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Dan Bickley

The road to the Super Bowl is perfectly imperfect

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis (11) works for a coach against Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman (23) during the second half the NFL football NFC championship game Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in New Orleans. The Rams won 26-23. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The NFL is best served cold. Like the NFC Championship Game, decided by derelict officiating. Or the AFC Championship game, settled by a coin flip.

Two Super Bowl berths on the line. Two games ending in overtime. Two stunned stadiums. Two fan bases destined for months of depression ahead.

Just how it should be.

Football is violent, sadistic and rarely fair. Its unforgiving nature is part of its charm. It’s America in the mirror, injustice for all. It extracts years from the average lifespan. And that’s just the fans.

Players are treated like disposable hands. Guaranteed contracts are hard to find. The NFL pretends to care about their general welfare, winking with enough hypocrisy to prove otherwise.

We all know the truth. The NFL is a drooling giant. It will grind your bones to make its bread.

That’s why the road to the Super Bowl is so perfect. The Saints and their fans are forever stung by one of the worst no-calls in NFL history. The Chiefs lost a coin toss in overtime and never touched the ball, the same trick New England once pulled on Atlanta in the Super Bowl.

One is tough luck. The other will spark significant change.

No team should lose a title shot on egregious officiating, too often the norm among the seven-member crews fast becoming the scourge of the NFL. Costly blunders should no longer exist, not when HD instant replay technology is available to right all wrongs. We no longer have the temperament or tolerance for human error.

That’s why home plate umpires and their subjective strike zones will eventually be diminished in Major League Baseball. That’s why pass interference calls will be reviewable by the start of next year’s playoffs. No team will ever suffer like the Saints did on Sunday.

Consider the stakes:

Before the postseason started, Saints head coach Sean Payton motivated his players by showing them a Super Bowl a ring, a Super Bowl trophy and $200,000 in cash. The latter was reportedly an extremely powerful visual for the men in uniform, the individual bounty for every last man standing.

That potential prize was just stolen from the Saints. New Orleans fans are now like basketball fans in Phoenix, blindsided by the process and a rogue wave of injustice. It was the second time this has happened to their franchise, following the NFL’s Bounty-gate suspension of Payton.

They are deeply distrustful of the league, Payton said his franchise will never get over the crushing defeat. He’s right. Suns fans are proof.

The AFC Championship Game spawned tired arguments over the merits of overtime. It heightened our Patriot fatigue, a team that has been to nine Super Bowls in the 21st century. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have somehow defied the institutional parity of the NFL, taking a sledgehammer to one of the league’s founding pillars.

After all, it’s a league where a hard salary cap allows small-market teams like Green Bay to thrive; where 32 owners have agreed to share profits and a level playing field, thus avoiding the urge to devour one another; where Cardinals fans will hope that Kliff Kingsbury will be just like Sean McVay, a young offensive-minded head coach who just led his team to the Super Bowl.

Except the Patriots are doing what can’t be done. They’re making it look easy. They are further proof that nothing is fair in football. Just like bad officials and bad bounces.

Just like it should be.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier