Reaction in the Eagles locker room was almost identical from player to player when the question about replacement referees came up. There would be a telling smile followed by an involuntary groan, both indicating a nerve was struck. Michael Vick literally let out an, “Ahhh!” before conjuring up a politically correct response.
Jason Avant went through the same process, waited a beat, and chose to let his real feelings seep through the crack.
“This league is all about — our commissioner is all about — player safety,” said Avant. “And with the deal not being done, there’s a definite compromise, kind of an oxymoron so to speak, when it comes to player safety with the refs not being there. A lot of guys are kind of concerned about it. That’s a big deal for us as far as player safety.”
Talks between the league and The NFL Referees Association have shown little progress since the officials were locked out in June. The decision has been made to use the replacement refs for Week 1 and “as much…as necessary” thereafter.
“I think they’ll be under the gun. People are asking about them and watching them, probably more than any officials have been watched in the past,” said Andy Reid. “I’m sure they’ll be under the camera’s eye.”
The most obvious and greatest danger is that the refs either blow a call that changes the outcome of a game or fail to control the environment, leading to greater risk of injury. Below the surface is another issue: like working a substitute teacher, players are going to push the limits and see what they can get away with.
Or, as Avant put it: “Guys are going to, like, cheat this week.”
There have already been blooper-reel type mistakes made by the new officials this preseason, from botching a coin flip to calling a touchback on a punt that was downed at the 4-yard line. It was during the preseason and could be laughed off. Now that the games count, there won’t be anything cute about incompetence.
“I’m not worried about it all. I think the replacement refs will do a good job,” said Vick. “Hopefully they’ll prepare just as hard as us, and try to make sure they give us the best chance of going out there and succeeding and keeping us safe, making the right calls and doing what’s right for the game.”
And we knew, by the look on his face and his audible reaction to the question, that he meant almost none of it.
Follow Tim on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.