New Orleans Saints

The error by officials in the Saints-Rams game wasn’t a simple mistake. It was a choke.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Craig Robertson (52) leaves the field after overtime of the NFL football NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday in New Orleans.
New Orleans Saints linebacker Craig Robertson (52) leaves the field after overtime of the NFL football NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday in New Orleans. AP

Tom Brady, the master, has missed on 36 percent of his career passes. Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player ever, struck out 1,330 times. Michael Jordan missed slightly more shots than he made.

Brooks Robinson, the surest fielder I ever saw, committed 264 Major League errors. Tiger Woods, who sometimes hits errant drives, also famously drove his car into a fire hydrant and a tree.

This goes beyond sports. I’ve read about every Civil War book I can get my hands on. The generals, on both sides, blundered at least as often as they were heroic. Doctors make mistakes. So do accountants. So do judges, electricians, beauticians and mechanics. And, heaven knows, sports writers do as well.

We are all human, even Brady. Quick story: I had a buddy who was a sports editor in Missouri. One morning he got a call from a woman who said her son had three hits, not one, as reported in the morning paper. My buddy apologized. The woman became more indignant. She kept yelling, even cursing. Finally, my friend asked her, “Lady do you ever cook toast for breakfast?”

“Yes,” she answered. “What does that have to do with this?”

“Have you ever burned the toast?” he asked.

“Well, yes. Yes, I have,” she said.

“OK, well I guess, we burned the toast in the paper this morning.”

Now then, some mistakes are much bigger than others. No question about that. Take the officials’ non-call that effectively ended the New Orleans Saints season Sunday. Replays show at least two officials had a good view when Los Angeles defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman absolutely hammered the Saints’ Tommylee Lewis on a pass play inside the Rams 10-yard line. Robey-Coleman, who obviously hit Lewis before the ball arrived, later admitted he interfered. It was quite likely helmet-to-helmet targeting, as well. But there was no call.

Had the proper call been made, the Saints almost surely would be headed for the Super Bowl. Instead, the Rams are. It was a bitter, bitter defeat for the Saints, who traded away future draft choices knowing that the Drew Brees window is closing on winning another Super Bowl. He turned 40 last week. This was supposed to be his year, the Saints’ year. And they were so close. Had the appropriate call been made, the Saints would be playing the New England Patriots for the championship on Feb. 3.

It was a terrible no-call, just awful. Taking the previous analogy one step further, those officials not only burned the toast, they also set the house on fire.

And there have been all sorts of theories about why they erred so badly, including that it’s part of a conspiracy to get Los Angeles, the nation’s second biggest TV market, back interested in the NFL.

That’s crazy. I don’t, for a second, believe that.

What I believe is this: The two officials who should have made the call swallowed their whistles. That is, they choked. The moment was bigger than they were. It happens all the time to athletes and coaches. It happens to placekickers who miss the winning kick. It happens to receivers who drop the winning pass. It happens, as we saw this time last year, to safeties who whiff on a tackle letting the other team score the winning touchdown and go to the Super Bowl.

Humans make mistakes. Officials are human.

When Sean Payton got through cursing the officials afterward — and after the league office admitted the officiating error – the Saints coach said the league should use its technology to reverse calls like that one. I don’t know about that. If you start reviewing every questionable pass interference call, the games will go on forever. We already have too many stoppages.

Remember, also, there were plenty of human errors Sunday other than those made by the officials, and many were made by the Saints, including the play-calling before the non-call. Why not run the football, burn some clock and not give the Rams so much time to come back and force overtime?

Yes, it was a terrible no call. Yes, it came at the worst time. But what’s the old saying? “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

Not in the Superdome. Not in this lifetime.

Email syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at