CANTON, Ohio -- Sunday's Hall of Fame Gamewasn't just a dress rehearsal for the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals. It also was a trial run for a crew of replacement officials standing in for the NFL's regular referees, who currently are engaged in a struggle with the league for a revised labor contract.
Things didn't start well. Before anyone threw a pass or shed a tackle, our zebra-striped friends managed to botch the coin toss.
Twenty seconds pass. The public-address system crackles to life with a correction.
UPDATE: Just before halftime, an official told the crowd that a play was under review ... before telling us it wasn't.
I spoke with former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt on Saturday about the impact of college-level referees being dropped into the NFL arena. The biggest difference to him? Fewer calls during the course of a game. We'll need to travel through more of the preseason to measure that theory.
Gaffes aside, Sunday night's crew wasn't some collection of newbies. Umpire Timothy Morris has 16 years of Division I experience and six years in other professional leagues. Field judge Rusty Spindel has 25 years of Division I experience and 15 years in other pro circuits. The rest of their team offered similar experience, so we expect the replacements to get a handle on this, especially after spending the past few weeks preparing for NFL games.