Opinion
 

Ref’s bad call spared us eternal ignominy for Super Bowl blackout

A Ravens’ loss would have been blamed on the momentum-draining lights-out moment.  Photo by Christopher Hsia

To the Super Bowl referee who ignored the pass interference that occurred on the fourth-down play with two minutes to go: Thank you for blowing that call!

New Orleans is truly in your debt, sir. When Baltimore Ravens’ cornerback Jimmy Smith clearly held San Francisco 49ers’ receiver Michael Crabtree, you kept that little yellow flag in your pocket. Thus, Baltimore retained its precarious lead and won the championship. I hope the local Super Bowl Host Committee sent you a bouquet because— whether intended or not— your officiating negligence likely cost the Niners the Super Bowl. And that made it the right decision for New Orleans.

Please understand, I’m not claiming the 49ers should have won. Nor am I saying they deserved to win. Nor am I implying that the 49ers should be cruelly deprived of a title because of all the heartbreak they’ve inflicted on Saints fans over the years. (But I’m open to the argument.) I’m only saying the ref missed a call that prevented San Francisco from winning, and hallelujahs are in order.

Imagine if the official had thrown the flag. It would have been a nightmare. The 49ers would have received a new set of downs by the goal line. They likely would have scored and pulled off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. And that would have flipped the script. Then everyone— I mean everyone— would have causally linked their amazing comeback to the now infamous 34 minute Superdome power outage.

No longer would the outage be an isolated, “unfortunate moment” that interrupted the Super Bowl (as Mayor Mitch Landrieu termed the half-hour blackout). Instead, the outage would have been seen as altering the result of the Big Game, the most-watched television event of the year.

If you think the “Blackout Bowl” story is big now, imagine the national complaining if the 49ers had won. There would be outrage, conspiracy theories, and irritating pontifications about “the integrity of the game.” Ravens fans and 49ers-haters would direct all their outrage toward the Superdome and New Orleans. The NFL would be thoroughly displeased and likely much cooler to the prospect of another Super Bowl in New Orleans.

The darkness-caused-the-comeback story would be ineradicable, because it perfectly supplies the extraordinary explanation for the extraordinary comeback. We could never “prove” that the 49ers would have overcome the large deficit without the interruption. Nothing else would adequately “explain” how Baltimore led the entire game, mostly by large margins, until a post-blackout scoring binge by the Niners decided the championship. And the media wouldn’t buck the storyline, either. Would you really expect reporters to ignore the power outage mega-story, in order to probe mundane explanations for the comeback, such as play-calling adjustments, team conditioning, or halftime speeches? No chance.

The power outage angle would be too seductive, too compelling to ignore.  It would appeal to football fans, casual viewers and even the many pigskin-agnostics who itch to complain about anything, because they’re peeved they had to attend a Super Bowl party in the first place.

New Orleans and the Dome would have become permanent Super Bowl scapegoats. Such is the power of narratives based on myth. They override logic with a sexy symmetry and an appeal to base passions. And that’s why we should thank the sideline ref for his derelict non-call. He saved the city years of headaches as it tried to futilely explain why the outage didn’t cost Baltimore the title.

Another reason we should thank the ref: he ensured that we wouldn’t feel guilty about having so much fun during the blackout.

My gracious that was an entertaining little interlude, wasn’t it? As soon as I realized it was an embarrassing glitch and not an Electro-Magnetic Pulse attack, or something similar, I raced to the laptop to compose some tweets. I wondered: should I speculate about the systolics of city officials, who were probably secretly mortified about a “basic infrastructure failure” occurring during Super Bowl week? Or should I conjure up a pun involving the recently-released “Zero Dark Thirty” movie?

All I can say is that the exploding twitterverse was a super nova that night. It drew me in. The tweet timelines supplied the energy missing from the Dome. I could hardly compose a message for fear of missing one of the rolling delights during this unscheduled Social Media Event of the Year. Blogger Linda Holmes described it best in a piece titled “That Was A Great Blackout Last Night.” She wrote:

[When the lights went dark social media] ran into a phone booth, ripped off its Clark Kent three-piece suit, and emerged as Superman, here to save us all with the power of competitive worldwide banter. ...It was a great example of social media as, essentially, boredom insurance. Without it, we’d have been sitting around listening to a bunch of football announcers who just exhausted everything they had to say about the first half during halftime and now had to come up with even more nothingness without really having any new material.

In fact I’d go a step further and say the most tantalizing part of the game— for the viewers without a strong rooting interest, that is— took place when everything stopped unexpectedly. For many, the jokes on twitter were more entertaining than the athletic feats during the game  or the torrid halftime show. They were certainly better than the lame advertisements.

Jeffrey at the Library Chronicles blog wrote: “The power outage is one of those classic NOLA moments. Nothing here actually works right.  We don’t expect it to. In fact, we’d be disappointed and a little bored if it were otherwise.”

That’s a good point. It was embarrassing, but it was also a free party on the spur-of-the moment. Look at all those well-heeled corporate types, sitting in the dark. And look at us, at home, making fun of it all.  I suppose you can shoehorn a political message into the power lapse, among many other agendas.  But, in essence, this was a slapstick screw-up. It was a break from the expensive script, and a devilish opportunity to have some collective fun.

Kudos to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who wasn’t afraid to say he had a favorite tweet during the snafu (“Who hasn’t blacked out in New Orleans before?”). And applause to City Council President Stacy Head, who was asked about a mocking tweet during a CNN interview, and replied: “At the end of the day New Orleanians … can laugh at tragedy at times. We realize that life is much bigger than one unfortunate event.”

That’s true. But it’s easier to laugh now, since we know the script generally “worked out” and a benevolent sideline official saved us from years of persistent myths about how the freak blackout altered the outcome of the Super Bowl.

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  • Allan Stevens

    Just think a call that could have gone either way… holding or pushing off… off setting penalties.
    If you watch the game as a WHOLE, many calls were missed on both sides, or for the team you supported of course.
    The Ref’s and the Black Out had little to do with the outcome of this game. 49er’s have been a come back team all year. Just didn’t work out this game. Relax and be Happy you are not a Seahawks Fan that were truly robbed a victory by the Ref’s in Super Bowl XL.

  • Debbie

    I really enjoyed this article. You hit the nail on the head. As the saying goes “only in New Orleans”. Love my town.

  • Doug

    I love the fact that they let them play. Check out the 108 yd return, Raven’s #51 bear hugs the defender for 25 yards and a no call. There were 3 holds in the endzone on the safety with no call. But they did call a pass interference at 8:30 on the same contact as 4th and goal at the 2 minute mark. The difference is that play happened infront of the Raven’s bench. They other in the endzone. Another example of spineless, poor officiating.