Remember Sid Bream’s slide into home to lift the Atlanta Braves into the World Series?
That moment encapsulated the beauty of sports, that fateful split second of fallible judgement by an umpire, after which half the fans wants to hug him, half stone him.
Such moment of human judgement defined Saturday’s football game between Class AA Fitzgerald and AAAA Monroe at Albany’s Hugh Mills Stadium. This time, Fitzgerald fans were the ones left grasping for stones.
According to the Albany Herald, the Tornadoes forced Fitzgerald’s quarterback out of bounds on fourth-and-4 in overtime. The ensuing, controversial measurement deemed the Hurricanes barely short of a first down, preserving Monroe’s 35-28 victory.
Fitzgerald slid from third to seventh in the rankings, and Monroe is knocking on the door of its top 10. A popular fan blog, Varsity Sports Vent, has been aroar with debate, never mind the cities of Fitzgerald and Albany themselves.
But the hubbub awakened age-old debate in football: How accurate or arbitrary are referees’ spots of the ball? How precisely do sideline chains correlate to spots? And, interestingly, how crooked might yard lines be, and does it matter if optically balls seem spotted for first downs?
I’m passing no judgement and taking no sides here. I’m simply the messenger framing the debate, the one with license to paraphrase blog and newspaper quotes:
“First down was marked with the ball straddling the 20 yard line, and four plays later, they marked the ball with the entire football laying just inside the 10. But the measurement showed the ball lay inches short. How can that be?” GAfan01 posted on Varsity Sports Vent.
“We were lucky,” candidly vented evidently a Fitzgerald fan, FHSGOLFER1. “I was feet away and the ref gave us a great spot. It should have been spotted a foot less if not more.”
The Herald quoted Monroe coach Charles Truitt and cornerback Devontay Stephens as saying they prayed while refs measured. It reported Monroe linebacker Anthony Smith, a captain called over for the measurement, as saying, “When he said it was short, I just sprinted off the field. I wasn’t going to wait for a second verdict.’’
A blogger named Tripp asked on the Vent, “Don’t most home teams provide the chain gang?” He added that someone termed Mills Stadium a “cow pasture with crooked lines.”
Hivekeeper posted, “(The chains are) probably the least exact thing in refing a game. They mark from half the field away. Ten yards is never an exact thing in this game. (Spotting) the ball is another tough thing to nail down, too, especially in a pile. I keep waiting for some kind of technology to come out.”
I, too, dream of such technology. I have no idea how, but can’t we:
– Put GPS technology in the football. Like cell phone apps that chart a jogger’s distance, why not something similar, but more precise, that determines the distance a ball has traveled once spotted?
– At the spot, how about bring out the down marker that shoots a beam of light to the sideline chains, the way your hand-held laser level does when you hang a picture at home? That, at least, would more precisely correlate the spot with initial placement of chains, making later fourth-down measurement, spot of the ball notwithstanding, more accurate.
– If we can superimpose a first down line across the field on TV, why not an actual beam of light between sidelines, like the one that trips your garage door?
Point is, something’s needed.
Or, then again, perhaps not.
Maybe it’s the fallibility and imperfection of officiating that makes sport spirited and controversial. Maybe that first baseman did pull his foot to make that catch. Perhaps — without Cyclops, slow motion or instant replay — that tennis serve was actually good or that receiver’s foot was, in fact, out of bounds.
Sport is beautiful because it’s beautifully flawed. Ask Monroe and Fitzgerald fans.
I’m not sure how I feel about all this. How about you?
All I know is Sid’s rounding third.