As the clock ticks down in a close game, the announcer often says something along the lines of “let the boys play.”
A variant is “the referee shouldn’t decide it.”
Either way, the meaning is clear: a game-deciding penalty should not be called in the final minutes or in overtime lest the penalty determine the outcome.
Clearly, the consequences of a bad call in such a situation are greater than they would be if the game were a runaway or inconsequential, but what if the referee overlooks a good call that might be a game changer? More importantly, what if the league’s supervisor of officials provides such guidance even subtly?
According to Jonathan Clegg and Kevin Clark of The Wall Street Journal in an article entitled “The Super Bowl of Cheating,” the Seahawks and the Broncos use controversial techniques on pass plays. Both teams are famous, or rather infamous, for doing so.
“Denver uses a series of route combinations to create ‘pick plays,’ in which one receiver seems to have the distinct mission of colliding with a defender in order to help a colleague get open.”
“For… Seattle’s defense, which allowed the fewest points and yards in the NFL this season, the controversy stems from the aggressive way the team’s defenders initiate contact with opposing receivers to prevent them from being in the proper position to catch passes.”
Should either infraction be ignored during the final minutes?
The issue becomes more complicated if either team anticipates that the referees will pocket their flags and whistles to just “let the boys play.” If correct, a team might actually increase its rule breaking expecting to get away with it. Or both teams might.
Is the prospect of having the game determined by a penalty worse than the prospect of having the outcome decided by cheating?
Best to ask your fellow party-goers early because, if a thrown or pocketed flag decides it, the answer will be determined by the color of your friend’s jersey.