Nevertheless, the Seahawks and coach Mike Holmgren must interact with the zebras, no matter how distasteful a notion that may seem. When the Hatfields and McCoys are in the same league, certain unpleasantries are simply inevitable. So it was when official Ed Hochuli and his crew attended Thursday’s practice to discuss certain rules changes, and ostensibly to show off their natty new “Dri-Fit” striped duds.
Holmgren, most likely sick to death of the national media jumping all over every acerbic comment he makes about the refs and spinning it into a “national disgrace”, was the soul of diplomacy when speaking to the local reporters after practice.
“The fellas that are working our camp are really good at their positions,” Holmgren said. “Ed (Hochuli) is our top referee in football, in my opinion. Tom (Sifferman) and Don (Dorkowski) and Tom (Symonette) are good officials. They’re helping our guys. I’ve always asked them to talk to the players and say, ‘I would’ve called that,’ and then explain to the player why. There was some good give and take between the players and officials.”
What some writers will choose to fabricate in the wake of such give-and-take, we can only imagine. Despite certain assertions from armchair psychologists and amateur lawyers who insist that he’s been running the “Excuse-O-Matic 2006” non-stop ever since that fateful day in Detroit, Holmgren knew where to lay the blame. “We lost the game. We’re going to try like crazy to get back there this year and make up for that,” he said.
Yes, you members of the Fourth Estate, Mike Holmgren actually has a sense of perspective and a focus on the future about the events in question. Perhaps you should give it a shot, if you can put that Green Tea Chai Latte down long enough to pay attention to the facts. Not that we’re naming names, here…
When asked what involvement Hochuli and his crew had in Cheney today, Holmgren discussed the importance of clarification. “They come in with a tape they’re going to show at four o’clock. I want to explain to the players about holding. There is a reemphasis on holding and what is offensive holding. The things that are going to be points of emphasis that came through the competition committee have to be talked about. I let them set up the agenda, and then if we have anything we have questions about, we’ll ask at the end.”
Ah, yes…the bone of contention that is holding, and the “ingredients of a hold” that marked the most controversial and game-changing call in the Super Bowl. As the Seahawks drove down the field on a potential 98-yard sojurn in the last of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter, solving a defense that had played lights-out all the way through the postseason, right guard Sean Locklear was called for a hold which negated a Matt Hasselbeck to Jerramy Stevens frozen rope at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line. Instead of being able to punch the ball in and go up 17-14, the call forced the Seahawks back upfield, and the drive eventually ended in a Hasselbeck interception, and the subsequent “illegal block” penalty on Hasselbeck, which even Mike Pereira admitted was a horrible call.
When Rich McKay, the co-chair of the NFL’s Competition Committee, addressed the new emphasis on holding in March, the Locklear call seemed fresh in his mind. Just as certain liberties taken by the New England Patriots’ secondary in various postseason games led to new contact calls on DBs, and Terrell Owens’ broken leg led to a supposed crackdown on the horse-collar tackle, McKay seems to be admitting that Locklear’s alleged hold was a factor in the redefinition of the rules in this case:
Q. Maybe the standard in the regular season then -- fans don't go to the game to watch the officials. Maybe there should be a point of emphasis to make sure -- it's a penalty, rather than the way you think it is.
McKay: I'll give you an example. We're trying to eliminate some pre-snap fouls that in our opinion don't affect the game like false starts, and then in blocking where we've got a big section in our book that will be on blocking clarifications and dealing with holding, really, and really just rewriting the rule, not changing the way it's officiated, but rewriting the rule so everybody has a clear understanding as we tried to do with defensive pass interference a number of years ago.
One of the things we emphasized in there was seeing the entire foul. If you do not see the entire foul, you cannot call holding. That's specifically applied when players go to the ground. Because what often happens is you see a player, a defensive player on the ground, the offensive player is on the ground and you see a flag, foul it. If you don't see the entire action, you cannot assume that it was holding that caused that player to go to the ground.
I see your point. There will actually be a segment in our report, and I understand your frustration, but we don't look at it as though we want people just to put their flags back in their pockets because at that point then all the rules become a little gray, and we do need to consistently as a committee and as a league make sure we know what the rules are, make sure we know how they're going to be called, and make sure the players know so there's a clear line. We didn't like the fact that the number of fouls this year was 17 whatever it was, not up dramatically but up a little bit, and we'd like to see that go down.
Q. So you are redefining -- not redefining holding calls but you're saying make sure they see the whole play?
McKay: Not go-to-the-ground penalty, which is basically a flag that you see a lot of times when two guys end up on the ground, it's offensive hold -- what we said is we want the officials to see the entire action, to make sure that they saw the holding and the restriction that caused the player to go to the ground.
Q. Do you think the guy that made the Locklear call saw the whole play?
McKay: You know, that's one call. I'm not going to be the one to -- I leave that to Mike Pereira.
Back to Holmgren on Thursday – he talked about what roles the officials played in the training camp field. “They officiate their positions like they would during the regular year,” he said. “Like today, during our team period, both Peter Warrick and Bobby Engram were flinching a little bit, but that’s going to be a point of emphasis. They brought that up to them and that will help us.”
“Ed was working with our offensive line during the pass rush drill on what was holding and what wasn’t. This is a good thing the league does, getting guys in at training camp. We get a chance to see them and they get a chance to see us when it’s not the intensity of a game, and I’m out of my mind yelling and screaming. It’s healthy that we get to see each other and talk to each other in a different atmosphere.”
Hopefully, this atmosphere will lead to a more conversant, coherent and accurate agenda when the whistles blow this season.
Although Mike Holmgren won’t say it nearly as many times as his accusers insist, one would bet he’s not holding his breath.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. Feel free to e-mail him here.