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Redemption for Hochuli

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No, you weren't imagining it. That was indeed Ed Hochuli officiating an AFC first-round playoff game between Baltimore and Miami. You'll recall Hochuli was the referee who all but cost San Diego the game in a 39-38 loss to Denver in late September by admittedly blowing a call.

So what was Hochuli doing anywhere near Dolphins Stadium on Sunday?

Turns out Hochuli and his crew, despite that memorable gaffe, were rated the league's best during the regular season and thus earned the right to call a playoff game. Amazing considering how much vitriol San Diego fans directed at Hochuli in the days following perhaps the most infamous missed call in pro football history.

The call in question came with the Broncos at the Chargers 1-yard line in the final minute. As quarterback Jay Cutler dropped back to pass, the ball slipped out of his hand and bounced into the arms of linebacker Tim Dobbins.

Hochuli ruled it an incomplete pass. Replays clearly showed Cutler had fumbled, but the ball was spotted at the 10-yard line where it had hit the ground, with Denver retaining possession. By rule the play was not open to a coach's challenge because Hochuli had whistled it dead.

The Broncos went on to score a touchdown and added a two-point conversion to win by a point.

The Chargers struggled thereafter until December, when they won four straight games to win the AFC West. Hochuli must have been the happiest man outside the Chargers locker room on Saturday after San Diego rallied to beat Indianapolis, 23-17, in overtime in the first round of the AFC playoffs.

What a fitting game for Hochuli to be officiating on Sunday too. Neither Baltimore nor Miami were supposed to be in the playoffs either, but both teams defied long odds to get there. The Ravens were 5-11 last season and earned a wild-card berth with a rookie quarterback and head coach. The Dolphins, meantime, were from 1-15 to 11-1 champions of the AFC East with another rookie head coach.

It was a satisfying resolution for Hochuli, who proved one bad call doesn't make a bad official.

Hochuli did what nine out of 10 officials wouldn't do after a blown call: He held himself accountable. Hochuli took the time to answer hundreds of presumably profanity-laiden e-mails from Chargers fans and spoke openly about the mistake.

"I'm getting hundreds of e-mails -- hate mail -- but I'm responding to it all," Hochuli wrote to several Chargers fans, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. "People deserve a response. You can rest assured that nothing anyone can say can make me feel worse than I already feel about my mistake on the fumble play. You have no idea. . . Affecting the outcome of a game is a devastating feeling. Officials strive for perfection. I failed miserably. Although it does no good to say it, I am very, very sorry."

Other officials would do well to follow Hochuli's example. He certainly earned the respect of coaches and players around the league for not just admitting his error but talking frankly about it. Here's hoping Hochuli gets to work more playoff games and has many years of officiating left in him.

But what do you think? Does he belong in the post season? Vote Now:

By Gene Wang  |  January 4, 2009; 10:48 PM ET  | Category:  Refs Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Right Call at the Goal Line | Next: Getting It Wrong, Playoff Edition

Comments

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Ed Hochuli has a long history of calling fouls, not within the rules of the game, but how he thinks they should be called. He has gotten away with it for years. Hopefully he has changed and can redeem himself.

Posted by: meadowrock | January 5, 2009 11:11 AM

If Meadowrock's comment is valid and if such activity is common knowledge, then the NFL's Officials office has to be deaf, dumb, and blind. However, we know that is not the case. Therefore, I must attribute the comment to the perception of an individual.

As the author wrote, Mr. Hochuli did the stand-up thing and he has had that reputation for a while. I would call your attention to a WSJ article on Hochuli probably 8 years ago now discussing him and his philosophy of officiating. Sadly, I don't have the citation at hand.

Posted by: jimmy_mac | January 5, 2009 11:30 AM

I am not interested in Hochuli. I am MUCH more interested in the "blown" call in the 11-10 Chargers-Steelers game that took a touchdown away from the Steelers in the last second of the game, and caused a $66 MILLION swing in favor of the bookies.

WHY ISN'T THIS CALL BEING INVESTIGATED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT???

Posted by: JERRYB1 | January 5, 2009 12:12 PM

Ed Hochuli has no business anywhere near a playoff game, considering not only his inexplicable call in the Chargers/Broncos game, but also his crew's poor performance in Super Bowl XL that absolutely jobbed the Seattle Seahawks and wrapped the Super Bowl up in a nice tidy bow for the Steelers.

Posted by: gwgrant | January 5, 2009 1:12 PM

I thought it was Ed Hochuli who headed the Super Bowl XL crew that jobbed the Seahawks. I was incorrect - it was Bill Leavy. Mea culpa.

Posted by: gwgrant | January 5, 2009 2:26 PM

My comments are under review... back to the booth.

Posted by: whocares666 | January 5, 2009 2:27 PM

One of the crew members on Hochuli's crew for the aforementioned playoff game was not on his regular season crew. I believe the crews are evaluated and ranked, but then individual members must meet certain criteria to qualify for the playoffs (e.g., number of years in the league).

Posted by: damannion | January 5, 2009 5:36 PM

I like Ed Hochuli. Yes he has blown calls, but what offial has not? I for one hope Ed goes further in the play-offs and ultimately the Super Bowl.

Posted by: frapkid | January 5, 2009 7:09 PM

Scott Green blew the call in the Pittsburgh/San Diego Game

Posted by: frapkid | January 5, 2009 7:42 PM

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