Sometimes you put a foot down wrong and don't find out for a week or two that you actually dislocated a hip. That's how it's going to be if the NFL sticks with its plan to start the regular season with replacement referees — from mild annoyance to major pain to humongous regret. And all because the people in charge are too used to getting their way.
Right now, it's still the preseason. Few people are paying serious attention and no one gets too worked up about results. So all those madcap officiating moments not only make for great TV bloopers, they gloss over all the other blown or missed calls that would have infuriated fans otherwise. It didn't matter if you were rooting for the Giants or Patriots or neither during Wednesday night's exhibition. Everybody could laugh when replacement ref Don King mangled his first explanation of which team committed what penalty. Then he screwed it up even more during what he optimistically announced would be "the correction on the reporting of the foul."
Imagine how funny that would have been the last time the Giants and Pats met, at the end of that weeklong little extravaganza the NFL likes to call the Super Bowl.
What isn't funny, either, is how many people think they could do the referees' jobs.
Too many fans think of them as the best-paid, part-time workers in America — a lucky 120 or so guys who have day jobs and when they're not working NFL games — at roughly $5,500 a pop — spend their spare time doing eye exercises or throwing tissues at the upholstered furniture in their living room and yelling "false start."
That's also why, most of the time, the NFL goes out of its way to combat that perception. It boasts how good its officials actually are getting calls right the first time, posting accuracy ratings that routinely top 98 percent, then providing backups that range from an instant-replay system on game days that would make the Department of Homeland Security jealous, followed a day later by peer- and film-based reviews of officiating performances down to the minutest details.
But all the praise dries up at times like these. Suddenly, after standing by its officials no matter what, the NFL wants you to believe it knows where to round up another hundred or so just as good by making a few phone calls. The league locked out the refs in June right after the current contract expired, then tried to strong arm their union the same way it did the players' association and TV networks in their negotiations. The NFL is so successful and so accustomed to dictating terms that finding out how far it can push fans, players, TV execs and, now, field officials appears to be an exercise for its own sake — especially since a new deal likely could be struck if each club kicked in an additional $6,000 each week of the regular season. That's somewhere between $12 million and $18 million over the life of a contract expected to run between five and seven years.