Officials getting a lot of attention

Published: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 1:14 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA - The men wearing stripes are getting all the attention on NFL fields these days, thanks to a series of blunders and questioned calls at the most important time of the season.

Forget Donovan McNabb and Warren Sapp, the stars who get paid millions to score touchdowns or stop them. The talk leading up to the Super Bowl is all about the little guys who throw little yellow flags.

And with the conference championships this weekend, owners, coaches and players hope the focus can return to the game.

``There's no automatic cure for the officiating,'' Baltimore owner Art Modell said. ``They're human and the players are human, too. They all do the best they can.''

Officiating disputes are a weekly rite during the NFL season and intensify during the playoffs. But because commissioner Paul Tagliabue publicly criticized officials, this year's debate is even louder.

Just a year ago, the obscure ``tuck rule'' helped New England beat the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the playoffs when an apparent fumble was ruled an incomplete pass late in the game.

The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl and the Raiders are using what they still consider a terrible call to motivate them on their own run to the Super Bowl.

They host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday for the AFC title, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Eagles in Philadelphia for the NFC crown. The winners play for the championship in San Diego on Jan. 26.

In an unusual admission, the league said officials blew a pass-interference call at the end of the Jan. 5 playoff game between the Giants and 49ers. The Giants would have had one more play to try to win the game if the call had been made.

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