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Let’s decide who to back next Sunday

If there’s one good thing that comes out of controversy, it’s that it usually brings changes.

The National Football League could use a good dose of that after an officiating disaster during both conference championship games last Sunday.

There were a few minor bad calls, but unfortunately, those happen on a regular basis and it’s something all of us football fans are used to by now, no matter how frustrating it can get.

However, two calls stood out above them all and were so glaringly awful that it makes you wonder if something scandalous was afoot behind closed doors.

It also might make you consider that an eye exam should be required for officials before every game.

What has been looked into is a non-call in the NFC title game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans. It’s also been analyzed, criticized and even caused a complete meltdown in the latter’s fan base.

If you haven’t seen the clip yet, here’s a quick recap. The game was tied 20-20 with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter. The Saints had the ball deep in Rams’ territory and seemed on the cusp of scoring what could be the clinching touchdown.

Quarterback Drew Brees floated a pass over to receiver Tommy Lee Lewis, but Lewis was crushed in a hit by the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman before the ball got to Lewis. It was blatantly clear to all that it should’ve been pass interference against Robey-Coleman, but for some bizarre reason, the officiating crew didn’t think so.

New Orleans then went on to lose in overtime and the Rams are headed to Super Bowl LIII, leaving Saints fans sobbing into their drinks on Bourbon Street.

L.A. wasn’t the only team to benefit from terrible officiating. New England also got a gift from the zebras midway through the fourth of the AFC Championship game, but unlike the Saints game, the officials decided to make a call and boy, was it a bad one.

Again, here’s a quick recap. The Patriots trail Kansas City 21-17 and quarterback Tom Brady throws an incomplete pass. However, the officials called Chiefs lineman Chris Jones for roughing the passer. If you watch the replay, Jones tries to get at Brady and grazes the front of Brady’s chest with his hand. Brady didn’t even look fazed by it, but the refs thought it was so devastating that they dished out a costly penalty to KC.

The Pats went on to score the go-ahead touchdown and like the Rams, won in OT. Chiefs fans, who were agonizingly close to making their first Super Bowl in almost 50 years, were dealt a painful defeat and America’s most spoiled fan base had their team make its third straight trip to the big game.

Some are calling this a tainted Super Bowl matchup due to the terrible calls, and I understand that argument. You don’t want a team to slide into a championship game with the help of god-awful officiating, but that’s the matchup we’ve got.

On one side, you have the Patriots, the “villains” of the league, and on the other, you have the Rams, who have ditched L.A. once before and more recently St. Louis for greener pastures.

The question now is who to root for next Sunday. For me and most people I know, it’s a pretty obvious choice. For one game, I’ll become a Rams fan, which won’t be a huge stretch as I’ve liked their helmets, uniforms and logo since I was little.

However, I’m mostly doing it on principle. My colleague Ryan Spitza asked in a recent column here why people dislike New England so much and tossed out a couple ideas. Jealousy of New England’s insane amount of success and lucky breaks plays a little role, but for a lot of us fans, it’s because the Patriots are such an unlikable group.

They’ve gotten caught cheating twice and their head coach, Bill Belichick, looks and acts like a ghoul who will suck out your soul and then feast on your body.

Belichick benched Malcolm Butler, the guy who got the game-clinching interception in the Pats’ Super Bowl win four years ago, in last year’s big game for reasons that were never released.

New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels also took a job with Indianapolis after last season and three assistant coaches signed deals with the Colts to work under him. Then he bailed on them to return to the Patriots in a huge jerk move.

This isn’t surprising considering he trained and worked under Emperor Belichick, who left the Jets in January 2000, just one day after being named head coach. He became the Patriots head coach a couple weeks after that.

And then there’s Brady. Here’s a guy that has gotten all the breaks in the world — five Super Bowl wins, MVP awards, millions upon millions of dollars, a supermodel wife, etc. — but still whines when he doesn’t get his way.

Then you have Brady and Julian Edelman’s antics the last couple of weeks. Brady actually said after New England beat the L.A. Chargers in the divisional round that “everyone thinks we suck.” Dude, your team made the last two Super Bowls and four of the last five. Nobody thinks you suck.

Edelman took Brady’s statement up a notch and actually sold T-shirts with the Patriots logo and the words “Bet Against Us” on it, despite the fact that New England has made the last eight AFC title games.

So because of all that and more, I’ll be pulling for the Rams next weekend. In a way, I can’t believe it. After all, this team left L.A., moved to Missouri and got a new stadium. They eventually grew tired of that stadium and went back to California after negotiations fell through in Missouri.

It’s like he’s going through a midlife crisis before our very eyes and I sadly am supporting him in this emotional journey next week. Not because I think he’s right, but because the alternative is just too painful to imagine.

I hope you’ll join me on this ride Super Bowl Sunday and next week, I’ll tell you if I think it’ll be worthwhile.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.

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