Congratulations, NFL. You've blown up the 2012 season.
You can't unring the bell echoing throughout the football world after Monday night. The damage has been done. Division titles, playoff berths, homefield advantages everything that matters in the NFC have been compromised by one of the worst miscarriages of justice ever seen on a professional football field.
Place an asterisk on the whole thing. The season is a train-wreck.
The NFL rolled the dice by walking replacement officials onto the field. They thought they could get away with it, that the resulting missed calls would be rendered moot by the league's dizzying popularity.
The finish of the Green Bay-Seattle game proved otherwise. The gamble, based on greed and arrogance, has been lost. The league trifled with the game's integrity by locking out the regular officials, a group less expendable than the league believed, and it has backfired in the worst way.
The cultural phenomenon that is the NFL has sunk to a new low. What it's done is akin to tagging a Rembrandt or paintballing a Maserati.
I don't care who's at fault. There's enough blame to be shared by both the omnipotent owners and the over-reaching regulars. But here's the truth: They're fighting over the owners' tip money. The NFL is worth billions, yet it's drawn the line over nickels and dimes.
The result: Chaos on the field, the most important place in the NFL universe. All the bills came due while the world watched Monday night.
The wrong team won. The winning team lost. And that's only the tipping point to three weeks of confusion and, at the least, low comedy. The NFL product no longer can be trusted as long as we continue on this path. Everything is tainted the officiating, the safety of the players, the intent of the owners, the deportment of coaches, etc.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and his owners mocked the fans' intelligence by selling such a farce. The Packers' M.D. Jennings leaped the highest, made the interception in the end zone and drew the ball to his chest. The Seahawks' Golden Tate also made a catch. He caught Jennings' right arm after pushing Sam Shields to the turf.
Experienced NFL officials would have handled it properly. They surely would have huddled and called it a touchback. Game over. The replacements botched it.
How about that scene where referee Wayne Elliott verified the touchdown while Seahawks coach Pete Carroll raised his arms and cheered nearby? For the NFL, more bad optics.
Ripping the replacements is not high on my priority list. They've been thrust into an impossible situation. They're overmatched, but they've been forced into that sorry place by the NFL.
On Tuesday, the NFL again failed with its incredibly weak explanation. It actually affirmed the ruling that Jennings and Tate made "a simultaneous catch," which slaps the face of every reasonable observer. In essence, the NFL doubled down on this fraud.
You could feel this moment coming, through all the stoppages in play, the uncertainty, the almost total guesswork on pass-interference calls. You winced as the coaches bullied the in-over-their-heads officials. And you shuddered over the worse-case scenario an outcome flipped by sheer incompetence.
Monday night was your answer.
I've watched the NFL since the TV screens were black and white and later covered Super Bowls. Bad calls are made even by the best. The difference here is that the NFL willfully messed with its brand. Bringing the regular officials to their knees was deemed more worthy a cause than the quality of its product.
You call it a business. I call it a joke.
Even if a settlement is reached with the officials, it's too late for this season. Wait until the final weeks of December when all playoff discussion will revert back to the circus in Seattle. Ask the 49ers, the Packers and others. Their fate will rotate around the Seahawks' catch that wasn't.
What a waste. All because of a league too drunk on its own power.
If Vince Lombardi was still alive, he'd scream one more time, "What the (bleep) is going on out there?"
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302.