Take Away The Refs' Mics

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Illustration: Elena Scotti/GMG | Photos: Getty Images
Illustration: Elena Scotti/GMG | Photos: Getty Images

Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday during the NFL season. Email Drew here. Buy his book here. 

Flags. I fucking hate flags. You fucking hate flags. Everyone fucking hates flags. I don’t even like it when players wear yellow gloves or shoes because they look too much like flags. I don’t like yellow graphics for the same reason. I want any trace of flags banished from my life forever. Two weeks ago the Philadelphia Eagles opened a game with four straight penalties and Jon Gruden—a human Labrador who will lap up any shitty football you serve him—went dead silent with rage. Unable to freely speak his mind, he stammered out, “This is professional football!” as flags littered the field.


The NFL now exists in a perpetual state of handling crises, and the flag crisis is one they haven’t had time to formally address. It was right around 2014 when the NFL developed its flag problem. You can go back and look at the average penalties per team per game over the past nine years and see it:

2017 6.86
2016 6.64
2015 6.87
2014 6.60
2013 6.08
2012 6.22
2011 6.32
2010 6.02
2009 5.93


This is the part where I remind you that the NFL locked out their officials back in 2012. That lockout led to some of the most openly horrendous officiating in modern sports history, but that lockout eventually ended. The old refs came back, and it would have been logical to presume the state of officiating would go back to the way it was. But that’s not what happened. Instead, a year later, the average number of flags per team jumped by over half, and has only increased from there. Giving some refs full-time work hasn’t helped so far. They’re throwing more flags than ever before, and it’s making for awful television.

Now, this isn’t entirely the fault of NFL officials. While a lot of penalties are left to the referee’s discretion (holding, pass interference), others are much more definitive (false start). Obviously, some of the blame lies with NFL teams for playing like shit and committing sloppy, indisputable infractions. You can’t have a ref swallow the whistle on an obvious false start. That’s on you, Laremy Tunsil. And as much as coaches and execs grouse about limited practice time, those practice rules were part of a CBA that was negotiated back in 2011, when penalties were not yet today’s flagkakke.

What has changed are the rules themselves. It was back in 2013 when the NFL decided to look like it was doing something about brain injuries, so they instituted harsher penalties for kill shots on QBs and defenseless players, and that has led to a brand of football that is ostensibly “safer” in the NFL’s mind while not being particularly enthralling to watch. In other words, this increase in penalties is something of a necessary evil, at least as far as granting you, the NFL fan, the delusion that you’re watching a kinder, gentler sport.

They’re not gonna go back to 2011 and let those shots happen all over again (unless Cam Newton happens to be playing). But what the NFL can do is find a way to compensate for those extra stoppages in other ways. They can ease up on holding penalties for defensive backs and linemen. They can ditch replay. And, most crucial, they can take the goddamn microphones from the refs.


You and I have sat through miserable games where the ref has to announce so many penalties that they become the de facto emcee of the game. I have seen Ed Hochuli during football season more than my own family. And what is really the benefit of having him out there to give a 10-minute stemwinder on some dumb replay? I know the NFL thinks that explaining a call in detail will help provide clarity to fans, but fans are drunk and miserable and will disagree with any call that goes against their team, even if it’s a proper call (I know I do). All mic’ing the ref does is draw even more attention to officials who ought to be invisible during the telecast. Need to know the exact penalty and who it’s on? The PA guy and the TV announcers can do that on the ref’s behalf. Need to justify a ticky-tack call? Let the ref do that in the postgame. Need to overturn a call? Use a hand signal. There is nothing a ref can say that’s gonna make me happy. I want him fucking GONE.


If the NFL really needs this uptick in penalties, the least they can do is minimize the attention drawn to them. It’s a cheat, but muting the refs is an easy way to make these penalties less visible. It also eliminates the danger of any ref going full GLORY BOY and becoming addicted to the power of holding the mic, like they’ve anointed themselves god of the proceedings. If I were a ref, I’d treasure my time on the mic like it was the birth of my child.

And if there’s lingering confusion from a call because the mics have been taken away, that frustration usually goes away a few plays later, when there’s something new to be angry about. I can also assure you that hearing Jeff Triplette explain himself does NOTHING to ease that confusion. Basketball and baseball do fine with officials who are hilariously inconsistent but also gratefully silent. The NFL could stand to follow suit. This is a league that abhors distractions, a league that is pathologically obsessed with getting people to focus on the game. And yet, they allow distractions to pollute these very same games with near-constant whistles and speechifying. Get Hochuli off the mic, get the focus back on the players doing cool shit, and get the fuck out of the way.


The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.

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Five Throwgasms

Chiefs at Cowboys: I’m gonna regret saying this, but sometimes Andy Reid is a truly fantastic play-caller. I know he had Tyreek Hill throw a pick at the goal line on Monday Night. But right before that, they ran this lovely play to Travis Kelce (video here, at 24 seconds):

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They faked the handoff to Kareem Hunt going left, then Alex Smith booted out to the right and pitched it out to Kelce on the screen with two wideouts in front of him, almost like an option/screen hybrid. It was awesome. Andy always gets too cute for his own good in the end. They’re gonna blow a playoff game when he runs a quadruple fullback reverse on fourth and inches. But for now, I just wanna appreciate the fact that Andy Reid is a 59-year-old man who still gets his rocks off drawing up Ball Coach plays on his Denny’s menu.

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Four Throwgasms

Falcons at Panthers: It was Halloween on Tuesday and I dressed up as Spider-Man because I had the costume left over from a birthday party and wanted to get my money’s worth out of it. The only problem was that this was a full bodysuit, and it was cold outside after sunset, so I put a jacket on over the costume when I went out with the kids. Ever wear a jacket over a cheap polyester unitard? I’ll tell you what happens: you end up Porky Pigging it. I looked like I had no pants on at all. I also had a visible moose knuckle. It was awful. My friends laughed so I opened my jacket to minimize the effect, but then I got freezing and had to zip up again. Never wear a Spider-Man outfit. It accentuates all the wrong things.


Also, a lotta people fell for that phony Schefter account tweet on Halloween that had Kaepernick going to the Pats. America, we already have one prank day, and that’s already one too many. We don’t need Halloween to become a second prank day. Pranks are for shitheads. Please keep the pranking contained.

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Three Throwgasms

Bills at Jets: The Bills have now made three trades involving wideouts over the course of this season and I don’t know if they’re any better off than when they started. They had one underperforming wideout in Sammy Watkins. They now have two. GOODY.


By the way, did you know this is the Bills slogan now?

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Please note that the Bills play on an artificial surface, but Sean McDermott still made jars of rubber field turf pellets and sand and gifted the “dirt” to his players, like some kind of crazy asshole. The slogan should be DEFEND OUR CHEWED-UP OLD TIRE BITS. Imagine your meathead coach handing you a fucking jar of sand. I’d put that right in the trash the second February came around.

Bucs at Saints: Even though this is an NFL column, I don’t wanna lose sight of the fact that Florida just got rid of head coach and ‘80s televangelist Jim McElwain because A) He sucked and B) They think he made up phony phony death threats against himself as a way of deflecting criticism. That amazes me, because what SEC coach needs to MANUFACTURE death threats? I assume you have your choice of death threats on a daily basis. How fucking sloppy was this guy? He could have hopped on rivals.com and found the custom death threat of his choosing. What a complete idiot. I wish they could have fired him twice.


Bengals at Jags: I like AJ McCarron more than most people but I remain aghast that Cleveland was willing to trade away second- and third-round picks for a guy who has a less impressive version of Mike Glennon’s resumé. Throw in the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo went to the Niners for less suggests the Browns are not only galactically stupid, but that they missed out on Garoppolo either by mistake or because Bill Belichick is still bitter about his time there and deliberately wanted to fuck them good. I totally believe the latter.



I remain upset that the Browns made an AC/DC reference but used the Metallica font. Can that fucking team do ANYTHING right?

As for the Eagles, Howie Roseman has kicked into Lil Snyder mode and begun acquiring any player he’s ever seen in a fantasy mock draft, which means Philly is on the verge of losing six straight.

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Two Throwgasms

Skins at Seahawks: As if I needed another reason to dislike the Skins…


Christ. I never need to hear that song again. The second people do the call-and-response with “SO GOOD! SO GOOD!” I want a comet to strike Earth and take us all out. Find a different song. Any other song, man.

Rams at Giants

Colts at Texans

Lions at Packers

Raiders at Dolphins

Ravens at Titans

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One Throwgasm

Cardinals at Niners: I bought some shit from Amazon the other day and there’s no bigger letdown finding out your Amazon thing isn’t an Amazon thing. It’s only sold THROUGH Amazon, but sometimes I don’t realize that fact until I’ve added it to my cart and it turns out that Optimus Prime lunchbox my kid was looking for is actually being sold by Larfgarm Brothers Inc. and they want $27.99 for shipping. These secondary vendors are VULTURES, I tell you.


Pregame Song That Makes Me Want To Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall

“Wall of Glass,” by Liam Gallagher, featuring a video where Liam hangs around actual walls of glass and sings into them. You can always count on him to be a very literal man. Best album I’ve heard this year. It is a huge and utterly unexpected surprise.


Gregg Easterbrook Memorial Haughty Dipshit Of The Week

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You might think that the Colts’ problems can be attributed to the fact that they’re owned by a slurring 8-track player, coached by a sloganeering moron, and killed their franchise quarterback. But what if I told you that you were WRONG? What if I told you that Indy Star columnist and nu-metal bassist Gregg Doyel was right last month when he said the Colts are bad because they are GLORY BOYS?!

There was something charming about the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, charming in defeat, but there was something repulsive, too, and in a few cases that ugliness carried over to Monday. This is the dichotomy of the Colts. This is why I cannot decide: Is this team loathsome or likable? Does it need a hiss or a hug? This is not a question for Colts coach Chuck Pagano, because he answers it every day with hugs…


LOL who gives a shit? When he sent Griff Whalen out to get murdered on that fake punt, did he hug him after the fact to magically negate the play? THERE’S NO HUGGIN’ IN FOOTBAW.

…mostly metaphorically but sometimes for real.

Thank you for the clarification. “Sometimes coach hugs you, but other times he hugs you IN SPIRIT. You know it when it happens.”

When Colts punt-team gunner Kenny Moore II didn’t see Kerwynn Williams’ fair-catch signal and barreled into him for a personal foul late in the fourth quarter, putting Arizona within 25 yards of field-goal range – a field goal that resulted in overtime and the Cardinals’ 16-13 win – he returned sheepishly to the Colts sideline. Pagano hugged him.


And that made the play vanish! Good job committing an unforgivably stupid penalty, you dumb fuck! Invisible warm fuzzies coming at ya!

And that’s OK.


No, really.

I kinda disagree.

Moore is one of the charming Colts…

Just charmingly launching into opposing punt returners and drawing needless flags. What a delightful young scamp.

…a 5-9 undrafted rookie out of Valdosta State…

It’s always the Greggs with the extra G that are trouble, man.

…who made 18 tackles as a high school senior – all season – but five years later finds himself on an active NFL roster because injuries have sidelined Colts starting cornerback Vontae Davis and three reserves.


Oh, so he sucks. Glad he’s there. We could use more scrubs who can’t play at all, folks.

Moore won’t be here much longer, is my guess, but until then I’ll root for him.


He’s adorable, tiny and always smiling, and I’m not sure he can believe he’s here either.


The Colts: We can’t believe we’re qualified to play NFL football! [dives headfirst into the QB’s knee] Oops did I do that?

T.Y. Hilton? Donte Moncrief? Hard to cheer players as self-involved as those two. On Monday, one day after a game where Moncrief couldn’t have played much worse had he tried – and if you saw the game, you already know: he didn’t try – he was walking around the locker room in a shirt bearing the name and image of Donte Moncrief.


AHA. Finally, we have found the root of the Colts’ issues. It’s not that they have a woeful roster stocked with failed high school players. It’s that one dude wore a bad shirt.

Afterward, when I asked Moncrief if he was “comfortable with (his) level of fight” on Sunday, he said yes, but mentioned one route he should have run differently. “Other than that,” he said, “everything else was good.” Plus, the shirt. He was sending a message, one I heard loud and clear: It’s all about you, Donte Moncrief.


Gregg, thank you. Here I was looking at Moncrief’s horrible stats and injury history and wondering, “Is this guy a bust?” But then you told me about the shirt and now it’s REAL. I bet that guy isn’t willing to decapitate an opposing player and get 15 yards for it.

Hey, he lockers next to T.Y. Hilton, so maybe diva is a contagious disease.

Oh no, I have DIVA!

Hilton is infamous for wearing T.Y. Hilton shirts, socks, medallions and backpacks, and while he wasn’t wearing any of that nonsense on Monday, he was scoffing – literally, scoffing…



– when asked how veteran receivers can accelerate the learning curve of a new quarterback like Jacoby Brissett.


SCOFF, I DO. Nay, I scoff at yer fancy learnin’ inquiries!

I went looking for Rashaan Melvin, another undrafted guy, his career a picture of what Moore and Bond could have if they work as hard. Melvin’s a battler, a long and lanky guy out of Northern Illinois playing a physical sport and coming back for more after being released once, twice, three times, four, five… Not sure who on this team has less business being in the NFL than Rashaan Melvin…


And having guys who have no business playing pro football is how you win at pro football. Give this man a gunner job and a big hug.

…but he’s here and he’s not going away, and if the Colts were smart they’d move his locker down to the diva district, or over by Castonzo, or next to any of this team’s other underachieving players with superior pedigrees. Maybe they can catch some of the fight that fuels Melvin.


But what if Melvin catches diva from them? Did you ever consider that? One day he’s charmingly executing chop blocks. The next? A RASHAAN MELVIN SHIRT.

Rex Ryan’s Lock Of The Week: Bucs +7

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[Doorbell rings]

KID: Trick or treat!

REX: Trick or treat, huh? Son, you got a lot to learn about getting what you want. You think people are just gonna hand you something if you say trick or treat? YOU GOTTA FUCKING FIGHT FOR IT, YOUNG MAN! BREAKDOWN!


KID: What?


KID: [Breaks down]

REX: Let this be a lesson to you! Maybe one day a year you can get away with dressing like a pirate and having the neighbors fatten you good. But for the other 364 days of the year, you better be ready to fucking FIGHT AND RIP AND KILL for what you want! Are you ready to KILL?


KID: I wanna go home.


KID: Can I have some candy?

REX: I only have raw T-bone steaks! [Throws raw steak into bag] Happy whatever the fuck it is! AND DON’T FORGET WHAT I TOLD YOU!


Ryan 2017 record: 6-2

Fantasy Player Who Deserves To Die A Slow, Painful Death

Cam Newton, who is quickly surpassing Big Ben as the quarterback most likely to score either 40 points or -2 points any given week. It’s infuriating, because quality of opponent doesn’t factor in AT ALL. How in the living hell do you only pass for 154 yards against Tampa? Tampa couldn’t defend a fucking picnic. I’ve seen Cam be more consistent in press conferences than he is on the field.


Fire This Asshole!

Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2017 chopping block:


Chuck Pagano*

Hue Jackson

Adam Gase

Jack Del Rio

Todd Bowles

Dirk Koetter

Jim Caldwell

John Fox*

Ben McAdoo

Jay Gruden

Mike McCarthy

(*-potential midseason firing)

I know the Browns let Terrelle Pryor go because he’s got more than a little turd in him, but I am aghast that the Skins have been utterly unable to use him effectively. This guy had Cody Kessler throwing him the ball for eight games last season and still hit 1,000 yards, and suddenly now he’s dogshit? With Kirk Cousins at QB? It’s funny how players who underperform under Jay Gruden tend to get the lion’s share of blame for everything. COACH UP YOUR BOYS, HANDYMAN.


Great Moments In Poop History

Reader Michelle sends in this story I call POOPACAINE:

I had just started working in this particular dental office, and like all I others I had worked before it, it had on/off switches for the compressor that runs our equipment, as well as water for the entire building. At the end of each day, one of the assistants would shut off everything as they leave if most people are out of the building. While I generally prefer to avoid pooping at work, Friday afternoon traffic in the city is a motherfucker, and I wanted to be comfortable for my commute home.

I have no idea what constitutes a normal poop schedule, but I bet it’s not once every three days. For whatever reason, that’s about how long it had been, and my body started making indications that I should delay no further. I’ve heard my son and husband mention how after pooping they inspect their work, and this is something that hadn’t really occurred to me to do. But it was hard not to notice that I had produced the longest, largest singular turd of my life. The top of it poked straight out of the water. I was mildly impressed/concerned that it wouldn’t go down in one flush (no one wants to be a double-flusher). What I didn’t realize is my concern should have been that it would NOT FLUSH AT ALL because someone had already turned the water off. This was a premature action, as there were still several of us in the building, including my boss, whose office is right next to our bathroom, and his kids, who use that bathroom.

Being that is was Friday afternoon, I couldn’t just leave it there. Also, I had visions of one of the kids running in there immediately after my exit and screaming bloody murder. I didn’t know what to do. I stared at it. It stared back. Eventually, I decided my only option was to mummify it in 700 paper towels, and put the now-football sized package of death in my labcoat, and toss it in the dumpster on the way to my car.

As I left the bathroom, one of my newly-established coworkers called out to me from her room. I walked over, not quite entering, hovering with the stance of someone who is definitely leaving right now. I have no idea what it was that she was enthusiastically chatting to me about because my attention was on the right side of my lab coat where my precious cargo was. I had my body turned unnaturally away so as to put more distance between it and her. Every step she took in my direction I countered with a step back. Could she smell it? I had no idea. But I guess not, because she ended her speech by walking over to me and GIVING ME A HUG. There was no good reaction to this. I instinctively arched my back and slipped away from her the way my asshole cat does anytime I try to pet him. I was sweating by this point, and said something that probably made no sense about having to leave right this second, and made a run for it.

I lobbed that fucker into the dumpster, stood there for a second, then chucked my lab coat in after it.


I dunno whether to admire your conscientiousness or remind you to LEAVE all poop in the toilet, no matter the circumstances.

Gametime Snack Of The Week

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Shishito peppers! Delicious AND so much fun to pronounce! I know vegetables are usually boring and stupid, but not these little fuckers! Toss them in some soy sauce, oil, and salt, blast the shit out of them in the oven, and you got yourself a snack. The package I bought said that one out of 10 shishito peppers are super hot. I like those odds. Tell me it isn’t fun to stand there and play Russian Pepper Roulette. I got a live wire in my bowl last week and it took me a split second to spot it. Then I was like OH SHIT THERE IT IS. I live for the danger.

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week

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VIKING! From David:

While I was studying in New Zealand, my apartment-mates and I decided to spend the evening drinking around the waterfront while hiding from security. Being from Pittsburgh and homesick, I decided to get the shittiest beer I could find and drink it under a bridge to remind me of home. Behold Viking Beer, a beer so self-aware of its shittiness that its motto is actually “Conquer the Taste.” It delivered.


I bet it did. As a Minnesotan, I’m obligated by law to want this beer even though it would clearly shred my rectum into packing material. I already know you do not conquer the taste, but that the taste conquers YOU.

Jim Tomsula’s Lifehack Of The Week!

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“Everyone throws out their candy wrappers after Halloween but that’s dumb, okay? First of all, kids are sweaty in those costumes. That means a lot of that chocolate is gonna melt and still be stuck to the wrapper. You can get by with those scrapings. Second, candy wrappers burn hot and fast. We’re talking REAL fast if you light a pile of ‘em. Once you get past the smell and the dizziness, you got good tinder right there. And the cops don’t care, man. They’re not coming near your burn barrel if you got that burning candy wrapper smell and you’re naked. They got better things to do. You gotta think about what you’d wanna do as a cop to avoid the cops, know what I mean? (spits)”

Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Browns Fans 

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I remember seeing this as a teenager and not realizing AT ALL what I was in for. You know that Simpsons episode where Milhouse is all jazzed to see Barton Fink? That was me with, like, a dozen movies. I would go into a very serious movie thinking it was some wacky comedy, without reading the fine print. Please don’t ask me to explain how I could be so dumb. I have no good answers. The end of this movie fucked me up good.


By the way, my favorite example of this was when my sister went to see Philadelphia thinking it was a comedy because Tom Hanks was it. Boy, was she surprised.

Gratuitous Simpsons Quote


Enjoy the games, everyone.