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Officials human, but losing still hurts

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003

What would you do?

What would you say?

Would you scream? Would you cry? Would you punch something? Would your blood boil? Would you sit still and stare blankly into space?

If you lost the big game because of an officiating boo-boo, how would you react?

If you can, try putting yourself in the shoes of the coaches and players who lost last week's New York-San Francisco NFL playoff game.

The Giants were eliminated after pass interference wasn't called on the final play. The NFL admitted its officials messed up -- two days later.

Citrus football coach Larry Bishop, like most in his profession, knows what it's like to have a game decided by an official.

"We had a game at Dunnellon a few years ago," Bishop said. "We were down 21-16 and there was like two or three minutes left. We were driving and we broke a long run and scored."

Or so he thought.

"There was a penalty called way behind the play. It was holding. It was so far behind the play that nobody saw it.

"I don't know if it was a bad call or not, but it was 40 yards behind the ball carrier when it was thrown."

Citrus lost 21-16. The Hurricanes finished 4-6.

It wasn't the NFL playoffs and the flag wasn't thrown on the final play, but to Bishop, his staff and the Citrus players that night, that didn't ease the pain.

There must be a feeling of helplessness for those on the field when the yellow hankie comes out.

"You really feel for the kids," Bishop said. "They played so hard. You get to a certain point and you scored; you're elated to go up in the game, and then it's a complete turnaround."

I asked Bishop what went through his head at the end of last week's Giants-Niners game. His thoughts were much like mine. And probably a lot like yours.

"I was astonished," Bishop said. "The officials didn't spend any time consulting with each other to figure it out. It was like, 'Here's the play, here's the call and that's it.' They didn't consult and any good officiating crew will do that."

Lecanto coach Dick Slack knows exactly what he would have told the players if he were coaching the Giants.

He said, "You don't worry about what officials are doing. There might be a bad call, but you're a player not an official.'

"It's not an infallible system at any level. But what are you going to do, stomp your feet and cry? That was unfortunate for the Giants. It wasn't the right call, but there's not a lot you can do."

And what would Bishop tell them?

"Everybody makes mistakes," Bishop said. "Players make mistakes. Coaches make mistakes. Officials do, too. You try to keep that in mind.

"Once it's over with and you have no recourse, and you can't convince them to change the call, what you've got to do is try to tell them that officials are human."

Saying all that probably doesn't make the hurt go away, but it should help put things in perspective. Life, of course, isn't about having things always go your way. It's more about overcoming adversities. How we deal with disappointment says a lot about who we are.

To their credit, the Giants seem to have handled things well.

Would you?

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