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Replacement refs botch Hall of Fame Game coin toss

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.

An official announced to the crowd that the Saints, after winning the toss, had chosen to defer and kick to the Cardinals.

Twenty seconds pass. The public-address system crackles to life with a correction.

The Saints, in reality, had chosen to receive the kick.

Four minutes later, Drew Brees and Co. were deep in Cardinals territory, when an official announced that the Saints had taken a timeout. And, in fact, they had taken a timeout. So ... improvement already.

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.

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