The NFL’s Worst Nightmare

The NFL is as popular as ever, and for many fans, replacement referees, with their hesitant, timid calls are a handy excuse for the woes of their teams.

And as former Niner great Steve Young points out, the league doesn’t seem to care. The numbers are up and the $9 billion-plus is rolling in again this year.

But there is a nightmare scenario that terrifies the league and it goes like this:

Joe V. is a replacement ref.

He’s had six years of high school officiating and four years of small college work. A big game for Joe used to be Gettysburg vs. Franklin and Marshall.

His company is downsizing, and his job in the marketing department is not very secure.

Following his divorce two years ago, his schoolteacher ex is on him for more money.

The younger of his two kids needs braces and the bills are piling up.

The $4-grand-a-game he makes from the NFL is sweet, but he knows it’s not likely to last more than a couple, three weeks.

One night, having a beer at Terry O’s near his apartment in suburban Philadelphia, one of the regulars introduces him to Vinnie, a guy down from the city with sparkling rings and a wad of cash.

He’s good people, says the regular. They meet for dinner the next night.

Swank place, fawning maître d’, expensive champagne, huge steaks – the works. Vinnie’s got a proposition. Joe V. has the Giants-Redskins the following week.

Not for nothing, Vinnie says, but a couple of flags against the Giants would be a big help. Nothing crazy, maybe a hold and illegal hands to the face, a couple third-down plays. It’s worth 40 large to Vinnie and it’s cash up front. If it goes well, they can talk about it next week.

And while Joe V. hasn’t ever done anything like that, when the league settles with the real refs, he’s out and can’t even get Shippensburg State for the rest of the year.

And those bills ain’t going away. Eh, how can anyone prove he did it? Just like that, the NFL goes from having a rowboat with a slow leak to the Titanic coming up on the iceberg.

Sure, they tell you they’re vetting the replacements, but they missed the guy wearing Saints gear and the silly hat on his Facebook page, and they had no idea about the official who told the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy to shape up because he had him on his fantasy team.

The league knows that there could be a Joe V. out there, and if he caves to the cash, they have problems that will hound the NFL for a decade. And all to save $100 grand a year, per team. Even Vinnie would tell you that’s not any kind of value bet.

When the UH Warriors take the field in Provo Friday night, they’ll be attempting to accomplish something no Warrior team has ever done:

Beat BYU on their field.

The Cougars will be a big favorite, but the Warriors should not be physically overmatched.

Doesn’t it seem like about 10 years ago that BYU quarterback Riley Nelson was all over the field for Utah State against Hawaii? With a mission and a redshirt year, it has only been six.

Keeping Nelson in check would be a good start for the Warriors.