to the casual observer who didn’t have a rooting stake in either team’ and anyone who ‘...dismiss[ed bias] out of hand because it can’t be proven without a shadow of a doubt is intellectually dishonest’. Given the lack of positive evidence demonstrating bias among the game officials and the NFL in general, I believe it’s safe to dismiss the bias explanation while also remaining intellectually honest.

In post #132, you state:

My point [in post #118] was to illustrate some of the reasons why so many football fans, the FO staff included, came away from the game feeling that the officiating was one-sided – NOT to claim that those reasons are valid or supported by tangible evidence.
Given the quoted passage, it seems to me that you are in fact claiming that evidence exists supporting the claim that the game officials and the NFL in general were biased during the Superbowl. The evidence: That which occurred during the Superbowl which motivated so many fans and observers to question the officials and their calls along with their motives. But it remains the case that we lack positive evidence that bias existed. Therefore, I would conclude that any reasonable fan and observer may reject the bias explanation without becoming intellectually dishonest for having done so.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:13pm

Varlos makes a good point: refs look for certain things when they're debating (for that split-second) whether or not to throw a flag. The extention and the hook, for instance. That's what I tried to do with my post: since they look for things and ignore others, simply define the penalty in terms of the things refs call. That is the trick.

re: 129
Your 20-monitor idea suffers from the fact that you presuppose the rules should stay as they are and any restatement/compilation of the rules would suffer from the same problems. Your problem is with borderline situations. Lots of other people have mentioned this in the guise of "consistancy," and it's really the same idea. I think the way to address it is to make the requirement, like I did, that these penalties substantially interfere with another player's "right" to do whatever he was doing. That's essentially what these penalties are, anyway: a way for the league to say "you could gain an advantage on your opponent by doing this, so we're disallowing it." The problem people are having is that sometimes they're being called when the player doesn't actually gain an advantage or the advantage is meaningless in the immediate context of the play. So if you remove the instances of the penalty that the refs don't want to enforce or those that are simply a burden on the game, you're not going to have these problems.

That said, I think the whole thing is completely overblown because of one confused ref and the fact that the superbowl was a really, really bad game.

by Chris Owen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:32pm

Trying to my comments back on target, I agree with Varlos Z's point in #149, as this was pretty much exactly what I said to my friends when the replay of the penalty was first shown: If an offensive lineman gets beaten and makes an even halfway illegal attempt to impede the defender afterwards, that's precisely the situation in which the ref will make the call.

Nice focused article, MDS; I should have said so earlier. But to lose focus on the holding topic, can anyone please support or refute post 68 on the Jackson out of bounds non-TD? I don't believe I've seen this argument made anywhere else using the evidence I brought up. Many thanks.

by Rob (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:37pm

As far as a bias in the officiating, that comes up all of the time, especially when there are calls made that are questioned as opposed to calls that should be called and are not. Anyone remember Super Bowl XXX between Pitt and Dallas? Dallas scored two TDs that should have been called back. One was a pick play to Novacek and the other was Emmitt down at the 1 yard line before crawling in the end zone on all fours for the score. Those things happen in the game, refs are not perfect. If O'Donnell had not thrown the game with the INTs, those plays would not have mattered. Same is true in SB XL. Seattle had many squandered chances to make something happen and only came away with 10 points in offense. That was no surprise to me as they had trouble with the only other 3-4 team they played (Dallas).

I think the real issue is that it is hard to officiate NFL game at full speed. We can look at slow motion replay and see whether or not it was a hold but the refs making the judgement do not have that luxury.

In any case, we should not take anything away from the Steelers as they proved in the final 8 weeks of the season that they were the best team in the NFL. Even if you give Seattle some of those close calls, there is still time left in the game so there is no telling what would have happened.

Personally, I would probably rather do away with instant replay and live with human refs. They are human just like the players. I tell you what, I can live with 10 missed calls in fast action before one play like the Polamalu INT against Indy that was called correct on the field until some replay guy spent several minutes dissecting it so far that he forgot what it means to catch a football.

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:37pm

Steve Z, sorry. I didn't mean to get overly legalistic with all this, I was just trying to word my arguments carefully to avoid confusion, and probably succeed in doing the opposite. Anyway, I disagree that there is no evidence of bias in this game. There is, in fact, quite a bit of evidence, which I spent way too much time outlining earlier. But not indisputable, unquestionable evidence. Hence all the arguing.

I guess my question for you, then, is what definition of "positive evidence" would satisfy your criteria? The points I cited aren't defensible with indisputable, tangible evidence; but there is no indisputable, tangible evidence that they aren't true either. I guess I should have said that outright dismissal of either viewpoint is intellectually dishonest. Fair enough?

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:38pm

When talking about the officiating I feel it is important to mention that #78 was ineligibly downfield on the Roethelisberger 3rd and 28 play.

Ineligible man downfield is something that teams should be able to challenge, like 12 men on the field, or pass over the line of scrimmage.

It's also important to note that on the Roethelisberger busted play first down Hines Ward was holding the defensive back, preventing him from tackling Roethelisberger and ending the drive.

On those plays Steeler fans can admit they caught a break from the officials.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:44pm

Personally, I would probably rather do away with instant replay and live with human refs. They are human just like the players. I tell you what, I can live with 10 missed calls in fast action before one play like the Polamalu INT against Indy that was called correct on the field until some replay guy spent several minutes dissecting it so far that he forgot what it means to catch a football.

I hate hearing this sentiment, because it leads to things like the Thomas Jones "touchdown" in the Carolina-Chicago game and.handful of other egregious mistakes that are made on the field. Instant replay rectifies the easy mistakes made on the field... which is what it is supposed to do.

Leavy had the lowest overturn rate in the league... yet he still overturned 23 % of replay challenges. It seems like the Polomalu-type very bad replay calls are 1 in 100...

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:46pm

Just a couple things here, to stir it up a little more.

1) It has long been my contention that the first thing the NFL needs to do about its officiating is help the umpire. Consider the makeup of an officiating team. You have the referee, who's in charge of the crew, and during the play watches the QB (and any clear blocking penalties he may see). You have five officials, each one is responsible for watching one eligible receiver, and other minor duties (by the way, in one of the eleventy billion other posts in some other thread, someone said the controversial Jackson pushoff was only called because it was right in front of an official, and most go uncalled because nobody's watching at the time, and this is why that's highly unlikely - each potential receiver has an official just to watch him). Then you have the umpire, who stands behind the line and watches typically 5-6 guys block 3-5 pass rushers, and tries to keep it clean.

Now, how in the world is the umpire supposed to do that by himself? Isn't it asking for problems to have one guy keep track of half the guys on the field, while the other half are split up six ways? And his positioning can't make it any easier. Say you've got a fast DE (Freeney) on the left side, and the ump is shaded right of center. At the snap, Freeney gets a good jump, and two DTs bull rush. Now the ump is looking through ~1500 pounds of man (2 DTs and three OLs) to see what happens on that end. If Freeney falls down, can you call it if you can't see what happened? Maybe he was tackled, maybe he just tripped. And you can't blatantly shade the ump to one side, because the OL on the other side will have free license to hold, and they'll know it.

I think one solution would be to add a second umpire, and put one on each side. Since the biggest pass rushing threats are usually the outside rushers, this would give the umpires a better view on them. Each one could watch a tackle and guard, and whichever side the C/TE goes to would grab him as well. If this move just eliminated the sight of a DE running towards the QB with a OT behind him, outside hand waving in the air while the tackle's arm is wrapped around his throat, it would be more than worth it.

2) I don't buy the argument that, if you call holding tightly, it'll put an end to all offense. I've heard the same thing every time a league "cracks down" on an infraction (You can't call traveling, none of these guys can dribble without it! You can't call illegal contact on DBs, games will be 85-50 at the half!), and it goes one of two ways. First, they crack down for a bit, but they don't have the guts to stick with it, and things go back to the way they were, until the same crackdown is promised for the next offseason (hello, NHL!). Or, they make the change, and stick with it, and the players/coaches adjust to the change and roll with it. This is what happened with the DB illegal contact - we've really had some huge offensive explosion since they cracked down, eh? Man, I just can't stand all these 126-110 barnburners we've been seeing!

Now, does anyone honestly believe Walter Jones couldn't block without holding? Is it possible that maybe he knew, based on the way the game is called, that he could get away with a little hold on those six plays? Why exert the energy to do it properly, if the ump is going to let you get away with a little hook? But what if the ump was calling it tight? You think maybe he could figure out a way to block without holding, like he did on the other 40-ish plays? Maybe one goes for a sack, maybe he gets RB help, who knows? Something in my Spidey Sense tells me, if the league seriously cracked down on holding, after a few week adjustment period things would be pretty close to normal, as guys figure out "Oh, we can't get away with doing this anymore, we need to do it right."

I love the speeding example that someone used. I generally drive about 8-9 MPH over the speed limit on the highway. Why? In Ohio, cops don't usually give you a second glance until you're at least 10 over. Since I know that's the quickest way to my goal, with a really, really small chance of negative complications, that's what I do. Now, what if the highway patrol decided to really crack down, and lowered the grace buffer to 5? I'd probably get a ticket, and hopefully I'd learn from that. If not, I keep getting tickets until I do learn what I can get away with again. And pretty soon, I'm not speeding (as much) anymore. I'll still get to my goal, but it'll take a slight bit more effort (time) on my part than the shortcut I had been taking. I believe holding is the same way - if they cracked down on it, it may take a few weeks to get used to, and the adjustments would make the job a bit harder, but very soon the level of play would be very, very close to what it was before.

by Sean (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:47pm

I have zero interest in getting rid of instant replay, myself. It goes a long way towards eliminating human error from the game. If anything, it should be extended to include several of the penalties that end up being game changing (pass interference comes immediately to mind).

by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:49pm

Re: 153

In the Chicago Tribune, Jerry Markbreit explains the call on the DJ pylon play was correct on the field. The replay official reviewed it and determined it to be correct, so did not have the play reviewed on the field. Link in my name (free reg/bug me not required).

Re: 155

If you can look at the entire game, including, for example, the 1st quarter flag for helmet-to-helmet on seattle that was correctly picked up and no foul issued, and the 4th quarter correct overturning of Hasselbeck's fumble, and still believe that there is evidence to support the claim that the officials had a bias against Seattle, then you have passed the threshold of reasonability for which people have to take your arguments seriously.

by Michael David Smith :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:53pm
by J.S. (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 7:56pm

RE: 157

Yea I agree with you on the intent of instant replay but we should make it a little less flexable, if it is going to stay here with us. Why must it only be the last 2 min of the game that a ref in a booth call a replay request? I say only the refs upstairs should make the call to replay. why because:

1. they are trained referees just like those on the filed.

2. they go by the same rule book that those on the ground go by

3. they are not (believe what you may) biased agaisnt one team or the other.

4. they do not have a personal stake in the replay if it gets overturned.

If I rememebr correctly the Troy INT was a red flag from Dungy right?

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 8:12pm

There you have it, MDS calls the officiating crew “All-Star�…debate should cease now.

I have no idea what this comment is supposed to mean. Please explain.

:: Michael David Smith — 2/9/2006 @ 4:27 pm

For what it's worth, Michael, I was referring to the quote someone provided. Granted, the source wasn't listed, but I'll take it on good faith that between that and several other people insisting that it *was* in fact an All-Star group unlike the other ref teams, that they aren't all talking out of their a**es in unison.

by Chris Owen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 8:25pm

Thanks for the Markbreit link. If I'm correct with the Rice play in 2002, the problem would obviously be with that play, not the play in the SB. The vaguely interesting thing was that Michaels called both games, which might explain that "oooooooh" he let out on the quick replay shown during the broadcast.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 8:39pm

(by the way, in one of the eleventy billion other posts in some other thread, someone said the controversial Jackson pushoff was only called because it was right in front of an official, and most go uncalled because nobody’s watching at the time, and this is why that’s highly unlikely - each potential receiver has an official just to watch him).

While I don't disagree with the assertion that every receiver should have an official watching him, I think that in the Jackson pushoff case, the official watching Jackson had an exceptionally good view of the play. In many cases, the official responsible for a receiver ends up with the receiver on the other side and 25 yards down the field from him.

I like your take on the speeding, someone will take whatever cushion they can to optomize their outcome. I had intended it to mean just because something happens all the time and isn't caught in every single instance, is no reason to not enforce it in any instance.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 8:47pm

Jake, to some extent I can understand why some may feel that there was a bias. For example, I understand that people could watch the game, and say to themselves "Damn, every time the Seahawks do something, they get flagged." That is a reasonable reaction, because it actually happened. So, I am with you so far. But where I lose the thread of the bias argument is with the next thought, which seems to be "Calling all these penalties against Seattle demonstrates a bias in favor of the Steelers."

The reason I lose the argument at this point is because I find it hard to believe that the NFL would taint its product in any way whatsoever. If your premise is correct, and the refs were instructed to assist the Steelers, the the NFL would have to be comprised of idiots who lack any understanding of the appeal of their product. Look at the posts on this board. How many people have stated that they have lost some measure of faith in the NFL's product due to their perception of bias? Lots. That is not good for the NFL. Regardless of what you may think of Tagliabue and the Gang, the one thing you have to admit is they know very, very, very well how to package, market and sell their product. There is simply no reason, including all the ones you mention in post 118, that would convince me that the NFL intentionally influenced the outcome of that game.

Also, if you work from the premise that the NFL wants big market teams to succeed and therefore increase their revenue, how do you explain the N.Y. Jets failure to get to a Super Bowl in over 30 years? How do you explain the fact that the L.A. Rams only played in one Super Bowl, and the Oakland/L.A. Raiders have not been to the Super Bowl all that much? Parity has long been the rallying cry of the NFL, for good or ill. I have never seen any evidence that the NFL would be biased in favor of large market teams. In fact, the NFL has appeared to go out of its way to market players (Brett Favre, Kurt Warner in his Rams days, Big Ben) who are from SMALL market teams.

I simply do not believe that the NFL would ever do anything to harm their product. My belief on that issue runs to the officials as well. I can say, with a full measure of intellectual honesty, that I do not believe the calls were biased in favor of either team. It is unfortunate that it has blown into such a big issue because it has obviously impacted some fans enjoyment of the game. But, for all its hype, the Super Bowl is a game like any other. There are bad calls in lots of games. I think it demonstrates that refs are human, and sometimes (maybe even often) make mistakes. A mistake by a ref is an error in either execution or judgment, but it does not (to me) warrant some of the rather extreme views some have taken, including some of the FO staff.

by thad (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 9:01pm

Andrew, totally agree.
Look if you don't want to get called for holding, don't call 50 pass plays.
I mean seriously, how many times does a team call (49+3-1 spike) 51 pass plays and win?
I just opened up my book.
page 127, net yards expected table.
num 203
drive ends
TD 36
FG 31
MFG 17
Is holding on first and 10 painful?
End of the world?
I liked the article btw.

by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 9:30pm

#167: It was actually 57 pass plays called: 49 pass attempts, minus one spike, plus three sacks, plus three QB scrambles, plus three plays negated by penalties.

#158: I haven't watched the officials enough to know how they play it, but according to the Digest of Rules, the Referee "picks up legality of blocks by near linemen" and the Line Judge "assists in observing actions by blockers and defenders who are on his side of field". So the Umpire has help from the Referee and Line Judge already (although the Line Judge's primary responsibility is to "observe his receiver until he moves at least seven yards downfield", so if the near-side receiver runs a pattern under seven yards, the LJ may be focusing on the receiver rather than the backfield).

But it's not unreasonable to have three and a half officials focusing on the backfield and four and a half downfield, rather than two and a half and four and a half, given you'll generally have a minimum of 9 of 22 players in the backfield (five lineman, a QB, and three pass rushers) and could have as many as 15 or 16 on a big blitz with max protect.

by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 9:46pm

Everybody just assumes that Seattle would have scored on the 1st and goal, but given how that game was played there were no givens. Also are we even having this discussion if Stevens drops that pass (like the many passes he dropped during the game) and Locklear was still called for holding? I don't think so, given the fact the could have been called as many as 10 times during that game I don't see it as any big surprise that he got called twice, it was just unfortunate for him and Seattle that he was caught on that play. The problem was he did it right in front of the ref, if the ref hadden't made the call we would all being chatising him for not calling an obvious hold. In that case the ref made the right call, but in reality he was in a no win situation.

by Eddie (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 9:49pm

Mike, congratulations for having the courage to do this crucial work. Obviously, you want to preserve some integrity in the game.
In light of all the evidence, it is a mystery to me as to how the NFL can come out with a statement that this game was properly officiated. If that doesn't insult your intelligence, nothing will.
To call holding on Locklear on that particular play had only one purpose and that was to keep the Seahawks from scoring. No referee in his right mind would make that call without permission from the powers to be. One writer wrote,..."the Seahawks were robbed and that the NFL wanted the Steelers to win." Another wrote, "Every single questionable, marginal or outright bad call went against the Seahawks."
My question for you,Mike,is on the desperation pass play that Roethlisberger(barely behind the line of scrimmage) completed to Ward--did you notice any Steeler, by NFL definition,"holding?"

by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 9:56pm

Eddie, have you lost your mind or are you just a bitter and broken Shehawks fan?
When the flag was thrown the pass had not yet been caught so explain how that flag was thrown to keep Seattle out of the endzone. What kept them out of the endzone was bad coaching and poor play calling. To blame the refs for Seattle losing that game is just weak. Seattle lost because they couldn't stop Pittsburgh from scoring. The refs didn't give up a 75yard TD run, ot a 46yard TD pass. They didn't drop passes, or miss FG's or mismanage the clock. Seattle took care of all of that on thier own. You Seatle fans are looking for a scapegoat instead of facing the facts.

by Paul (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 9:58pm

funny how the ball bounces. 2 weeks ago, a lot of Steeler fans were more than happy to discuss poor officiating-now suddenly its whining and beneath mention. Can't wait for the first dubious call against them next year...

by nat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 10:03pm

One thing that MDS proved pretty conclusively is that whatever standard being used to call holds, it's not simply the words in the NFL Digest of Rules. (Not that anyone thought or wants that)

He also convinced me that they weren't using his standard (which was 'more flagrant' than some cut-off point). I'm willing to accept that 'flagrancy' alone doesn't explain why some calls are made and others not. It sounds like it would be an unworkable standard anyway, since so many holds would be ranked the same.

But what standard do they use, or do they even use one at all? If they do use one, do they apply it consistently? Is it easy or hard to apply?

I'd love to see answers or even theories on those questions before we throw out rules that have been tweaked and tuned over time to make the NFL a good product.

I don't mind judgment calls so long as there is a standard that is relatively easy to use. For example: late hits are easy to call consistently although they are entirely a judgment call.

by DJ (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 10:06pm

Us Steeler fans put up with alot of bad calls throughout the year, as did most every other fan or every other team. The difference is The Steelers won despite those calls because they were the better team. Seattle simply wasn't the better team. A good team doesn't fall apart during crunch time because they had a few bad calls go againts them. The Steelers got jobbed at Indy, but instead of crying about it like Holmgren did at the end of the 1st quarter, they went back out there and kept playing and rose above it.
The Steelers will once again get calls againts them next year, and we Steeler fans will complain, it human nature but we won't sit and cry about it for a week.

by Bob (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 10:08pm

Paul, the difference is in the INDY game the ref got the rules wrong, what happened in the SB were judgment calls. A totally different ball of wax.

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 10:11pm

Re 158: Trogdor, it's nice to read a logical suggestion backed up by a well-reasoned argument. Although I parodied the idea of too many extra officials in number 87, I have to agree that an additonal umpire makes sense, at least as you have proposed it here.

by nat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 10:14pm

Ref #171

I think he was kidding. Are we getting hard of humor around here? Eh? Eh? Spoof louder, sonny!

But as for me, I really do appreciate the time that MDS put into his analysis. His method was clear and open. If I disagree with him, it's in his premise that the Rules Digest wording (alone) is the standard that should have been applied, and in some of the conclusions he drew when he discovered that it wasn't.

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 10:22pm

"To call holding on Locklear on that particular play had only one purpose and that was to keep the Seahawks from scoring. No referee in his right mind would make that call without permission from the powers to be" Have we really degenerated to this? Read the first line of the article: "By the above definition of holding, Seattle Seahawks right tackle Sean Locklear committed holding on the controversial fifth play of the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL." The guy committed the infraction. You can argue that it should have been called other times, or all the other times, or never, but I just don't see how you can rationally argue that the point of the call was to keep the Seahawks from scoring. If you honestly believe that the "powers that be" dictate the outcome of the game, why the heck are you watching? Isn't that a condemnation of your own gullibility, that you know the game is fixed and you watch it and care about it anyway?

by AMF (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 10:27pm

This post is in regards to the last part of the article stating that "A runner may ward off opponents with his hands and arms but no other player on offense may use his hands or arms to obstruct an opponent by grasping with hands, pushing, or encircling any part of his body during a block."

Apologies if this was already posted after post 53 (where I paused reading to post this)

The last option available to an offensive player without the football is to become a 'blocker' and subject to the NFL rules pertaining to blocking. It makes sense when taken in context.

by Dan (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 10:31pm

I've been a longtime fan of this site and a longtime lurker. I take MDS and Aaron and the others involved with this site very seriously and (usually) respect their opinions. But this griping about the penalties and the "worst officiated game" ever and the supposed bias against the Seahawks is really nonsensical. It's overhyped, irrational, and overblown -- stuff worthy of Skip Blayless. I've looked closely at every one of the so-called "bad calls" and see only one incorrect one -- the Hasselbeck illrgal block. I was hoping to log on today to see some real analysis of how the Steelers won while being outplayed for most of the game. Instead, I read more tripe. Enough already.

P.S. I'm not a Steelers fan. I'm not a Seahawks fan. I'm an Eagles fan.

by Seattle Transplant (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 10:37pm

The Magic Nine Factors That Cause the "Seattle Chill"



Reply to: anon-128483320@craigslist.org

Date: Wed Jan 25 15:24:27 2006


CL R&R is divided into two camps: those that have seen
the Seattle Chill in action and know it exists, and those who reflexively
scream at the first camp to get bent or move out of town.

The Seattle Chill IS an established sociological phenomenon that has been
extensively documented, written about and attracted
academic interest. A growing number of research professionals are interested in
learning why Seattle
is such an angry, unwelcoming, repressed, socially backward little city.

As a personal experiencer and student of the Seattle
Chill I believe I have isolated the nine key factors that generate it. Few are
unique to Seattle.
No single factor, or even two or three together, would affect the culture
profoundly. But stir them all together and they have a Chilling effect.

Seattle is the
only city on earth where all nine key factors intersect in a perfect Big Bang
-- a quintessence of dysfunction. It's like seeing the atom split, a borderline
mystic phenomenon, with the results being neighbors who won't talk to you and
strangers who tell you to get bent when you smile at them.

1. TECHNOLOGY. Wired/Internet culture is inherently isolating. People use the
anonymity of e-culture to dodge the work of human relationships. Every office
knows the downside of substituting email for face-to-face communication. Impose
that culture on a highly wired metropolitan area and it's disastrous.

2. DARKNESS. Admittedly a seasonal factor, because the summers are glorious,
but Seattle is
characterized mainly by endless, gray, wet, dark winters. Nobody feels like
connecting when the sun is gone for months. Seasonal affectedness disorder is a
known mental condition, and the whole city suffers from it.

3. GEOGRAPHY. Surrounded by water on three sides, the city is difficult to get
to. Commute times are longer. Errands take longer. Traffic jams and basic life
maintenance tasks snuff out hours that could be used to establish and maintain
human relationships. Consequently people do not feel they have the capacity or
energy to maintain the ones they've got, let alone start new ones.

4. PARALYSIS. Too few roads and a lame transit system mean we all spend too
much time in our cars, alone and stationary. This isolation becomes second

5. TRANSPLANT PRESSURE. The townies resent the newbies
for ruining Seattle's
imagined Podunk innocence. The Chill tends to segregate Seattleites into groups
of locals who went to Garfield High together... and knots of transplants who
find each other and share their perplexity about the townies.

6. INSECURITY. Seattle
is a sort of Potemkin world-class city, with a lot of
gnawing, provincial fears and small-town, small-bore sensibilities behind the
21st-century facade. (In no other city have I heard so many natives proudly
proclaim their disinterest in discovering other places, because
"everything I could ever want is right here.") Any seventh grader
will tell you insecurity impedes social interaction.

7. WEALTH ENVY. Too much new money from quick tech fortunes
and unnatural real estate appreciation. It's divided the Seattle population into
haves and have-nots that hate each other -- not on the basis of intelligence or
faithful hard work, but on arbitrary, lotterylike
terms: who lucked into the right employer or neighborhood and who didn't. The
wealth lottery is a key destabilizer and
anger-breeder. That's why your neighbor just stares at you instead of saying
good morning. Maybe you bought your place outright on a whim while she's
drowning in a 30-year mortgage. She hates you for it.

8. INSTANT GRATIFICATION CULTURE. Thanks in part to dot-com culture, in part to
a general decline in societal structure, people expect to achieve all manner of
material rewards -- BMWs, Thai diving holidays, granite countertops --
virtually overnight and become angry when denied. I've seen 27-year-old
tech-world workers fly into rages or sink into funks because they couldn't have
exactly the Mercer Island
house they wanted. When people lose the concept of investing and earning to
achieve things, they lose the ability to relate to people. (And it's not only
young people; as someone smarter than me has observed, if you want to see raw
anger, try telling any upper-middle-class American woman she can't have

9. POLITICAL IMPOTENCE. The liberal/progressive paradigm is virtually
overthrown in the US.
The Democratic leadership is inept and incoherent. Some of the movement's last
angry avatars are out here clinging to the country's leftmost, jagged edge.
Having failed to change the country they are now reduced to snatching
cigarettes out of people's fingers and, like the hard right, screaming insults
at anyone who disagrees with them. These people have never exactly been relaxed
anyway. Now that their eclipse is about total, Seattle's air is weighted with their general
rage and disapproval.

Thank you for your interest in the root causes of the Seattle Chill. Anyone who
responds here by telling me to get bent or move away is personifying Factors 1,5 and 6.


Origin - Craigslist.org ©

by Paul (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 10:57pm

Ahh, so Cardinal fans have no beef with Don Denkinger about the call in the 85 World Series because that was a judgement call.
180: 3 plays: the 2 tds, and the scramble. thats all it took to win. sometimes its enough. Washington beat TB on about 3 plays as well.

by SJM (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:11pm

Why does everyone think MDS is griping about bad officiating? He is complaining about a poorly written rulebook which leads to too much subjectivity in the calls. As many have pointed out, the penalties called were call correct except the Hasselbeck cut block. The UNCALLED penalties are the real issue.

MDS certainly never suggested that the Seahawks were robbed, that they would have won the game (they might or might not have), or that there was a conspiracy.

This article addresses an issue for all NFL fans: subjective penalties and a vague rulebook. Most of the criticisms seem to be coming from angry Seahawks fans or insecure Pittsburg fans. The rest of you should share MDS's desire for an objective rulebook and noncontraversial decisions. I certainly do.

by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:22pm

Thank you for your interest in the root causes of the Seattle Chill. Anyone who
responds here by telling me to get bent or move away is personifying Factors 1,5 and 6.

Wow. A troll/spam post with a disclaimer against people who respond negatively to it. It's sheer genius!

by BillWallace (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:29pm

I don't see what the big deal is. It's pretty standard for the referees to call only a few of the many holding penalties. 1 out of 16 versus 0 out of 8 seems perfectly normal and fair to me. The fact that the one occured on a relatively important play and was much more damaging than the average holding call is unlucky. You're not going to be able to take the luck out of the game by fixing the rules no matter how hard you try.

In general I disagree with FO's continuous rant about the officiating ruining the super bowl. All of the calls except the low block were right, if borderline. It was simply unlucky that Seattle happened to be on the wrong end of all the borderlines, and they happened on important plays.

Seattle held on Hasselbeck's rushing touchdown against the skins and it was not called. That was lucky for them. This is so much crap over nothing. (Not a steelers fan).

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:33pm

We wouldn't be so insecure if you learned how to spell it!!! It's PittsburgH. Not Pittsburg, I believe Pittsburg is in Kansas.

"But no fair observer can say that given the way the rest of the game was called, Locklear should have been assessed that game-changing penalty."

I think this may constitute griping about the officiating. If you disagree that this penalty shouldn't have been called, you can't be a fair observer. I think this penalty should have been called, if the official saw it. I consider myself a pretty fair person.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:36pm


I'm not sure what this Seattle Chill has to do with anything, except that every single point in that list but the "small town/big town identity crisis" applies to San Francisco as well, including being surrounded by even more water on all 3 sides than Seattle is. Well, whatever, I guess.


I'm not entirely sure where you're drawing the conclusion that there is a large population of angry Seattle fans getting bent out of shape. There are surely a few, but the majority of the people who were upset about the game are neutral fans. Personally, I moved on days ago, because I know no amount of griping will change the result, and I'm used to seeing my team get jobbed by refs. Other fans are too, and if it was their team getting jobbed, they'd probably move along just the same.

The difference, I think, is that neutral fans wanted a game they felt was competitive, and they don't feel that they got that. There's really an accumulation of (real or imagined) one-sided calls by officials, one-sided coverage by press, and one-sided attention by the network (the Lombardi Trophy montages were pretty obnoxious), and so on.

Maybe a lot of people may have seen Seattle as a heavy underdog in the public's eye, even if they weren't in Vegas or here on FO, and so they were rooting for them. As such, they're just displaying normal behavior for someone who just recently got attached to a team - the first few perceived injustices are particularly bitter.

I felt mad as hell about the Polamalu interception. I've never wanted a non-Seattle team to win a particular game more than I did Pittsburgh at that point. I guess it's a little ironic, but whatever.

Hopefully in one of these conjectures and anecdotes is some form of explanation for why so many neutral fans are so angry.

Also, I don't think I'll ever get an answer to this, but does anyone know why they were playing "Bittersweet Symphony" when Seattle ran on the field, vs. "Right Here, Right Now" for Pittsburgh? Something about that really irritated me. Did Seattle choose the song? Why? Did someone else choose it for them, in which case I'd be pretty pissed at the implications? What was the deal with that, and who chooses that stuff?

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:38pm


2 out of 16, and both on plays that could've helped a drive.

It amazes me how many people don't seem to have a full grasp of all the facts/non-facts about this. Myself, for one. There's just been so much thrown about that it's hard to know what's generally accepted as true at this point, like rule interpretations and the makeup of the officiating staff for the Super Bowl, and what's still in the air. This is good wiki material, if the people who maintain the wiki are reading this.

by SJM (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:40pm

Re: 186

As a Washington Capitals fan, I reserve the right to misspell "Pittsburg" any way I like.

Also, according to TMQ Pittsburg of Kansas claims that their spelling is the correct one.

by SJM (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:42pm

Re: 187

You are probably right that many neutral fans were swayed toward Seatle, and thus were upset over the calls. I blame Skip Bayless.

by Steve Z (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:58pm

Re: Jake Brake, #155

To be biased means to have an illicit preference for something. The bias would be illicit because it would likely result in unfair outcome, an outcome that favored the thing preferred. Thus, to claim bias on the part of the Superbowl game officials and the NFL in general implies claiming that the officials and the NFL meant for one kind of result to occur, namely, a result that positively reflected their preference, which is to say, their bias. To put the matter bluntly, you’re alleging the existence of a conspiracy to fix the result of the Superbowl. Positive evidence of such a conspiracy would include memoranda discussing the conspiracy, witnesses to the conspirators making their plans, compelling evidence that corroborated that such plans not only existed, but were implemented, etc.

The reason I ask for positive evidence is this: As things now stand, we can say with greater confidence than we could on Monday that most of the controversial calls made during the Superbowl were correctly made but remain controversial nonetheless. So, we must ask whether these controversial calls were simple mistakes that officials sometimes make, products of chance or partial consequences of the fact that Seattle broke the rules more often than the Steelers, etc.? We must ask these questions because it is probable that officials make mistakes, that chance intrudes onto the officiating of NFL football games and that some teams will commit more infractions than their opponents. It is thus not at all clear from the in-game evidence — evidence that we have all poured over so carefully since the Superbowl — that the officials or the NFL in general preferred a Steelers’ victory. And, so far as I know, there is no evidence independent of the game itself which indicates that the game officials and the NFL in general conspired to fix the result of the game. This is the kind of positive evidence we would need — positive evidence that identifies an actual conspiracy. What we have, however, is unsubstantiated conjectures about the motives of the NFL.

by GeneB (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 11:59pm

180. Thanks, Dan, for your thorough review of the games calls - obviously you weren't paying attention when the NFL announced that there were NO incorrect calls made in the game- the refs were perfect. Rather than have a decent game I think all the fans should simply revel in the state of perfection they got to watch on the league's filling the stadium with 90% Steeler's fans and the exquisite ref's rightly awarding them any call necessary. It was like a beautiful symphony. Oh, and sorry for Seattle's 42-0 whitewash of your Eagles - we were trying to hold back and play our scrubs. I'm glad it didn't make you biased.

by Rob (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:02am

#175- yes it is a different "ball of wax" and a worse one. I can understand an official making a difficult judgement call in live action and at times getting it wrong (though not in the case of the super bowl - the only true "bad call" made was Hasselbeck's "low block). The Polamalu INT was far worse because the guy reviewed it in slow motion and overturned it when everyone in the stadium (mostly Indy fans) probably thought it was an INT. Still, those things happen and always will, it is a game officiated by humans.

The Seahawks are also lucky the refs missed the block in the back of Ben R. after the INT or else their biggest play of the day would have been called back (at least the runback part of it).

Basically what happens is that people notice it more when flags are thrown then when players get away with things. How about NE getting away with defensive holding virtually the whole game against the Rams in SB 36? No secret in how to stop the "Greatest Show". Was it in the NFL's best interest to have a team in red, white and blue called the Patriots win after 9/11? Or was it better to allow them to do it so the Rams would not blow them out of the water in the first quarter since the 30 second ads in the 4th quarter are worth more in a close game? We can come up with theories but the reality is that (at least I hope) the NFL has way too much to lose if they get caught "fixing" games. The NHL admitted that it allowed holding and grabbing so that expansion teams with low payrolls could compete without star players - and we see where it got them.

In any case, the coaches need to be aware of how the game is called and adjust accordingly. Martz was too married to his pass happy system even when it was not working. Maybe the reality is this "best in the NFL" Seattle offensive line was holding most of the year and getting away with it most of the year. Maybe if the refs called EVERYTHING, the Steelers would have won by even more points. We will never know.

Yes the officiating is bad at times, but I still want to see replay go. They fix some things and leave other things go. They also lean toward fumbles because "down by contact" is not reviewable and then the replay guy is told to find "conclusive evidence" to overturn it. Nothing worse than seeing a good play and then having to wait 5 minutes to see if it will stand.

by GeneB (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:04am

13. Loki - are you sure which side of the ball Haggens was on when the ball was snapped? Oh right, there was no offsides called - what was I thinking?

by SJM (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:27am

Re: 191 "bias"

You twisted things around to get to a conspiracy. Bias is often unconscious, and the effects bias has on decision-making can certainly be unconscious. If the refs wanted Seatle to lose (which I doubt), that could have influenced their decisions without any "conspiracy."

However, as much as the league might have wanted the Steelers to win (which is debatable) I highly doubt that the refs were given any instructions, or that they cared about who won. Many people have pointed out that the holding call came before the play resulted in a TD, that there was no penalty called on Seatle's interception return, and that the refs called the late fumble down by contact, favoring Seatle.

Enough with the conspiracies.

by RIck S (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:35am

Bottom Line Pittsburgh fans, it is unprecidented to have this kind of controversy following a Super Bowl.

If you don't want to hear what many, and the majority of whom are impartial fans have to say, then stay on a local web site and rationalize your victory there. The 2006 Super will always be remembered more for the controversy than the Steelers.

by Eric (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:38am

In response to response #24.


If you sole intent of this article was to see if the tackles were holding on each passing play only, there are a few paragraphs in here that do not belong. From what I read I also beleieve that you were giveing some examples of rules that need better defentions or rethinking. I must admit that I agree with you on those two examples that you gave. I beleieve that "pushing in the back" constitutes a different penality all together and why would it be illegal to push a oppnent with your hands if you are a offensive player, it does baffle the mind. If these are the objectives of your article, can you explain to me why the following paragraphs are also in here? Was there possibly a third objective of yours that I missed? Please explain.


"Because Seattle passed more than twice as often as Pittsburgh did, Pittsburgh’s tackles actually committed holding at a higher rate than Seattle’s, although the Steelers were never flagged.

If the officials had called holding on two inconsequential plays and ignored it the rest of the time, no one would much care. But Locklear’s penalty negated an 18-yard Jerramy Stevens catch that would have given the Seahawks first-and-goal from the one-yard line, where they very likely would have scored and taken a 17-14 lead with less than 12 minutes remaining in the game. Instead they faced first-and-20 from the 29-yard line, Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception three plays later, and Pittsburgh’s subsequent touchdown effectively ended the game."

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:40am

192: I'm not sure what you mean by the NFL's filling the stadium with 90% Steelers fans. As far as I know, the NFL did not allocate the Steelers more tickets for their fans than the Seahawks. Perhaps the fact that the game was a 6 hour drive from Detroit had something to do with it. Maybe the fact that you can take out a loan at the bank in Pittsburgh to buy SB tickets has something to do with it. Maybe the Seahawks organization overallocated their share to corporate sponsors and partners? I have no idea. I do know that the NFL didn't fill the stands with Steeler fans though. I'm linking to an article in the Seattle Times on this, if you're interested (link's in my name).

by Andrew (A.B.) (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:53am

I don't know if anyone posted this yet, but the actual rule (as opposed to what's in the "digest") says nothing about pushing.

"Rule 12-1-2: A runner may ward off opponents with his hands and arms, but no other offensive player may use them to obstruct an opponent, by grasping with hands or encircling with arm in any degree any part of the body, during a block."

There is similar language in Rule 3-3.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:04am

Lots of points raised in this thread, but:

while I am a big supporter of replay to aid officiating, I really hate this challenge system. It should not be the responsibility of the head coach to get the call on the field right. I preferred the previous system when the officials themselves went to replay if they felt the call was close.

After this season coaches have two new problems:

Thanks to the late call in the Saints-Rams game (when the Saints had no timeouts left to challenge a "fumble") coaches will feel under pressure to save timeouts, even if they think it is tactically better to use them, just in case there is a bad call later.

Thanks to the overturn of the Polamalu INT in the Pitt-Indy game, coaches will feel under pressure to waste timeouts challenging calls which are correct, because of the chance that the call may be overturned in error (I remember when watching the game that, before the announcement of the overturn, I actually thought it was a terrible call by Dungy to challenge the play since his team was down by 11 and I thought he was just throwing away a timeout)

On the original subject of holding: I think the way it gets called in practice (notwithstanding the way it is written) is that as long as the O-lineman is pushing back against the defender he is OK, even if his arm does get hooked around the guy or even if his hand is gripping the guy's jersey. It is only when the action becomes one of pulling on the defender (either sideways or backwards) that the flag gets thrown. I don't know if this would change some of your classifications in this study.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:17am

This has gotten ridiculous. No one's seriously discussing anything anymore, just making assertions and arguing for the sake of arguing. We need to move on.

by SF Yinzer (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:19am

My hunch would be less than 10% of the time, and certainly less than 20% of the time, is what was seen on that play results in a flag, and this, to me , indicates it was a very bad call.

But the analysis shows that holding in the Super Bowl got called about 10% of the time that it happened; depending on the distribution of "callability" that exists over potential holding calls, it's not unreasonable to expect that one of two penalties called out of twenty potential ones would be 20% callable.

It's only remembered because Stevens actually managed to hang onto the ball that time, something that the umpire had no way of predicting at the time he threw the flag.

by Steve Z (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:26am

Re: #195

I twisted nothing. The bias alleged to be a work in the Superbowl included multiple individuals and even the league office. How could they realize their biases on the field without communicating and thus creating a conspiracy? [sarcasm]Oh wait. It just so happens that the actions of the game officials and the NFL in general were governed by a collective unconscious mind. This supraconsciousness efficiently eliminated the need for those who defrauded the Seahawks to actually conspire to realize their evil ends. Hence, we have no evidence whatsoever of a conspiracy because the would-be conspirators didn’t need to conspire at all. They communicated without even knowing they communicated with each other! Well, that makes everything much clearer and reasonable![/sarcasm]

by Billy Bob (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:29am

# 188,

It's just a coincidence that 2/16 occured on plays that could have helped a drive. Do you expect the officials to hold their flags until the result of the play is known?

The officials made their decisions without prior knowledge of the outcome. It just sucks for Seattle that the penalties came on some of their bigger plays.

Of course there is no guarantee they would have had those big plays without the holds(Haggans damn near got to Hasselback despite being hooked).

by coltrane23 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:33am

(Disclaimer: Seattle fan who's spent the past couple of days obsessing over the Seahawks' lost opportunity)

I can't believe people are still going on about the officiating, and suggesting it cost the Seahawks the game. I watched the game while enjoying a couple (or more) beers, and haven't rewatched the game yet, so my memory could be off-base. But the bitterness I felt immediately after the game was due to the lost opportunities, not the cruddy officiating (although I felt that the calls in question were weak, I also felt that they weren't completely unjustified). The officiating was on a par for the rest of the playoffs this year, which is to say "not good."

But the Seahawks had numerous opportunities to take advantage of the fact that the Steelers didn't have their A game, and they didn't get it done.

I'd give the KCWA to Jerramy Stevens, for single-handedly (which seems to describe his receiving style) killing at least three drives. Yes, he caught the only TD pass, but he could have done so much more in that game. Etric Pruitt could share the award for being involved (not in a good way) in all three of the huge plays that the Steelers were able to execute. But Pruitt is a 3rd stringer who was thrust into action, so it's hard to blame him completely.

The point of this article, I believe, is that the standard for holding is ridiculous to begin with ("pushing" is illegal?). To illustrate the point, MDS cites every example where an offensive tackle executed a block that would, according to the rulebook, be considered holding. Then, he merely noted that Locklear got called for a holding penalty at an extremely inopportune moment, and it was odd that holding would be called on that particular play given the number of more egregious holding instances which had already gone uncalled throughout the game. I didn't see him suggest that the call shouldn't have been made, only that it appears inconsistent with how the rest of the game was called.

Like putnamp, I've moved on. I hope that next year's team grows from this experience, and does a better job of keeping their collective composure in road games. And that was, for all intents and purposes, a road game--the story up here is that Terrible Towels were everywhere to be had, but the blue and green towels which were shipped to Detroit never actually made it to the game.

(Incidentally, putnamp, I'd bet that the Seahawks chose to come out to "Bittersweet Symphony" because that's their pregame music at home games--not exactly a fire-in-the-belly kind of song to rally the troops, but it's what they use).

by Tony (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:37am

Say what you will about the article...but man, it got people all riled up. I can't remember an article ever having a comment thread this long.

Well, unless people were debating Manning vs Brady.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:37am

201: You're right, I feel myself becoming completely disoriented with each post I make and read. Of course, having an article or two that doesn't deal exclusively with the officiating or some controversial aspect of the rules would help the moving on a bit.

by mattfwood (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:49am

I won't be back again for a while guys. I read through the first 50 posts or so and not the rest, so maybe it got better. But if MDS, Will, and Aaron are so passionate about this, they shouldn't suggest that cheerleaders hand out random ping pong ball penalties -- they should just watch C-Span or perhaps change the focus of the website away from the NFL and towards the Office of Management and Budget.

"The goal of officiating is to call the infraction every time, in exactly the same manner, no matter if it is the first possession of the game, or the last possession, whether you have seen the player do it seven times, or if it is the first time you’ve seen him do it."

I'm probably the last person in the world who would consider himself anti-intellectual, but sheesh!

by putnamp (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:02am

Steve Z:

Bias has a pretty loose definition, just going off of the less-than-authoritative dictionary.com. Bias, loosely put, can mean as little as having a skew in one way or another, or can imply as much as a conspiracy. Let's not make things more complicated by assigning arbitrary context to the way someone else is using the word.

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:04am

Re: 191 - Steve Z:
As pointed out already, you twisted the definition of bias into the definition of conspiracy. Here's the definition of bias from dictionary.com: A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment. That hardly matches up with the elaborate scenario you described, and grossly mischaracterizes my argument. As an example in action, your bias against wanting to believe the NFL might not be entirely impartial in its motives causes you to make elaborate, far-reaching arguments against such a possibility.

And again - a point I have repeated in almost every post here - I'm not saying I necessarily believe all the points I'm raising. My motivation is simply to explain why so many people, including a large number of neutral observers, are upset at what they saw on the field Sunday. It's not all knee-jerk reaction to a disappointing outcome from Seattle fans (though there is plenty of that to go around as well.)

Re: 166 - Loki:
I wasn't trying to say that bias was shown by calls going against Seattle; instead, it's that there were no corresponding instances called against Pittsburgh. Plays crucial to Pittsburgh's ability to sustain critical drives, where further review has shown obvious infractions, did not result in a call, while penalties were called on Seattle in similar circumstances. Both teams were breaking the rules, but only one team was punished, and when it counted most.

As far as the rest of your post, it's well thought out and I agree with it to a point. (I'd have gone into more depth earlier but I'm starting to bore even myself with the lengthy explanations.) I wasn't asserting that the NFL tries to promote big market teams at all costs - no amount of advantage given to a crappy team is going to get them very far. But when the possibility presents itself, it certainly appears that big market/high profile/historical franchises are given the benefit of the doubt on calls. Again, this is obviously a debatable statement and unprovable with tangible evidence, but it is a trend I've noticed over many years of watching NFL games. (It occurs in almost all other professional team sports as well, most obviously the NBA.)

Also, I disagree that this has negatively impacted the NFL as a business at all; in fact, quite the contrary. The NFL has long been the most successful and popular American sports league. This past season has been generally regarded as a historically bad one in terms of officiating quality, particularly in the playoffs, yet a Super Bowl between two relatively small market teams garnered the second highest television viewership in history. All of this arguing and controversy keeps the fans engaged during the offseason and publicity high. (The cardinal rule of PR: Any publicity is good publicity.)

Finally, for the record: I am a Seahawks fan and I believe their own mistakes prevented them from winning the game despite the officiating. At the same time, I also believe they were held to a higher standard by the officials than Pittsburgh was. Seattle had actually done a great job of overcoming bad calls and their own mistakes all season, except in their final game.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:07am


It's been aimless for quite some time, though I'm glad somebody else is finally realizing it. At this point I just participate because there's no other discussion to participate in. *shrug*

by mattfwood (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:12am

One more thing, so as to instantly break my promise about not reading anymore. Hey Gene B at 192 -- If I have to read one more piece of garbage about how the NFL filled the place with 90% Steeler fans, I may explode.

I am a Steeler fan. I was there at the game. How did I get there? I paid an ungodly sum of money to a person who had tickets. To the best of my knowledge, this person was not an NFL representative. He did not inquire about which team I preferred in this game, if any. I do not live in Pittsburgh, so he could have at best guessed about my allegiances, if any. (I do live in the East, so maybe that was enough of a clue.

So that is how the NFL filled the stands with Steeler fans: by allowing them to purchase tickets on the open market. And if I may break the decorum one usually sees here at FO, What the F*** would you suggest doing to keep the site neutral? Maybe offer subsidized or discounted tickets for Seahawk fans? Forbid anyone with a Pittsburgh zip code or area code from buying tickets, once "too many" were in other Steeler fans' hands?

Or perhaps move the game, at the instant it was determined that one team's home city was "too close" to this formerly neutral site. If it's Denver vs. Seattle, then Detroit is acceptable. Once Pittsburgh is involved, move the game to Arizona. Would that work?

Steeler fans travel, and spend a lot of money on tickets. Apparently, fewer Seahawk fans do those two things, and I'd venture to guess that there are fewer Seahawk fans to begin with. And if this game had been at beloved Qwest Field but tickets had been distributed in the same way -- to lots of corporate types and NFL players and team employees willing to sell them -- then more than 50% of the people in Seattle would have been Steeler fans too. Not because the NFL did anything about it, but because conniving bastards like me would have taken the blatantly unfair step of purchasing tickets and traveling to the game site.

by Stevie (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:16am

I just finished reading 200 posts and #183 is the best.
Depsite what a few haters have said I thought it was a great article not because I want confirmation of how inconsistent the rulings were but to finally find out that "pushing" is illegal, thats crazy. And can we have a moratorium on whinging about people whinging about the officiating? I dont think the outsiders went overboard in their criticism of the officials at all. But as mentioned the NFL announced there were no errors made, its like W saying "im right trust me"

by mattfwood (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:21am

The NFL said the game was "properly officiated." I was not aware that was code for "no errors made," or even better, "no controversial calls or judgment calls."

by Steve Z (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:24am

Re: Jake Brake #210

I stand by my claim that I twisted nothing.

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:52am

Steve Z, fair enough, we'll just have to agree to disagree then.

And I have to agree with #213, post #183 said it best.

by Steve Z (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:55am

Re: Putnamp, #209
Bias has a pretty loose definition, just going off of the less-than-authoritative dictionary.com. Bias, loosely put, can mean as little as having a skew in one way or another, or can imply as much as a conspiracy.
It is an ambiguous word. However, it’s difficult to imagine so many individuals harboring a bias (understood as a preference for) the Steelers or a bias against (understood as a dislike of) the Seahawks without also entering into a conspiracy in order to realize their bias in practice. There is, of course, the collective unconscious claim....

The problem, in this instance, with restricting the use of the term to denoting the allegedly skewed outcome of the Superbowl, skewed in favor of the Steelers, is that one would need to differentiate the controversial officiating of the Superbowl from normal and from acceptable officiating and, as I mentioned above, from officiating resulting from chance or error. We would also need to determine whether or not Seattle actually suffered from an unfair application of the rules — that is, was the victim of bias in the minimal sense that some here want to give it.

By the way, Encarta defines bias as:
‘preference: an unfair preference for or dislike of something....’

The Concise OED defines it as
‘...inclination, predisposition (towards), prejudice, influence...’
‘Give a bias to, influence (usu. unfairly), inspire with prejudice.’

Both Encarta and the Concise OED include subject-relative words like preference, dislike, inclination, predisposition, prejudice and influence. These words refer to different kinds of intentionality, a concept which connects biased acts and thinking to conspiratorial acts and thinking. Thus, my considering the word bias conforms to the use of this word as it was defined by these two reference works, one of which is nearly authoritative for the English language. From where I sit, claiming the officials were biased amounts to a way to bring back in conspiracy talk while doing it illicitly or on the sly, so to speak.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:20am


I think there's an ambiguity here that you're not addressing. Bias does, by definition, serve to influence a person's thinking, but there's nothing that says that it's a conscious influence. The result of bias is some form of conscious thought, but that doesn't mean that the bias itself is conscious. This comes back to, and in turn it also substantiates the notion of the collective unconscious bias.

Secondly, there's nothing that says that just because several people may be individually and consciously biased, that they necessarily colluded to act upon that bias. I think the more relevant caveat is the first one, though, because I doubt that even if there was a bias that it was conscious at all.

So really, what this means is that while some people may be using the term bias to open the door to conspiracy, they are in the gross minority. The general concensus here is that there was no dire conspiracy at play. Taking someone's choice to use the word bias as a means to batten the hatches against conspiracy theories is just alarmist.

Don't worry, despite the "whining about whining" that some people have taken to, for the most part we're all rational here, and nobody's going to bring up the possibility of a conspiracy without absolutely irrefutable evidence of it, which I don't believe exists.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:27am


Not to start another tangential argument, but the theory I've heard is that the reason so many Pittsburgh fans make it to games isn't because they travel, but because they already live there. Lots of people have moved out of Pittsburgh over the years due to the economy, and they don't just change favorite teams.

It makes more sense, to me, because I met more Steelers fans here in San Francisco than I did Seahawks fans, and there are a lot of displaced Seattle residents.

It probably also has something to do with people who didn't have a "favorite team" during the 70s and chose the Steelers. Those people are probably also at the age where they have enough disposable income to travel to games.

Also, I would put substantial amounts of money against any bet that said that Steelers fans would take up 50% of Qwest Field if they re-played Super Bowl XL in Seattle. Seattle packs its stadiums. The Mariners were out-drawing the Yankees for a few years running, and even set a few attendance records, as I recall.

by Dwight Freeney (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 4:45am

No. Freakin'. Shit.

I think it was in the Audibles column after the Indy-SD game that someone wrote "SD's strategy was to hold Freeney on every play."

My guess is you can apply that to just about every DE or OLB who has a fast jump on a handful of plays every game. If they called it more, you'd see a lot more QBs being carted off, and more importantly, LOWER SCORING! Mon Dieu! Think of the ratings!

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 4:47am

Tony (#206)

You mean, of course, Brady v Manning (as opposed to the other way around, lest you disrespect #12--genuflect).

Yeah, I'm surprised there's been so much contentious input here....

by Cody (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:05am

Well I looked at each penalty on the play by play and made a list of the outcomes of the play, and the drive the play was in.


Sacked, tb punt

Incomplete, tb punt

Incomplete, Brown FG

15 yards, tb punt

2 yards, punt PIT 41

7 yds FD, Brown miss

13 yds no FD, punt PIT 16

17 yds FD, INT

(Incomplete, TO on Downs)


Sacked, TB punt

Incomplete, TB punt

Jackson OPI play, Brown FG

10 yards FD, Brown miss

7 yards FD, Brown miss

13 yards, Punt Pit 36


10 yards rush, Punt SEA 38

Incomplete, Roethlisberger TD

Miller OPI, Roethlisberger TD

16 yards FD, INT


10 yards, Punt SEA 36

Incomplete, Punt SEA 35

Sacked, Roethlisberger TD

Incomplete, Punt SEA 2

So if every holding were called, Seattle would have directly lost 4 first downs. Pittsburgh would have lost 1. Seattle would loose 194 yards to holding calls. Pittsburgh would have lost 96. (this each team takes sacks and OPIs over holds. Pittsburghs rate may have been higher, but Seattle made more yardage off of penalty plays. Feel free to speculate on the result it would have on each drive.

RE: 219

I would take that bet any day of the week. Won't elaborate though so that I'm not guilty of continuing that argument.

by Andreas Almodovar (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 6:23am

If you look at the game again you will notice that about 90% of the calls against the Seahawks where blunt bad calls. Thus, we'll have to agree to disagree on "there were no blown calls." There were several. Besides that, HOWEVER:

a) D-Jack's TD was a judgment call that could go either way. I agree with you ABSOLUTLEY. This was NOT a "blown call;" this was a very, very weak judgment call. By the end of the 1st half of the game, I could live with it.
b) Big Ben's TD was a judgment call that could go either way. I agree with you ABSOLUTELY. This was NOT a "blown call." Watching the re-plays in high-def, I could see no indisputable evidence to overturn the TD ruling. Though, it probably should not have been called TD to begin with. Still, I can live with this.

There WERE in fact blown calls, several in the 3rd and 4th quarter. Calls that helped stall a go-ahead drive by the Seahawks interception. They were also OFFSIDES, by the way. Calls that gave the Steelers excellent field position for a "salt away" score in the final minutes of the game. Without those blown calls...well, I'll just say this: We honestly will never know who won the game?! Seattle won from behind several times this year. They won on the road as often as the Steelers in the regular season (and would have had a better road record if they hadn't rested their starters in Green Bay). And they were positioned to win another close game...made close because of Seahawk mistakes. Yes, there were missed FGs. Yes there were dropped passes. Yes, there was blown coverage. No different than the Steelers, I may add. But you know what? That didn't stop the Seahawks from winning this year. Three turnovers in the play-off game against Washington didn't stop the Seahawks from winning. There were holding calls that were not there.

Also, Steelers were offsides on a play in the 4th Q at a critical time in the game. And how about the chop block below the waist by Big Ben on the reverse pass TD play. Also an, ESPN analysts stated that Jackson's foot hit the pylon and it should have been a touchdown. The tape clearly shows that the pylon wasn't just touched it was kicked off its holder. It's no wonder the Seahawks felt hopeless and gave up in the 4th Quarter, I would have to…and I'm an underdog kind of guy. I don't believe you ever quit, but how could you fight the referees?! That’s 2-3 touchdowns that were taken away from Seahawks (about 14-21 points). If that’s not robbing a game I don’t know what is and for those of you who say they still had a chance to come back that’s like saying, It’s ok to commit murder as long as….??? What the referee’s did was dirty and wrong and someone needs to make a stink of it. I think everyone needs to put this into prospective. The clock management was not an issue after you add up all the bad officiating and when the flags were thrown. They came at key moments of the game. The funny part is, I’m not a Seahawks or Steelers fan. I am a fan of football, and after that display of what’s supposed to be the best against the best. The Seahawks got robbed of a fair game.

Oh and if Joey Porter was on the Seahawks team he would have raised hell and all the Steelers fans know it. I would have been happy with Bettis winning in the Super Bowl, but not how they won it, no not now! In the end the Seahawks won and lost the game which many people feel the 'Hawks did win B/C of the officiating of the game and they were the more dominant team and lost B/C of bad clock management, but I for one don't think that was going to change the game at that point. There were questionable calls, there were blown calls, there were “no calls at all�, and there were" phantom calls.
The fact is 65% of the world (POLL BY ESPN) thinks the officiating had a big part on the outcome. THE BOTTOM LINE IS ... the officials were the third team that took the Seahawks out of their rhythm and out of the game. We will never know who the real Super Bowl Champions were of XL?! I honestly believe no team could have won that game the officials handed them. They gave them no chance to win. I am a die hard Tampa Bay Bucs fan. I am a die hard football fan. I am not bias.

I like all teams some more than others, but I like both the teams that were in the Super Bowl and yes, I was rooting for Seahawks, BUT would have loved to seen Steelers win this game for Bettis (it was a beautiful story to the end of his career), But fairly not ,this way. It was way, way too bad of an officiating game to be called a good game. Maybe a few mistakes would have been ok, but this was down right terrible and yes, this will be forever known as the ZEBRA BOWL!!! I am ashamed to call myself a football fan :(
HEY, for all you people who believe the officials didn't have a hand on the game how about this one no one can deny. Out of the mouth of the Steelers MVP comes the truth. Hinz Ward was on the hot seat 2/8/06 on ESPN. (BASICALLY THIS IS WHAT WAS SAID) He was asked did the officials play a part in the game. He tried to dodge the Q. Then he repeated the Q, but changed it a little. Was the officiating that bad? Was there really some bad calls? HE responded, "well yea there was SOME bad calls, but we have had some bad calls too, so this kind of was pay back for us. But there's nothing you can do about it. The Seahawks played good, but we came out on top!!!! I REST MY CASE AND AM DONE WITH YOU PEOPLE WHO CONTINUE TO LIVE IN DENIAL! Court Is Adjourned!

by bengt (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 8:18am

Great work, poor wording. I have to agree with #14 that the part on the 'infamous call' coming on a very important play is easily misunderstood. The words 'no one would have cared' are buried quite deep in the paragraph, and if you miss them, it is easy to think that MDS complains about the harshness of the call, rather than arguing that only this harshness caused the call to be noticed at all.

I think that the data collection is very good, and I fully believe it to be accurate. I start to disagree with the analysis at 'Because Seattle passed more than twice as often'. Aside from the question whether holdings per pass play or total number of holdings have greater influence on a referee's decisions (I tend to assume the latter), I would like to ask the following question: Did you as well calculate the average time between the snap and the throw for the two teams? I should think that it was longer for Pittsburgh, maybe even by a factor of two. Taking longer to throw gives higher probability to hold. This assumption is at least as well established as the one involving 'making more pass attempts'.

In other words: Don't normalize wrt the number of throws, but to the time taken for throwing.

Or in yet other words: This analysis is not up to your usual standards, with all due respect.

Notice that after the 'infamous call', no other tackle held at all, and the only other one came after twelve minutes of playing time. The holdings came at a rate of six per quarter, one every two and a half minutes. I think this underlines that the ref sent a 'This was just too obvious, now it's enough, stop it!' signal to the teams.

Talking about consistency: After calling offensive PI on the Jackson TD, the refs also ruled that the HOA (hand on ass) thing during the Hasselbeck run was a tackle, thus negating his fumble.

#18, 20

If you want to see a real offsides, just watch Haggans on the next play, the Hampton sack.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the refs close calls have not all gone to Pittsburgh (Stevens incomplete pass/fumble, Hasselbeck down by contact/fumble).


I don't like negative conditioning, and the article shows why: It doesn't work. Please take a look at the very first holding of the game, according to MDS' list. How many holdings would you have allowed Locklear after that before you thought to yourself: 'This guy seems to be immune against my negative conditioning treatment; I must call him again.'? Maybe seven?

by Al Zarella (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 9:01am

Michael, Michael, Michael....do the word "journalistic integrity" have any meaning to you? Why did you only quote that portion of the NFL Rules which give credence to YOUR media frenzy-feeding schtick? Anything to get your name to the front, huh? Let's look at the ENTIRE holding rule.....

Digest of Rules

Use of Hands, Arms, and Body
1. No player on offense may assist a runner except by blocking for him. There shall be no interlocking interference.

2. A runner may ward off opponents with his hands and arms but no other player on offense may use hands or arms to obstruct an opponent by grasping with hands, pushing, or encircling any part of his body during a block. Hands (open or closed) can be thrust forward to initially contact an opponent on or outside the opponent’s frame, but the blocker immediately must work to bring his hands on or inside the frame.

Note: Pass blocking: Hand(s) thrust forward that slip outside the body of the defender will be legal if blocker immediately worked to bring them back inside. Hand(s) or arm(s) that encircle a defender—i.e., hook an opponent—are to be considered illegal and officials are to call a foul for holding.

Blocker cannot use his hands or arms to push from behind, hang onto, or encircle an opponent in a manner that restricts his movement as the play develops.

3. Hands cannot be thrust forward above the frame to contact an opponent on the neck, face or head.

Note: The frame is defined as the part of the opponent’s body below the neck that is presented to the blocker.

4. A defensive player may not tackle or hold an opponent other than a runner. Otherwise, he may use his hands, arms, or body only:

(a) To defend or protect himself against an obstructing opponent.

Exception: An eligible receiver is considered to be an obstructing opponent ONLY to a point five yards beyond the line of scrimmage unless the player who receives the snap clearly demonstrates no further intention to pass the ball. Within this five-yard zone, a defensive player may chuck an eligible player in front of him. A defensive player is allowed to maintain continuous and unbroken contact within the five-yard zone until a point when the receiver is even with the defender. The defensive player cannot use his hands or arms to push from behind, hang onto, or encircle an eligible receiver in a manner that restricts movement as the play develops. Beyond this five-yard limitation, a defender may use his hands or arms ONLY to defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver. In such reaction, the defender may not contact a receiver who attempts to take a path to evade him.

(b) To push or pull opponent out of the way on line of scrimmage.

(c) In actual attempt to get at or tackle runner.

(d) To push or pull opponent out of the way in a legal attempt to recover a loose ball.

(e) During a legal block on an opponent who is not an eligible pass receiver.

(f) When legally blocking an eligible pass receiver above the waist.

Exception: Eligible receivers lined up within two yards of the tackle, whether on or immediately behind the line, may be blocked below the waist at or behind the line of scrimmage. NO eligible receiver may be blocked below the waist after he goes beyond the line. (Illegal cut)

Note: Once the quarterback hands off or pitches the ball to a back, or if the quarterback leaves the pocket area, the restrictions (illegal chuck, illegal cut) on the defensive team relative to the offensive receivers will end, provided the ball is not in the air.

5. A defensive player may not contact an opponent above the shoulders with the palm of his hand except to ward him off on the line. This exception is permitted only if it is not a repeated act against the same opponent during any one contact. In all other cases the palms may be used on head, neck, or face only to ward off or push an opponent in legal attempt to get at the ball.

6. Any offensive player who pretends to possess the ball or to whom a teammate pretends to give the ball may be tackled provided he is crossing his scrimmage line between the ends of a normal tight offensive line.

7. An offensive player who lines up more than two yards outside his own tackle or a player who, at the snap, is in a backfield position and subsequently takes a position more than two yards outside a tackle may not clip an opponent anywhere nor may he contact an opponent below the waist if the blocker is moving toward the ball and if contact is made within an area five yards on either side of the line. (crackback)

8. A player of either team may block at any time provided it is not pass interference, fair catch interference, or unnecessary roughness.

9. A player may not bat or punch:

(a) A loose ball (in field of play) toward his opponent’s goal line or in any direction in either end zone.

(b) A ball in player possession.

Note: If there is any question as to whether a defender is stripping or batting a ball in player possession, the official(s) will rule the action as a legal act (stripping the ball).

Exception: A forward or backward pass may be batted, tipped, or deflected in any direction at any time by either the offense or the defense.

Note: A pass in flight that is controlled or caught may only be thrown backward, if it is thrown forward it is considered an illegal bat.

10. No player may deliberately kick any ball except as a punt, dropkick, or placekick.

Try READING #2, where it says that a blocker MAY thrust his arms forward, and must keep them inside the framework.....
Read #3.....

PLEASE...report things accurately. You are attempting to grab the limelight by conveniently skipping those parts of the rules which COULD justify the official's not calling, or even more so, WHY they called holding on certain plays.

by Robert L. (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 9:10am

I suppose to make everyone happy, we must have a camera trained on every single player, and we'll stop the game after every play to examine each and every matchup to see if anyone held or clipped or pushed off according to the rule book, and if there's a grey area, a panel of judges will then review the play based on a player's previous history of penalties and the severity of other penalties during the game. Then we'll have laser technology in the football to determine exactly when the ball hit the turf or if it broke the plane of the goal line.

From there, we'll analyze every injury on the field and deduct or add points to a team's current total to balance things out----because it's not really fair that one team should get hurt more than the other. The next step will be to count a team's bad bounces during the season and penalize or favor them sometimes to make sure things even out just so. And let's not forget field conditions and wind. If a team misses a field goal because they had to kick into a sudden gust of wind during the third quarter of their game in week three, then they should be allowed to kick with the wind at a specially selected time the next week. And if a player slips on a loose patch of turf, let's replay that down, because it's just not fair that an element beyond his control should go against him.

Football is a game in which random elements and human error come into play once in a while. Referees are not cyborgs. They make occasional mistakes on extremely close plays, and once in a while, they blow a call completely. So does instant replay, for that matter. We could spend years legislating every conceivable improvement to officiating, and mistakes would still be made, and little by little, the game would be less and less enjoyable to watch. I think we should let humans be humans and accept the fact that the grey areas of the game just add to its unpredictability and tension.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 9:41am

Re: 197

Eric, I can tell you exactly why those two paragraphs are in there. Not that I speak for MDS, but I think they're both pretty obvious.

1) This is for the people who would look at this and say something like, "Wait, Seattle held more, what's the complaining about?" without bothering to take attempts into account. It's pre-emptively shutting down one line of argument.

2) I really don't understand the confusion over this one. Here's what it says: the only reason we're talking about this at all is because they called Locklear on one of the biggest plays of the game instead of one of the 14 insignificant plays (where the holding was often more obvious). They had plenty of chances to call it, and the only reason it's controversial is that they only did at the most inopportune time for Seattle.

Re: 225

Um... how does that change anything? I really can't see anything in that extended quote that is different regarding holding. So according to you, quoting the applicable part and leaving out the stuff that doesn't matter at all to the discussion (such as 1 and 3-10) is lacking "journalistic integrity"? Seriously, I don't get why having the lead quote be as long as the article itself is a sign of anything other than a boring writer. What exactly is in the longer quote that would affect anything in this article? I've read through #2 several times, and I don't see anything there which would materially affect any of the calls listed as described. What are you seeing that I'm not that makes you so sure he's lacking integrity?

by Definitely not Tanier (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 9:54am

To clear a few things up on the subjects of bias, ambiguity, journalistic integrity, and straw man argumentation.

There are really two dialectics at work here. If I can adopt a soliptical Pyrrhonistic stance for a moment, I would like to sugest that we are confusing an a priori interptetation of the rulebook with an a posteriori interpretation of NFL rules as Platonic ideals.

Rene Descartes said "Cogito Ergo Sum." I suppose I should quote the rest of Meditations on the First Philosophy, otherwise I might be accused of misquoting to meet some media-feeding frenzy schtick, but I will take a calculated risk here. Decartes asseted that cognition implied existense, and from that he extrapolated that pushing a defensive end without removing the hand from the outside shoulder of the defender was holding. Aquinas made the same assertion centuries earlier in the Summa Theologica when referring to the unheld holder.

Which leads us irrevocably to Erasmus and, by extension, to Bertrand Russell. Erasmus once said that "He, who is imbued by the Creator with Hands that doth grasp and clutch, given as it is within the primitive nature of man to suckle at the teat of his wetnurse and grapple with her breast, doth serve his Divine Master greatly in the act of pulling forth his defender unto the frozen Earth." This is key to my whole argument. Russell later called this the Substantive Individualist Causality, though he rejected many of Erasmus' religous overtones.

While at Yale, Russell had the opportunity to serve as line judge for several Yale-Brown games. He was part of an All Star officiating crew, or possibly part of a highly-graded crew that was allowed to officiate important games. Bertrand Russell himself was skeptical of his ability to call holding properly on every down. "It all happens to friggin fast. I just wait for someone to get mugged," he said in "Proposed Roads to Freedom."

BUT HERE IS THE REAL KEY TO MY ARGUMENT: Russell made a key call against Brown in 1918. And where did all the Football Outsiders go to college? You guessed it. So all of these guys aren't biased against the Steelers, and they aren't whining about calls. They are really rejecting the philosophical principles of Bertrand Russell. And who the f*** are they to disagree with one of the greatest philsophers of the last 200 years.

And no, I don't think scrambling together 2000 years of philosophy to prove a point is over-the-top for an issue this important.

by Don Denkinger (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 10:08am


I have looked at Big Ben's 'chop block' very closely, and it was not even close. Ben hit the guy well above the waist- they were both low.

by Toby (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 10:15am

Why does the fact that there was a higher rate of holding on Pittsburgh passing plays matter at all? If holding violations occur so frequently that they are called only a fraction of the time, the more absolute number of times a team commits the violation will make it more probable the penalty is called. And if passing the ball causes a team to commit more holding violations, well, that's just another reason to run the ball.

Of course, I think the rules should be simplified and easier to enforce consistently. Troy's overturned interception is an even more blatant example of this - if the ref saw the play correctly and still misunderstood the rule, then there is something wrong with the rule.

And I do think that the officiating should be a topic for footballoutsiders.com, because it is the easiest to be influenced by irrelevant information. The broadcast of the game, and the replays they choose to show, greatly influence the perception of poor officiating. And any talk about the "critical juncture" at which plays are called is a blatant example of hindsight bias. Hopefully, a fair examination of officiating will help change this.

Of course, focusing on it now instead of a month ago makes it seem like it isn't exactly a fair examination. But maybe that's just because there was a lot more to talk about a month ago.

by Toby (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 10:38am

223: If you're arguing that the Seahawks came from behind a number of times this year, I think it is fair to bring up Cowher's regular season record when holding a lead of 11 or more -


by Cody (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 11:18am

I think the rate is less important on this one than the sheer number of holds. If one team passes twice, and holds on both of those, they would probably still be better off than another that passes 50 times and gets flagged 20 times.

by Sid (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 11:48am

Good article.

Has anyone gone back and looked to see if Haggans was offsides? There were several plays when it seemed really close.

by DGL (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:06pm

#233: I did a Tivo frame-by-frame look at the play with the Locklear holding call. Haggans is moving five frames (1/6th of a second) before the snap, but his body stays behind the line until after the ball moves -- except, possibly, for his left hand, which swings forward and appears to me to enter the neutral zone two frames (1/15th of a second) before the snap.

I never took a class in football officiating, but my guess is that the line judge looks for hands set in the neutral zone before defenders start moving, and when defenders are moving is looking for bodies in the NZ. My guess is that, plus the fact that it was 1/15th of a second before the snap (1/4 of a second is a typical value used for "perception interval" when judging reaction times), kept the flag in the LJ's pocket.

Honestly, my first thought when the announcers said "flag on the play" was "the LB jumped". It's only after going back and going through it frame-by-frame that I could see Haggans' body was behind the line and could see how the LJ could have not called it.

by Tim (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:07pm

#213, the FO staff refers to the officiating as “Worst … Super Bowl officiating … ever,� a “travesty,� “viciously terrible,� and “egregious.� These are very strong words that the situation did not warrant, so yes, they did go overboard. Some of their strongest criticism is about Ben’s TD (3 criticisms of what is at best an inconclusive play) and the Jackson pylon play (which was correctly called – so what if it wasn’t reviewed?), Yes, there were some borderline/inconclusive calls that occurred at key points in the game and the game as a whole was poorly played and disappointing, but that is not an excuse to resort to the knee-jerk reaction of Joe Fan who can't understand how the Seahawks lost when it appeared on the surface that they outplayed the Steelers and failing to investigate the real reasons that the Steelers won the game.

Aaron has quotes like “The Locklear call was the worst, as Ian Dembsky pointed out, the Steelers were doing the same “shove� move on Grant Wistrom the entire first half,� “You don’t want to think about conspiracies, but it just seemed like for two weeks, the league, ABC/ESPN, the city of Detroit, and the NFL wanted the Seahawks to just go away so the Steelers could have the title,� and “We’re all listing all the things Seattle did wrong, trying to prove to ourselves that Seattle would have lost the game even with fair officiating� [emphasis mine in both places]. Aaron then links to some other articles to justify his position. These articles are filled with “facts� like: “The back judge looked uncertain — sound familiar, Patriots fans? — then finally jerked his flag out and called offensive pass interference to wipe out the touchdown.� (Hench, on the Jackson PI – not true, the ref whiffed the first time he tried to throw the flag). “The flag came in during the runback and it looked pretty minor. Another example of an official searching to make a call.� (Hench, on the hold on the punt return), “No less a source than newly minted Hall of Famer John Madden came right out and said it was a bad call.� (Hench, on the holding, and we all know Madden has never been wrong), “It was yet another official searching for a call, desperate to throw his flag, yearning to impact the action.� (Hench, on the same play), “[The refs] blew a fumble call on the field — of course against Seattle — before overturning it after replay.� (Hench, bring up another “egregious� mistake to bolster his opinion), “It was a touch foul. Jackson extended his arm, yes, but both players were fighting for position, and he didn't create any separation by doing so.� (ESPN’s Smith on Jackson PI – not true, separation was created and it happened ten feet in front of an official), “The ref called it only after Hope turned and begged for it,� (Bayless on Jackson PI – again, not true). Not surprisingly, none of these writers mention the offensive pass interference on Heath Miller that nearly stalled the Steelers’ first TD drive before Ben converted on 3rd and 28. I’d be able to accept their premise a little easier if I had read some well-written articles criticizing the officials that did not need to bolster its evidence with misinformation or misconceptions. ESPN’s Michael Smith is less guilty of this than the other writers, but still does not make a real convincing case. Will Allen has also made an effort to do this here in the comments, but I disagree with his assertion that the hold by Locklear is not called most of the time. Unfortunately, it’s not trivial to prove this one way or the other.

I come to this website for good, objective analysis, not unsubstantiated opinions. This article was a start at trying to use objective analysis to look at the officiating, but it unconvincingly twists the evidence to make the point that the author wanted to make about the “inconsistent� officiating (e.g., Seattle held twice as often, but Steelers held at a higher rate). The author mentions exactly ONE missed hold that he thought was significantly worse than the hold on Locklear. Then at the end, he takes a quote from the digest of rules out of context to claim that “pushing� is illegal according to the rules.

The coverage of the Super Bowl on this website has not been anywhere close to the standard set on this website earlier in the year, and it has been disappointing to see. I expect this kind of “analysis� from ESPN, but not from Football Outsiders.

by Sid (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:09pm

RE: 46

Good picture. The comments underneath it appear to have been written by borderline literate, though. Every few words is a swear word, including the f-word at least once in almost every post. Not sure what that says.

by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:24pm


Also an, ESPN analysts stated that Jackson’s foot hit the pylon and it should have been a touchdown. The tape clearly shows that the pylon wasn’t just touched it was kicked off its holder.

I think I'll trust the opinion of an actual former referee (Jerry Markbreit) before I trust the opinion of some random ESPN "analysts."

by Johnnyel (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:49pm

Tim, you wrote:
that is not an excuse to resort to the knee-jerk reaction of Joe Fan who can’t understand how the Seahawks lost when it appeared on the surface that they outplayed the Steelers and failing to investigate the real reasons that the Steelers won the game."
That is just an unfair statement, when you consider that according to the advanced statistics we all know and love showed that the Seahawks did outplay the Steelers on offense and defense. Like the randomness of fumble recovery, the randomness of officiating saw the lessor of the two sides win a game. The DVOA spread of +31 to +18, is fairly significant, and I'm sure someone at FO could tell you how often a differential of that magnitude has led to an 11-point margin the other way.
So these articles on the officiating aren't catering to Joe Fan--they are an attempt to explain something that the numbers can't. Just like the fumble recovery explanation that precipitated the FOMBC. If you want to read about how the Steelers totally dominated the game, go pick up a copy of SI, it's on newsstands now, and filled with fluff and pretty pictures.

by jake (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 12:51pm

worst Fo article that i can remember.

basically the article reaches the conclusion that officiating in the nfl is uneven and that the referees make mistakes, sometimes really awful mistakes.

well, what's new?
this article could have been written any time this year and during the playoffs, and probably every year before that.
writing the article now is just lazy. it's the easiest, most controversial thing to do, worthy of espn. next thing you'll be hosting a skip bayless colunm...
this is not what i have come to expect from FO.
there was a football game played, please analyze! give us something we can sink our teeth into!
if you must give it to the referees , than please add another colunm next year, seperate from all the others. i assure you, nobody will be interested, because the fact is that as long as human crews are doing the calls, misjudgements will be made and also - the nfl has by far the best system in place to ensure that bad calls will not determine the outcome of the game. i'm sure it can be improved upon but it is already way ahead of any other sport that i know of.
i guess you guys have never watched an nba game in your life. or a soccer game.
or hockey or...you get the picture.

get back to what you do best guys - football analysis.

by jeff t (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:06pm


I know what you mean. That's why I warned folks that it was a Steelers fan site. That stuff in that thread is tame compared to the usual commentary on that site. For the record, I am NOT a member of that message board. I go there because there is a member who studies film and is very knowledgeable about OL/DL match-ups. He predicted that Locklear would struggle big-time in this game (as well as Tobin). Pretty good call if you ask me.

The picture that is linked is very good evidence that Locklear held Haggans on the play. He is not just pushing on Haggans shoulder pads like it looks from the other angle shown during the game. The picture clearly shows SL behind CH with his arm on CLs chest. Haggan's body is being pulled down and toward the LOS. If it was just a push like some have claimed, CL would be falling away from the LOS.

by DGL (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:10pm

#238: The dissatisfaction I feel is that, by concentrating on the officiating, FO is treating the officiating as the only reason the Steelers won. What about Seattle going 5/17 on third down, compared to 8/15 for Pittsburgh? What about Seattle only converting a first down on 36% of the sets of downs where they got 3 yards or less on first down, compared to 50% for Pittsburgh? What about what Seattle and Pittsburgh did after "bad things" (penalties, turnovers, sacks) happened -- did one side or the other show a more consistent ability to recover from adversity, or a more consistent ability to capitalize on the other team's adversity?

To say that the only reason Pittsburgh won despite having a lower DVOA (or lower net yardage, or lower time of possession, or more turnovers) is because of the officiating sounds like hubris - "our system is so good that the only way it can be wrong is due to external factors, like poor officiating." I honestly don't think The Outsiders think that way, but that's the impression that comes across.

I'd like to see an AGS on the Super Bowl - even though the betting favorite won, the winning team had a lower DVOA, fewer net yards, a shorter time of possession, and more turnovers, which is certainly unusual enough to merit further investigation beyond "well, the officiating was bad, so the Steelers won - now let's evaluate just how bad the officiating was."

by MaxPower (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:17pm

I laugh at the Steeler fans who try to make their victory feel good. It is obvious to everyone in the real world that the refs in this game were horrible. The Steelers did win the football game. The Steelers did suck and are not a smash-mouth football team. I used to like the Steelers, but after I saw Seattle use them like little girls, I am off the bus. I really do not understand why people are complaining about analysis. What is FO going to write? Ben had a great day (oops nope), the Steeler defense punched Seattle in the face (oops nope), or Porter was a monster (nope again). The Steelers were horrible and that is all there is to write, so FO has chosen to go with the ref angle. I guess FO could give the Steeler fans an analysis of their two big plays.

by Tim (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:20pm

#238, Interestingly, a similar thing happened in the Colts – Steelers game a few weeks ago, where the Colts DVOA was 43.5% compared to 29.7%. Granted, the Colts DVOA is inflated (compared to most fans’ perception of the game) because of the Polamalu interception fiasco. But the Steelers’ formula against the Colts was very similar to the Super Bowl game: score three TD’s but do nothing remarkable on offense the rest of the game and play solid defense, keeping the other team from scoring enough points by making key plays when they’re needed most (e.g., McFadden’s pass defense in the endzone against the Colts and the Townsend sack against the Seahawks). The Steelers won the Super Bowl in part because they were able to make up for Ben’s uncharacteristically poor play with some great run-blocking on some key plays (Simmons on the Ward end around, Faneca on Parker’s TD), the gadget play, and some well-timed QB draws. They also did what they’ve been doing on defense all year: allow some sustained drives but keep the other team’s offense out of the endzone/close-field goal range with some key plays/turnovers. Yes, they were helped a bit by the holding penalty, but Haggans caused that hold by getting a great jump on the play (and as many have mentioned, was either just offsides or just barely onsides). So, is there something about the Steelers’ winning formula that DVOA is undervaluing?

by Tim (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:25pm

To clarify #243, the 29.7% DVOA is for the Steelers in the Colts game, giving a very similar DVOA differential as the Super Bowl, with the Steelers winning both games with the lower DVOA.

by JMM (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:26pm

#241 Indy also had a higher DVOA than Pitt in the playoffs. I agree that FO will miss an opportunity to better understand their system if they conclude the officials were the difference.

#242 I don't see much "analysis." The Audibles column was opinion. This article tried to address one element with no context - how did this frequency of calls compare to other games this year or other Superbowls.

A headline that says "worst ever" and carries no comparisons to support it reduces the credibility of the site everyday it continues.

by Mark (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:27pm

Bottom line....Steelers 21-Seahawks 10. What else is there? Enough is enough!

by Al Zarella (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:33pm

Re: 242...let's clear something up...Steeler Fans are NOT trying to legitimatize our win. We are trying to legitimitize the fact that Seattle fans want to blame the refs and cry conspiracy rather than face the FACT that the calls made in that game with the exception of the Hasselbeck chop block were in fact the right calls. I merely pointed out that people like the esteemed Mr. Smith are only trying to fan the flames of controversy for their own gain rather than reporting FULLY on the story. As I stated, he "conveniently" leaves out parts of the rules he quotes because they are the polar OPPOSITE of his claims. They explain the positive side of why penalties were called. THAT is the problem with this whole situation...bits and pieces validating one argument are presented without the accompanying validation to the COMPLETE discussion.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:43pm

RE: 247

You, my friend, are TOTALLY mistaken. Did you see footage of the Steelers victory parade? News reports stated that there were approximately 250,000 fans present. Of those fans, NONE were enjoying their victory at all. Yes, they may have climbed in trees and risked their own well-being, they may have looked like they just won the PowerBall, and they may have looked like they were having fun bodysurfing Troy Polamalu around, but THIS WAS ALL AN ACT. While they may have been trying to "make their victory feel good," all who participated stated that they were unable to do so.

Really. While I think that Aaron's initial article was inflammatory and poorly reasoned, let's not bag on the fans. Those of you who are criticizing teh Steelers' FANS should have some common decency and let them enjoy their moment. Similarly, Steelers fans who are denigrating those who are complaining about the calls should also lighten up. Game's over. There were questionable calls. It happens. Steelers fans, enjoy your moment cause it has been a long time coming. Seahawks fans, your team plays in the worst division in football, you have a cupcake schedule, and you have a great chance to get back to the Super Bowl in 2007 and get a ring. Let's move forward!

by Jeremy Billones (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:58pm

Re: 247

Six words written in ALL CAPS in a six sentence post?

by Jeremy Billones (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 1:59pm

Re: 248

And 8 in that one. At least it was longer.

C'mon, guys, chill :)

by Johnnyel (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:01pm

Re 241:
I noticed that Seattle converted very few (if any) first downs after throwing incomplete on first down.
I also noticed that the Steelers managed three drives in the game with more than one first down. Those drives yielded a TD, an INT, and a punt. The Seahawks offense achieved this six times, leading to three attempted FGs, a TD, a nullified First-and-Goal, and a fourth-down incompletion that could have been a fourth FG attempt if the score were different. The Steelers got into the Seahawks territory three times in the game, scoring a TD each time. The Seahawks practically lived in long-FG territory, and couldn't put points on the board.
The Steelers won the game because of a couple long plays, rather than showing consistently good play on the field. They got "lucky," that the other team did little things wrong, a push-off here (4 pts), a holding here (7 pts), a misjudged pylon-rule there (7 pts), a couple missed long FGs (3 pts--he should've made one of two). Most of Seattle's mistakes were unforced (exception being the holding call this article is about, where Haggans deserves some credit), and three of them are rule-related.
It is hard to talk about the outcome without discussing those calls. I don't think it is any more a disservice than when Aaron wrote about fumble recovery and the Falcons.

by Al Zarella (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:01pm

In. Re: Fans at the game....65000 seat stadium...17.5% of total tickets to Pittsburgh, 17.5% of total tickets to Seattle. That's 11,375 tickets to each, or 22,750. Remainder available for sale through other means......
With 11,375 tickets to Seattle, WHY did they make only 8000 of them available to their fans (season ticket holders through a lottery?? Of the 8000 that were available, how many did Seattle's "fans" buy? I've seen around the net that the NFL asked Seattle to RETURN their UNSOLD tickets...which they did. Of the number that were sold, how many were RESOLD by Seattle fans for profit? I think that those questions need answered before making a statement that the NFL put 90% Steelers fans in that stadium.....

by putnamp (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:07pm

Man, the community had finally made some headway on getting past the emotional topics, and here we are, mired in more "whining about people whining," and some of it by board regulars. Come on guys, get over it, people are *trying* to find a good objective way of looking at this, and you're sitting here saying "Boy it stinks in here!" while simultaneously taking a collective dump on the message board.

If you have complaints about the way FO handled it, send them an email or something. Let's agree to stick to finding a progressive point of discussion here, alright?

by JMM (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:13pm

RE 251
Good post. Looking at unforced mistakes goes to execution and preperation. Your point of SEA living in long FG territory is an interesting observation. Pitt scored on 1 75 yd TD, so I'm not sure I see how they got into SEA territory 3 times and scored each time.

by jeff t (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:14pm

DVOA is not a great tool for analysis of a single game. It's designed to be predictive of future performance. Thus, it discounts big plays (Parker's run, ARE's pass, etc.) because those types of plays are not predictive of future success. DVOA tends to reward teams that have a high play success rate even if those success' are relatively small. For example, Shaun Alexander had a higher DVOA than Willie Parker in this game. He was much more consistent. Performances like this are more valuable over the course of a season because long runs are rare and some what unpredictable. But, I would argue that Parker was more valuable for this ONE game because of the 75 yard run. The Steelers are getting short changed a bit by DVOA because they stunk most of the game except for a few big plays. Seattle more consistantly moved the ball. DVOA does a very good job at measuring "what will happen" but not as good a job at "what did happen."

by Phil (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:18pm

If the Steelers are horrible, what does that make the Seahawks, a #1 seed who lost by 11 points to a #6 seed? Atrocious? Embarrassing? God-awful? The Seahawks dominated the first half of the game and only scored 3 points. That's the sign of a team that not quite ready for prime time. The Steelers sucked in the first half and yet made enough big plays in the second half to win the game by double digits. (Not unlike their SB XIV victory against the Rams). That's the sign of a great team that knows how to win. Better luck next year!

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:22pm

I don't think that PIT winning with lower DVOA in those two games is a problem. DVOA doesn't try to predict who wins a game, it tries to predict future performance. Big, atypical plays don't help you predict. Based on those two games, you would expect that next time the two teams play, IND/SEA would win. I think that's a fair conclusion.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:23pm

RE: 255

I think that your post illustrates the problem I have with believing DVOA is not a very useful tool in any respect. As I understand it, DVOA is premised entirely upon an analysis of "what has already happened." If DVOA does not do a good job at explaining "what did happen" how can it be claimed that it can then be used as a springboard to explain "what will happen?"

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:34pm

re: 258
Because it did say what happened, for the most part. Seattle played better than Pittsburgh for most of the game, moved the ball and all that great stuff, just couldn't make the clinchers. What happened was that PIT ended up with more points- that doesn't necissarily mean they played better. Scoring more points in one game doesn't tell us anything about how many points they'll score in another game; therefore, you look at performance.

by Warren (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:38pm

It would be interesting to have the same analysis done on "pushing off" by both teams receivers, i.e. how many times did receivers on each team push off a defensive player in the course of their route and not get called for it. It would be supremely ironic if Hines Ward pushed off on the 3rd and 28 play!

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:49pm

RE: 259

You are right, my point though is that while DVOA may provide you with some information about the teams' past performance, its usefulness in predicting what will happen is debatable. If anything, I would tend to agree with the post in 255 more if it said "DVOA tells you something about what has happened, but is not all that helpful in explaining what will happen." I think the post in 255 had it the other way around.

by Johnnyel (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:49pm

Re 243:
There's been a lot of talk all year about the Steelers being undervalued by DVOA, but I don't buy it, because regular season DVOA for PIT was 2nd last year and 5th this year, and I am pretty sure that means "super bowl contender."
As far as the SB is concerned, I don't think it is a fault in DVOA to devalue individual big plays, and focus more on consistency, because consistency has more future value.
On the Indy game, I cannot figure out how they had such a high offensive DVOA at the same time that PIT had such a low defensive DVOA. Perhaps when looking at an individual game, we should kick out the adjustments and look at raw VOA, since we don't want to adjust for the other side, we want to see just exactly what happened in that particular game?

by Johnnyel (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:51pm

re: 254, I was counting that long TD as "in Seahawks territory," even though it was only for the last two-thirds of the play.

by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:51pm

251: Steelers actually had 4 drives with more than one first down (if we don't count TDs as first downs): 1 TD, 1 punt, 2 INTs. (The punt drive probably counts as a success, since it took the clock from 6:15 to 2:00 in the fourth quarter.) The second INT came in Seattle territory, so the Steelers actually only scored on 2 out of 3 trips into Seattle territory.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 2:53pm

RE: 262

Does DVOA devalue big plays? If so, what constitutes a big play? I did not know that DVOA took out big plays, and that ignorance might go a long way in explaining why I never really bought into DVOA. If you take out big plays, how do you evaluate teams like the '99 Rams who were a "big play" offense?

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:00pm

It doesn't so much devalue them as there's a ceiling for how "successful" a play is. If I recall, the maximum you can get off a play is 4 success points. The argument is that the bigger the play gets, the margin of "betterness" between different long plays gets smaller and small.

For instance (not at all accurate, but theoretically correct, I think), you would get 3.3 success points off a 15-yard run from the 24. You would get 3.6 for a 45 yard run. 3.7 for a 70 yarder, and perhaps 3.8 for a 75-yarder and 4 for a 76-yarder, because of the score. While the 45-yard run doesn't give you points, it puts you in very good position to score, where it can almost be assumed the offence will get points out of it. Therefore, a play of 75 yards isn't particularly better than the 45-yarder. Since DVOA is value per play, that one ceilinged play is then averaged in with all the unsuccessful 2-yard running plays, so it ends up being statistically insignificant.

That's my understanding.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:03pm

"statistically less significant"

by NedNederlander (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:05pm

Re: 260. The analysis that would be relevant would be how many times did receivers push off a defensive player with their arm fully extended into the chest of the defender five feet in front of an official. That's the explanation for why this so-called "ticky-tack" penalty was assessed.

by Johnnyel (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:11pm

Re 264:
Actually, the first interception was from the PIT 48, according to NFL's pbp. You're right about the second INT being in Seattle territory, of course. I can't remember what I was thinking regarding that now.

by Johnnyel (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:15pm

re 264 (again)
Sorry, I misread your post, and I overlooked (by mistake, honest) the end-around for a first down on the INT drive. You are completely correct.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:29pm

Hey, FO Staff,

How about an article about the CBA, and the ramifications if there is no agreement. I know that 2007 will be an "uncapped year" if there is no such agreement, but I am having a hard time understanding how this might play out. Is there a possibility that 2007 will not have a cap, and then a cap would be placed on the 2008 season somehow? Anyway, I am eagerly awaiting the announcement of this year's awards, but in the meantime, a MDS article on this issue would be great.

by Al Zarella (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:33pm

Re: 260...what would be even more ironic is how Ward could push off from the defender when he was running across the field away from the defender. If you watch the replay, Ward actually slowed down to make the catch. Was a bad throw by Ben throwing back across the field like that...would have rather seen Ward coming across toward Ben's side of the field.....

by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:46pm

270: No problem, it makes your point even more striking that the Steelers had only one sustained successful drive before the very end of the game. The big plays really made a huge difference. Seahawks, OTOH, had no luck at all in Pittsburgh territory -- I count three accepted penalties (incl. the two notorious ones), three sacks, and a pass for -2 yards to go with the two missed FGs, the INT, the Jackson catches out of bounds, and probably a couple of drops.

Though Pittsburgh wasn't great in Seattle territory either -- one penalty, one sack, one INT and the Ward end-zone drop out of only 18 (I think) plays starting in Seattle territory.

by Kris (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:48pm

I agree with 258. DVOA is a huge improvement over the Sunday paper's NFL stats. A ton of work went into developing it, and it remains a work in progress, and I salute and celebrate that work.

However, I am just not convinced that football can be approached statistically; rather, it is best appreciated through "thick description."

The system isn't able to measure things like the effects of physical play, momentum, injuries, the progress of individual players throughout a season and how that impacts team performance, and it makes too many assumptions about strategy. The Steelers, in particular, confound these assumptions, because they go into clock-killing mode so much sooner than any other team.

It rewards systems like the Seahawks' just as it would have rewarded things like the run-n-shoot offense. Dinking the ball down the field may put up pretty-looking numbers but it doesn't necessarily win ball games. And don't bet that the Steelers weren't conceding that stuff to stop Alexander and have opportunities to hit the receivers and Hasselbeck. The dropped passes certainly could be explained by this strategy, which, again, may yield stats that look semi-impressive (note that the Seahawks gained 5 yards per attempt). You can feel free to use DVOA to suggest that Seattle outplayed Pittsburgh, but I don't think it's a persuasive case.

by MikeT (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 4:07pm

Hey, coupla things:

271: Loki mentioned an article about the CBA. We are planning to start addressing that sometime in the near future ... assuming both sides keep stonewalling.

Re: DVOA, remember that you can find a fairly detailed explanation under the heading Our Stats: Explained. In terms of big plays, DVOA obviously counts big plays. But it doesn't consider an 80-yard run to be twice as good as a 40-yard run. Remember, Willie Parker would only have had a 40-yard run if the Steelers were on Seattle's 40-yard line. Big-play offenses that can rip off 40 and 80 yard plays, like the Rams of five years ago, have great DVOA figures.

274: DVOA, like all statistics, is limited, and it is only a tool. The tool did pretty well in determining Pittsburgh's performace this year. Much of their negative value comes from the Tommy Maddox games, and we've talked a lot about why we don't throw away performances by backup QBs and whatnot.

I would also like to point out that DVOA being "wrong" in two high profile games doesn't prove or disprove anything about the limits of the system. Two games are not a sample. The Steelers regularly record very high DVOA scores in their victories: when they go into clamp-down mode, DVOA rewards their defensive efficiency and the ability of the running game to produce clock-killing first downs.

That doesn't mean that we don't do new studies to revamp formulas and look for errors. It does mean that we aren't obligated to say "Oh, the Steelers had lower DVOA in the Super Bowl and lost, so let's tweak the formula" any more than we are obligated to say "Oh, the Texans lost despite a higher DVOA than the Titans in Week 13, so let's tweak the formula."

by Carlos (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 4:08pm

re: holding. I think the "root cause" of the problem is that holding "rules" will always have to be, in actuality, standards not rules.

Quick refresher: a rule is an absolute, and is appropriate when measurement accuracy is guaranteed, e.g., The Speed Limit is 65 is a good rule (in the abstract) b/c we all agree that speed can be measured accurately (despite our claims in traffic court).

Standards are more like "guidelines." We know that we want people to drive "defensively" but that even with rules in place about speeding, drinking and driving, multiple lane changes and tailgating in place, there will still be conduct we want to ban/reduce. So we introduce a "rule" that is in fact a standard: No Reckless Driving.

Holding "rules" are in fact standards and always will be. There will always be debates about the application of those standards, and while the NFL should strive to write the standards as clearly as possible, what's obviously missing from almost every single post on this thread (except for FNOR's) are any concrete suggestions for how to rewrite the standards in a better way.

And not to pick on FNOR, who was the only one who even tried, but this

draped his hand or arm over the front or side of the held player while the players were moving in different directions.

...is pretty funny, b/c the OL and DL/LB are ALWAYS moving (or trying to) in "different directions."

So, who can write a better standard?

by DGL (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 4:32pm

275: Not speaking for anyone else, Mike, but I don't necessarily think that DVOA needs to be tweaked because the team with the lower DVOA won the SB (and its Divisional round game). Nor do I think that The Outsiders won't tweak DVOA if they find adjustments they can make that will improve the accuracy of DVOA in predicting and/or demonstrating who'll win a game, whether it's to re-evaluate the impact of penalties, account for specific gameplanning styles, or anything else.

What I've missed (at the risk of beating a dead horse) in all of this discussion is any analysis from The Outsiders about how the Steelers won given their lower DVOA, yardage, etc. The focus on officiating has basically made an assumption that the officiating was the reason, but there's no analysis to substantiate this. Maybe it was. Or maybe it was the number of dropped passes. Or the third-down conversion rate. Or Pittsburgh's ability to recover from a sack or penalty with a big play. I think there's a lot of fodder for analysis, statistical and otherwise, in this game; I'm used to seeing it from FO.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 4:54pm

Carlos: I don't see that as much of a problem. Note that I said moving, not trying to move. Plus, in order to have a hold, you must be to the side or behind, and that part clarifies holding when draping your arm over another guy.

So, you have a) actual movement, b) not being in front of the guy, and c) draping the arm. I think that's a pretty good description of the "hook" holding.

Like I said, the idea is to give clear guidelines so that borderline calls can be decided conclusively and to instruct the ref/conference as to what to look for, but also give them discretion to call things that are iffy but do what penalties are made to prevent: giving one player an unfair advantage in the game.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 4:57pm

Not to say my thing is perfect. I think my point is more that it's the nature of the codification of the rules and the way the NFL sees the refs' responsibilities that are at fault. I think both can be fixed with a similar restatement, not that mine is perfect or whatever. But if I can come up with something that I think would work very well and cover what "is" and "should be" holding in about 5 minutes while pretending to pay attention in class, the NFL and all those day-job lawyers they have as refs can surely do the same.

by G Waugaman (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:00pm

1) Agreed that if Seattle led in "strict rulebook holding demonstrations" by a count of 16-8, then simple probability would dictate that they'd be hit with more actual infractions (also to be expected given the large disparity in passing plays).

2) How many of these holding demonstrations resulted in the pass rusher being dropped to his knees in the vicinity of the QB? In practice, it matters, and it should.

On the NFL's "Game of the Week" I heard the Seattle radio announcer state (paraphrasing here): "you reach out like that, they'll call that holding every time". I'm finding most of the dissenting arguments around this particular call very unconvincing, including the "consistency" angle.

by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:03pm

Along the lines of 277, I wonder to what extent the story of the game is Seattle's unusual tendency to stall out in the maroon zone -- which I'll define as between your own 40 and the other team's 30 (when you get into approximate field goal range; not quite Easterbrook's definition). Pittsburgh ran 17 non-kicking plays between their 40 and Seattle's 30 and got 7 first downs (incl. 1 TD). Seattle ran almost twice as many non-kicking plays between their 40 and Pittsburgh's 30 and got fewer first downs: 6 out of 33. (I forget whether I counted a penalty in there.)

This seems to confirm that Seattle was moving the ball but just couldn't finish drives off. But it's very crude; any breakdown of the teams' DVOA in different parts of the field?

by nat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:05pm

Ref #277

I, too, thinks it's interesting that Pittsburgh "beat" the DVOA in two big games. DVOA is fine, and also has limits. So what happened in these games that led to a divergence of points and DVOA for the teams involved? Was it bad/good fortune, or is there a strategy or skill that DVOA doesn't track well for?

I don't thinks it's penalties (fair or biased), dropped passes, physical play, or injuries that account for DVOA and the score showing different results. Penalties and dropped passes directly affect DVOA as well as scoring, while physical play and injuries don't matter unless they actually drive down later DVOA.

I see two possibilities: space and time.

By space, I mean that if your team accumulates DVOA in your own end of the field but sputters out across the 50, you're not going to score much. Is it possible that gameplans could cause this to happen? Certainly. But is it a reasonable plan on either offense or defense? I don't know.

By time, I mean clock management. DVOA is a calculation of value over average per play. That's exactly right for most of the game, but for a few minutes in the first half and a few more in the second, what matters most is value over average per second, or some combination of time and yardage consumed per possession. And as was said in #274, Pittsburgh emphasizes time management to an extreme.

With that in mind, we should look at what happened to the DVOA of each team on each area of the field, and what happened to the DVOA(time adjusted) for Seattle's offense at the end of each half.

by cthoover (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:16pm

I am glad that this thread is finally coming to an end.

However, I feel compeled to state my disappointment with this usually excellent site's Suepr Bowl coverage. A fun & informative group has descended into one long & pointless argument this week. Equally unfortunate, I have to lay the majority of blame on Aaron & the FO's staff themselves, whose articles & reply posts have often seemed deliberatly inflammatory (see post #235 for a good rundown). I chalk this up to a long season and hope that the site returns to it former quality in the next few months.

by MikeT (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:19pm

Re: DVOA Breakdowns

For the regular season, the Seahawks were an excellent team offensively betweeen the 40s, with a DVOA of 40.8%, they were mediocre from opponent's 40 to 20 (1.7) but excellent in the red zone.

The Steelers, defensively, were at their best when stopping opponents in the "Back" zone, from the offense's 20 to the 40. (-34.9%). They were great at red zone defense, but closer to average from the offense's 40 to the defense's 20 (DVOAs of -19.5 and -18.8%)

So the Seahawks did have a regular season tendency to stall around the 40, but the Steelers weren't as mighty in that part of the field as they are in other parts of the field. Which doesn't tell us a whole heck of a lot. Except that the Steelers won, and we know that.

One reason you aren't getting a whole ton of these breakdowns is that FO generally hasn't provided a lot of post-Super Bowl content in past years. You will notice that Scramble for the Ball immediately shifted into free agent mode, and we are getting Four Downs ready. In the past, we have let the big boys cover the Super Bowl while we clean up the databases and get ready for the offseason. This despite the fact that Aaron is a Patriots guy who could have spent weeks crowing, and I am an Eagles guy who could have spent the whole offseason griping last year (ask my wife).

We also spend this time catching up on things like naps.

by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:25pm

Enjoy your naps, Outsiders! And thanks for the site.

by doktarr (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:26pm

nat #282:

I, too, thinks it’s interesting that Pittsburgh “beat” the DVOA in two big games. DVOA is fine, and also has limits. So what happened in these games that led to a divergence of points and DVOA for the teams involved? Was it bad/good fortune, or is there a strategy or skill that DVOA doesn’t track well for?

In addition to the possibilities you cite, I'd add that there are some positive plays that DVOA tends to discount because they lack predictive power. Fumble recoveries definitely fit this category; some long plays (long INT and fumble returns for sure, perhaps long runs as well?) also fit this category. So if Pittsburgh did well in these areas, it means they did well in a way that DVOA does not consider a strong predictor of future success.

by Kris (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:27pm

Thanks for the reply.

Correct me if I'm wrong (and sweet jesus I'm sure this conversation has taken place a thousand times on this site, but I'm new), but from the description of DVOA explained, it seems to me like the identical strategic assumptions are applied to every team uniformly.

Looking at stats in context (field position, score, down/distance, etc.), which the Sunday papers don't do at all, is of course essential.

But it just seems to me that there are endless variations that can affect the strategic agenda of any given play -- and I do know that this is acknowledged. But I also think strategic assumptions can't be universally applied. My impression is that the Steelers confound these sorts of assumptions -- to put it simply, they've gone into clock-killing mode with a much smaller lead than other teams might in the same situation.

I may have missed the area of DVOA explained where this is addressed, in which case a reference would be appreciated. And again let me say that the painstaking work of doing this (it can't be fun) leads to substantial insights. I'm curious about this central element of statistical interpretation though (context).

by JMM (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:30pm

For my part I am OK with all that. My only issue with the FO staff is the comment: "Worst … Super Bowl officiating … ever. " To say that absent data damages the staff's credibility, particularly as case by case review says that the calls may have been questionable, certainly played a role in the outcome but were not as bad as many initially thougt.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:34pm

RE: 287

I absolutely agree. Pittsburgh was very adept at running plays that DVOA considers unsuccessful. That is because they were not trying to really do anything except move the clock. DVOA does not, to my knowledge, award points for the successful elimination of time from the clock. But, as you point out, that is often a paramount goal of the Steelers. I suppose you could paraphrase it by saying that the Steelers were successful in running unsuccessful (by DVOA standards) plays. And they liked it!

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:40pm

Speaking of rules changes and bad officiating...

How about putting something in/doing something to the ball so that it can be detected when the ball crosses the plane of the goalline, in conjunction with dedicated goalline cameras?

The idea would be that when the signal is detected, some timestamp/mark/etc. would be placed on the video being recorded by the cameras.

That way, if there was a review, the official would know when the plane was crossed and could look to see if the runner was/was not down, if the ball came out of the ballcarrier's hands before/after the ball crossed the plane, etc.

by MDD (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 6:03pm

No ammount of discussion here is going to change the result of XL to a Seahawks win, or change how the 140 million people who watched the Super Bowl think the refs did. They haven't watched any more replays. They aren't reading any post game analysis.

The bottom line end result is a stain on the NFL's officiating crews that they should go out of their way to resolve by simplifying and/or clarifying the rules.

by Don Denkinger (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 6:54pm

Re: 290

My personal view is that the NFL should return to football's "ancient" rugby playing roots. Get rid of the "tip of the ball grazing the plane" quandary and the "Ron Mexico flying 5 feet out of bounds but grazes the pylon with the edge of the ball" rubbish. If players have possession of the ball in the end zone, great. If the players' feet/knees etc. are not in the end zone, make them touch the ball on the ground on or beyond the goal line, a la rugby tries. A six point score is, after all, called a 'touchdown'.

by Björn (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 7:19pm

What a busy thread. It almost got rational after the Hot Rod cooled down.

First off, as a Denver fan, I would like to ask where all the righteousness was when the Patriots were "robbed".

I think that any time a penalty is called less than 20% of the time that it could be called, something is wrong. T quote John McCain on Letterman last night (though completely out of context) "the system is broken."

I live in Canada, and am a hockey fan, so let me assure you that when penalties like holding and hooking are assessed properly, the overall product improves immensely. The only problem is that it took NHL players about 20 to 30 games to get out of their holding and hooking habits. I doubt the NFL wants to go 2 whole seasons of nothing but holding penalties.

And to the Capitals fan making fun of Penguins fans: your team sucks just a little bit less than Pittsburgh's. And only because of Ovechkin.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 7:27pm

Leave the Pens alone :|.

Anyway, guys, a play isn't just judged successful against plays from that position, it's position on that field and lead and time remaining, if I remember Aaron correctly. It's all in there, then. Perhaps it's time to rewrite the description of the stats to make things more clear.

by Björn (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 7:33pm

You can take that with a grain of salt, Fnor. I am a Habs fan. We've got a 5 million dollar backup goalie who is going bald. The Jeff George of the NHL.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 7:35pm

I'd say something about the blackhawks, but our owner has decided that we're lucky to live within 10 miles of his team, much less actually see them, so I got nothing.

by Björn (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 7:53pm

Do you go to 'Hawks games? Every time I see highlights from games in Chicago the lighting always seems wrong. I have been curious about this for years, but I'm not going to a Blackhawks home game to find out.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 8:06pm

I just moved here, so I haven't had a chance, though my wife is a hockey nut and we were going to go at some point during this season. Like I insinuated above, the owner won't let us see any 'hawks games on tv at all, so I've actually seen nothing of them at all. They could simply not exist anymore for all I really know....

by Björn (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 8:37pm

To be honest with you, you aren't missing much of anything. I picked Tuomo Rutuu in my hockey pool, and his 11 game 4 point season have helped me down to 10th place of 15. Those brittle Finns...

by MikeT (not verified) :: Fri, 02/10/2006 - 8:39pm

In terms of the Steelers and clock killing, remember that DVOA had them as the 2nd best team in the NFL last year. Good thing, too, because they were awesome, but last year I am guessing they were especially conservative late in the game with leads.

Hey, look. Four Downs is up!