Believes it could have far reaching effects
The voice of Sportstalk on WWL 870 AM, Luling’s Kristian Garic doesn’t mince words when it comes to what Sunday’s immediately infamous “no call” means to the people of New Orleans.
“The soul of this region is gone,” Garic said. “It feels like the NFL just ripped the heart out of this city.”
The controversial play came on a third-and-10 play at the 13 yard line of the Los Angeles Rams with 1:48 remaining in the NFC Championship game. Drew Brees threw a wheel route to wide receiver Tommylee Lewis, who had lined up in the backfield, and defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman laid out a crushing hit before the ball arrived. Robey-Coleman admitted after the game he knew he was beat and expected a penalty flag; none was thrown, though both pass interference and illegal helmet-to-helmet contact were initiated.
A first down would have allowed the Saints to run down almost all of the remaining clock and attempt a game-winning field goal. Instead, kicker Wil Lutz made a short kick to put the Saints ahead, before the Rams rallied to force overtime, win the game and earn a Super Bowl berth.
Garic called it the “worst no-call ever,” echoing not just the local, but national consensus.
“I saw it and thought, ‘here comes the flag.’ I was dumbfounded,” Garic said. “My 7-year-old could have called it. They blew not one but three calls on that play. Two were right there watching it, one waves him off and tells him not to throw the flag … You cannot have a no call in a game of this magnitude. You cannot miss that. You can’t.”
The former Marine said he doesn’t buy into the conspiracy theory held by many that the non-call was byproduct of officiating bias by two officials on Sunday’s crew with Los Angeles ties. Back judge Todd Prukop hails from Ladera Ranch, California, a bit south of Los Angeles. Side judge Gary Cavaletto is a native and resident of Santa Barbara, California. Those are the two officials who conversed on the controversial no-call.
But while he doesn’t lean toward that theory, Garic said it’s also tough to completely denounce.
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I don’t think that’s what happened here,” Garic said. “But the optics are bad. It’s hard to shoot down the conspiracy theory because of how it looks.”
For the NFL, Garic believes this is a major black eye that won’t soon go away. He noted the recent statement issued by Saints owner Gayle Benson that implored the league commit itself to fairness and integrity.
“When Gayle Benson used the word integrity in her statement, it’s a direct shot at the league,” Garic said. “You now ask, ‘What are the repercussions?’ Whether it’s Al Riveron, the head of officiating or the commissioner speaking publically on it … there has to be accountability in some way.”
Beyond the heartbreak of the region, it’s of course a devastating blow to a group of Saints players and coaches whose accomplishments will now always feel lighter than should be.
“This was a legacy changing no-call. For Drew Brees, to get to another Super Bowl, and potentially win, vaults him from first ballot Hall of Famer to in the conversation of the best to ever play the game. For Sean Payton, getting there means he’s a Hall of Fame head coach,” Garic said.
Beyond that, he said it’s the kind of blow that not only derails this season, but could do damage going forward.
“Sean Payton admitted he doesn’t know if (the Saints) will ever get over it. If you don’t get over it, that can change how your organization functions going forward,” he said.
Garic said he’d be in favor of reforming the replay system in some way to curb the chance this happens to another team in the future, pointing to college football’s method of having all plays subject to booth review throughout the game. He also pointed to the story circulating of how a New Jersey sportsbook is offering refunds through credits to those who bet on the Saints — “Think about that. Getting a sportsbook to give you money, it’s almost unheard of. They’re acknowledging the Saints should have won the game right there.”
Ultimately, though, the result is what it is and it’s burned into the memory of the Who Dat Nation.
“This no call will be talked about for generations,” Garic said.