The football stars have aligned again. And this time the issue at the forefront is NFL referee favoritism of elite quarterbacks. The stars in question are an injury Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and an angry Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.
Early in the third quarter of the Steelers 12-6 win over the St. Louis Rams Mark Barron hit Ben Roethlisberger. It was immediately obvious that Roethlisberger was down and hurting badly. In fact, one could argue that Roethlisberger in fact fumbled the ball but everyone forgot about that as concern about his injury mounted.
Few people questioned the legality of the hit at the time either. However, retired NFL officiating director Mike Pereira was not one of them.
— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) September 27, 2015
In Pereira’s view, Barron’s hit on Roethlisberger was probably illegal, although no one from Ben Roethlisberger to, Mike Tomlin, to Ed Bouchette thinks it is dirty. Jim Wexell compared the hit to Kimo von Oelhoffen’s hit on Carlson Palmer in the 2005 AFC Divisional playoff game.
- Neither man hit with malice and neither man was flagged.
The critical difference is that following the von Oelhoffen-Palmer injury the NFL changed the rules regarding low hits to quarterbacks. And to be fair to both the officials on the field and at NFL headquarters, it is certainly plausible that no one got a good enough look at the hit to make a call, and the NFL could possibly be issuing a fine to Barron based on video tape review at this very moment.
Either way, the Roethlisberger injury and the Barron hit that caused it would have been a simple unfortunate happenstance in what is certainly the most brutal spectator sport outside of Ultimate Fighting.
- The operative phrase above is “Would have” because of what happened on the same day in Carolina.
Carolina Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton took what he felt was a late hit, and was not happy about it:
Referee Ed Hochuli has denied making the “You’re not old enough” comment, and insists that he explained to Newton that he was running outside of the pocket. NFL Vice President of officiating Dean Blandino has backed up Houchli’s version of events, and amateur lip readers seem to indicate that Hochuli appears to be saying what he claimes said.
- And without further evidence the story would die there.
- But those blessed with good memories are fortunate enough to say “Not so fast.”
While the unflagged Barron hit on Roethlisberger might not have been dirty, it was hardly the first time Ben Roethlisberger has taken a questionable hit and not gotten a flag. Most Steelers fans would prefer to forget the Steelers trips to Oakland’s black hole, one play from their 2012 loss to the Raiders stands out:
Totally dirty hit by Philip Wheeler on Ben Roethlisberger. Crawled three steps into back of Roethlisberger's leg. Brady Rule.
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 23, 2012
Wheeler of course escaped the wrath of Roger Goodell and then NFL-discipline czar Ray Anderson for taking out Ben Roethlisberger from below and behind.
- Let’s agree that enforcement of rules is never going to be uniform.
Let’s also agree that even well-meaning officials, without realizing it, might hesitate to throw a flag on a hit no a Ben Roethlisberger, a Cam Newton or a Michael Vick simply because Newton and Vick are known as mobile quarterbacks and Ben is well known for being a quarterback whose passing actually becomes more accurate after he takes a hit.
- Fair enough.
But does anyone honestly doubt that flags would have been thrown and fines would have been levied had Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and/or Drew Brees suffered the hits shown here?
Didn’t think so.
The NFL can deny it all they want, but NFL referees favor elite quarterbacks.