The NFL replacement referees had their defining moment early Tuesday morning (Eastern time) on the final play of Seattle's 14-12 win over Green Bay. You may have heard about it.
The call -- a controversial catch/no-catch/interception/touchdown by Golden Tate on the final play of the game -- was so over-the-top poor it made "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden's haircut look good.
It was botched on every level, from the original decision that included one official signaling touchdown and the other signaling incomplete pass to the inexplicably misviewed replay that inexplicably concluded it was a Seattle touchdown. And it capped a weekend of referee craziness that brings the topic front and center among fans off every team.
There were coaches putting their hands on officials and there were players harshly criticizing calls and decisions, and the league that has become the sporting monolith in this country was left answering questions about everything from finances to gambling to the integrity of the game.
And it's all because the NFL and its regular referees can't agree on a workable contract in which a $9 billion monster comes across as a miser and part-time employees want retirement plans and pensions.
No matter what side of the labor issue you may embrace, the fact is clear that this must end as quickly as possible for everyone involved, and the matter in Seattle even drew a statement from President Obama on which everyone could agree whether you wear a blue or red political jersey.
On the field the product is being affected now, which means eventually attendance and viewership will suffer. Off the field, the fallout from this is more damaging.
First, the Green Bay Packers are now 1-2. One of the NFL's most popular franchises and a preseason pick by many to make the Super Bowl is behind the 8-ball three weeks into the season. If they miss the playoffs, well, here's saying this play will factor in greatly.
Secondly, after last week's story that Las Vegas lines-makers were shaping point spreads toward the home teams because the replacement refs were trending calls toward the home teams, this justifies that measure chapter and verse. Plus, the spread on Monday's game was Green Bay minus-3.5, so the homestanding Seahawks covered the spread with this play. And while we have ZERO proof that any shenanigans were at play here, when it comes to sports gambling and conspiracies, no pro sports league can ever be too careful.
For the record, the reported amount of action that was affected was roughly $300 million. Perception can be reality and vice versa, especially when there are nine-digit dollar amounts being discussed.
Third, replacement referees now are THE story in the NFL. Think about it this way: We're less than 72 hours from the Tennessee Titans winning one of the most thrilling games in their history and doing it 100 miles away from Chattanooga, and all anyone will talked about Tuesday was the blown call 2,500 miles away that most of us didn't see live.
This must be fixed now. Not tomorrow, not after breakfast, not next week. Now. Period.
The NFL is risking the reputation, the status and the future of a $9 billion (yes, billion with a "B") industry for a few million bucks.
And know this, the regular officials, who are not without blame in this matter, either, need to strike while the public opinion is in their favor. If this is not rock bottom for the replacement refs, then it's at least in the team picture. And the regular refs are not going to be in a better bargaining position than they are this morning.
Let this moment pass -- especially when the NFL starts spinning the demands of the regular refs that include pensions for guys who technically have part-time jobs in an economic culture where few are getting pensions with full-time jobs -- and then the pendulum will swing. Because eventually the replacement refs will get better, and when the public outcry comes and goes, the regular refs will be the former refs and the replacement refs could be the regular refs.
Guys, it's time for this to end. For everyone's sake.