Journalism dilemma: Notre Dame beat writer, Chicago Tribune make decision about Heisman vote

Rule of journalism: Reporters don’t make news. Reporters cover the news.

The line gets blurred when sportswriters participate in things like college football polls, Major League Baseball awards, and Hall of Fame elections. Their votes become the news that they later have to cover and critique. Conflicts are inherent in such a process.

Brian Hamilton, the Notre Dame beat writer for the Chicago Tribune, felt uneasy about having a Heisman Trophy ballot this year. The question of possible bias because of Irish linebacker Manti Te’o resulted in the Tribune using an internal staff poll to determine Hamilton’s vote.

The section revealed the quandary in a story in Sunday’s paper. He wrote:

We’re in the business of creating as little question as possible — preferably none — about how we conduct our business as journalists. And the Notre Dame beat writer at the Chicago Tribune casting a vote in a Heisman race involving the Irish’s most prominent player in years creates enough questions to make us uneasy. Did you vote for Manti Te’o because you’re biased toward Notre Dame? Did you not vote for Manti Te’o because you’re biased against Notre Dame? Did you vote a certain way solely because you didn’t want it to look like you were biased a certain way?

I talked to Mike Kellams, the Tribune’s associate managing editor for sports (also my former editor), about the situation. He said Hamilton approached him about his vote a few weeks ago.

“He said, ‘I think this is something we should talk through.’ He was right,” Kellams said. “He hasn’t dealt with this before. It’s been a while since Notre Dame had a top candidate for the Heisman.”

Hamilton could have simply decided not to vote. However, if Te’o lost by one point because the Notre Dame beat writer decided to pass, they would have had to call in extra security at Tribune Tower. That element looked as if it influenced Kellams’ decision.

“I don’t disagree with that point,” Kellams said. “However, my thought was if we don’t vote, we change the outcome. Those points aren’t going to be awarded to the other players, not just Te’o. If we do participate, we change the outcome. Either way we were making a decision that was going to have an impact.”

Ultimately, Kellams decided to use a panel of five Tribune writers and editors who handle college football for the paper. Teddy Greenstein, who covers Northwestern, was not included since he had his own Heisman vote.

The results of the internal poll saw Hamilton’s vote go for Te’o. Naturally, right? Notre Dame is the Tribune’s hometown team. Well, not exactly. Hamilton had Te’o listed second behind Collin Klein. I’m sure he heard from some Notre Dame fans Sunday. And Te’o barely won the Tribune poll over Klein.

The Tribune’s dilemma illustrates why several newspapers won’t allow their sportswriters to vote for awards and Hall of Fame selections. Even within Tribune Co., Kellams notes the Los Angeles Times has its writers on the sidelines for votes.

The issue, I believe, is going to escalate with the upcoming Baseball Hall of Fame ballot that features Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa for the first time. The writers will be generating major news by making a statement about the steroid era, a period the majority of them all covered.

Kellams is well aware of both sides of the argument. For now, he is comfortable with his writers participating.

“This wasn’t a new discussion for our department,” Kellams said. “There’s no denying that if the writers are being asked to vote, they are going to create the news they have to cover. I wouldn’t argue if they (Heisman, Hall of Fame, etc) decided to do something different. But if we’re asked to participate, I believe our writers have the ability to separate themselves and make the right decision…If we believe they exercise good judgement every single day of the year (covering sports), I expect that they can exercise that good judgement when it comes to casting a vote.”

It will be interesting to see how the Heisman voting committee reacts to the Tribune’s decision regarding Hamilton’s vote. Will it demand that it should be one-voter-one-vote? Will Hamilton be invited to vote next year? After all, Irish quarterback Everett Golson is only a sophomore and could find himself in the Heisman picture in 2013.

Kellams wouldn’t speculate on the Heisman’s reaction. He also wouldn’t say that other papers follow should suit if they have a beat writer who covers a top candidate in the Heisman race.

“I feel good about our process in this case,” Kellams said. “It was the right way for us to do it under the circumstances.”







NFL TV experience still doesn’t compare to being at a game

I took the family to a Bears game a few weeks ago. I froze despite wearing long underwear; I had limited perspective with seats in the endzone; and somebody forgot to put the chocolate in the hot chocolate I ordered at the concession stand.

And I loved being there.

There has been some concern of late that the TV production quality for NFL games is so superior that people will choose the comforts of their couch over popping for those high-priced tickets. None other than commish Roger Goodell said: “One of our biggest challenges is the fan experience at home. HD is only going to get better.”

ESPN’s Outside the Lines dedicated Sunday’s show to the issue with a report from Darren Rovell.’s Rick Reilly gave more reasons to skip the drive to the stadium. He writes:

7) The yellow first down line.

8) Your comfy couch. Have you sat in an NFL seat for three-and-a-half hours lately? They’re approximately the size of American Girl Doll tea chairs. This makes no sense. American seats are getting wider while American stadium seats are getting narrower?

I’ve heard all the arguments, and I saw the fans in Rovell’s report who gave up their tickets to watch the games at home.

And I’m here to say that it is not the same.

Watching the game at home still is a mostly passive experience compared to being in the stands. I could doze off or watch 20 minutes of Rudy while channel surfing.

If I really care about the game, I’m definitely focused in. But I’m not nearly as engaged as being there.

I’m not standing up with 60,000 of my new friends on third and 1. I don’t feel the emotional swings of the game as intensely.

I’m not taking in all the colors on the field and in the stands, a scene that can’t be replicated on television. There’s still something unique about walking up the ramp and seeing everything for the first time on that particular day. Watching Chris Berman during the pregame definitely doesn’t compare.

In my mind, TV has been good for a really long, long time. Probably since the NBC peacock announced the upcoming game would be shown in “living color.” The fact that it has improved dramatically only makes it that much better.

I bow to the alter of Scott Hanson and NFL RedZone, the best creation since….beer?

But it isn’t the same as being at a game.

As Rovell pointed out in his report, the NFL needs to enhance the fan experience to keep up with the times. At the game I attended at Soldier Field, I required better Internet access to follow my terrible fantasy team. During breaks, I wanted to see more RedZone-like highlights on the video board. There were too few of them.

And I wouldn’t have minded some chocolate in my hot chocolate.

I’m not saying I want to go to every game. I’m fine with one or two a year and definitely not in late November or December.

I know it can be a hassle with traffic and parking. And sometimes you might sit next to an idiot.

Some things in life, though, are worth making an effort. I think plenty of people agree. Despite the Bears’ horrid effort last night, the cheapest tickets for the Chicago-Minnesota game at Soldier Field Sunday are listed at $120 for high endzone on Stubhub. There’s still something special about being there.

I will be watching from the comforts of my couch Sunday. And I know it won’t be the same.









The rise and fall of Eddie DeBartolo: New NFL Network documentary looks at former 49ers owner

Check out the latest edition for A Football Life on Eddie DeBartolo (NFL Network, 8 p.m. ET). A fascinating look at an owner who had an incredible run. And then it all ended.

Here’s the link to the preview.

NFL Films senior producer Peter Frank talked about the documentary in an interview with Street & Smith’s Sports Business Daily:

Q: Was DeBartolo receptive to the idea of profiling him, or was he hesitant?
Frank: It was hard at first. He and his people were reluctant. I just gather that they’ve been approached by other people about doing his story, too. I think they knew us from his time as an owner and that certainly helped that there are actually people in this building here who know him and who know some of the other 49ers front office folks. We did tell them, “Listen, this is not a whitewash. We have to ask you about all aspects of your life, one of which is why you are no longer the owner of the 49ers.” They said that they were fine with that. There were no stipulations as to what we could or couldn’t ask and Mr. DeBartolo answered every question that we asked to him. He didn’t decline to answer anything.

Q: Was there any pushback from the NFL about profiling DeBartolo, who left as 49ers owner after a highly publicized corruption case involving former L.A. Gov. Edwin Edwards?
Frank: No. All the ideas that get submitted, somebody sees them somewhere and there was actually (no pushback). I did wonder about that at first too, given the way that Eddie D left the league. I didn’t know if there was any problem and apparently it turned out that there’s not. We haven’t had a single problem. [Frank said the league had no editorial input and did not require final approval before the broadcast aired].




Q/A with Mike Tirico: On busy schedule; critics of Gruden; overrated impact of announcers

I tell Mike Tirico he needs to work harder.

“Joe Buck is working two games in one day,” I said. “What’s wrong with you? You’re slacking off.”

Tirico laughed. “I sent Joe a text. I told him it must have been awesome to have been a part of that,” Tirico said.

Seriously, Tirico doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone with his schedule. Actually, October is a slow month for him. He only has Monday Night Football as far as play-by-play is concerned.

Starting in November, he will pick up weekly NBA games. His calendar includes Big Ten college basketball games in the winter and three of the four golf majors in the spring and summer. He also does weekly radio shows and podcasts for ESPN.

For all I know, Tirico calls sandlot games in his spare time.

Tirico and Jon Gruden are in Chicago tonight for the Bears-Detroit Lions game. Here’s my Q/A.

You don’t have one month during the year when you’re not working a significant event for ESPN. Why do you take on such a busy schedule?

My schedule can be a challenge. I have an extremely understanding family and wonderful people who facilitate things for me.

I grew up in New York when Marv Albert was doing Rangers and Knicks game, doing sports on Ch. 4 at 6 and 11, and he was NBC’s guy for boxing on the weekends. I went to Syracuse because of Marv Albert, Bob Costas, Dick Stockton. I wanted to be like those guys, and that meant you just couldn’t say, ‘Oh, this is too much.’

Listen, we’re not digging ditches. We’re talking about sports. Even though you’re drained at the end of the day, it’s not that hard. It’s a pretty good job.

This is the first time you’re working with a two-man booth for Monday Night Football. What has that been like for you?

The most significant part of my job is to get the most out of an analyst–make them relevant. It’s much easier to do it with one person compared to two. I love Jaws (Ron Jaworski). We text all the time.

But the difference with two people is that it is more of a conversation. I can carry on a dialogue easier than trying to deal with a third person. I can ask a second or third question.

What is it like to work with Jon Gruden?Jon is the best prepared of any analyst I’ve ever worked with. I truly understand why he’s been so successful. When we meet with coaches (prior to a telecast), they have so much respect for his knowledge and ability. He’s on the cutting edge of what’s going on.

When you see his preparation, it helps you to understand why good coaches and bad coaches make such a difference in the NFL. When you watch our games and listen to the things Jon says before they happen, it’s incredible.

I bristle at all the people who say Jon is too positive and never gets negative. If they don’t think Jon doesn’t point out mistakes, then they aren’t listening to the game.

Does Jon go to a different level of appreciation about the ability of guys? Absolutely, because he’s coached players. He knows what it takes to be Peyton Manning and what he does out there. Not to get on my soap box, but we’ve turned into a miserable society if we can’t enjoy being around the best in the world.

If you watch a game, Jon will say why a guy is doing that and why a guy is not doing that. When people say Jon’s not critical, I call those people lazy. They need to listen closely to the game.

I’ll get ripped for saying that, but that’s good.

You’re in your seventh year calling Monday Night Football. How have you evolved as an announcer?

I’m sure your 100th column was better than your first. I go back and watch every game. I’m always looking to get better.

However, I always say nobody watches for the announcers. They watch for a good game. If they really watch for the announcers, then on Sunday, the networks should put their best announcers on their worst game.

If Fox put their No. 7 crew on the Giants-49ers game, it wouldn’t change the rating for that game. All we can do is hopefully enhance the experience.

Let’s go back to the end of the Seattle-Green Bay game. How did that play unfold for you?

You start with the fact Seattle had a chance to beat Green Bay. Then the play happened. First, you’re amazed that the ball didn’t hit the ground. Now all my attention goes to the officials and I see nothing.

Then they make two different calls. Wait, what you got here?

Looking back, I’m glad about two things. When I made the call, I used the word ‘simaltaneous.’ Ultimately, that’s the rule they were looking at. I’m glad I used the correct word.

Second, I’m glad after the fire bomb hit, there was the reality that this was the most significant faux pas of the replacement officials. We said it was going to put pressure on the league to make a change. And it did.

Do you really call sandlot games in your spare time?

No, c’mon. Going to the Tigers game tonight (Tirico, who lives in the Detroit area, was going to game 4 of the ALCS). I’m glad it’s one of the one sports I don’t cover. I’ve never taken a credential to a baseball game. I have a partial season ticket, and it’s the one sport where I can truly be a fan. It’s so much fun to be there with the family.

I love waiting in line for the concessions, sitting in the stands. It makes you appreciate the people who fill the stadiums. It helps you be connected to the consumer.








Q/A with producer: NFL Network documentary examines complicated life of Steve McNair

You’re missing out if you’re not watching the A Football Life series on NFL Network. These documentaries, which air every Wednesday night this fall, are among the best ever produced by NFL Films, and you know that’s saying something.

The next A Football Life focuses on the complicated life of Steve McNair (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET). The former Tennessee Titans quarterback was a valiant warrior on the field, and was considered a role model off the field.

Yet the tragic end of his life–murdered by his mistress–muddied the portrait of a man who died too young.

Here’s a link to the trailer.

NFL Films producer Chip Swain does a nice job of showing the strong ties McNair had with his family and friends and their emotions about his shocking death. You see it all through the eyes of his mother, brothers, and former teammates. At the end, there’s even a passage with his children, who requested to be included after the initial production was nearly complete.

The film left me with a feeling of “Yeah, but…” As in, yeah, McNair had many wonderful attributes, but….

I had a chance to talk with Swain yesterday. Here’s my Q/A.

What was your approach to this documentary?

When you’re given an assignment for A Football Life, they say you’re doing a story on Steve McNair, go. You have to figure out his story, how were going to handle his death, who can we get to talk about him. We decided early on this show wasn’t going to be on the details of his death. Ultimately, we found the impact of his life and death and how it affected people was more interesting.

Why did you go in that direction?

Dateline did an hour about the murder and the relationship McNair had with the woman. To try to get where he was psychologically (at the time of his death) would be pure speculation. Nobody knew the truth. That wasn’t what this show was going to be about.

We were going to try to define his impact as a football player. After all, we are NFL Films. We knew (the murder) would have to be put out there, but it wasn’t going to be the basis for the show.

Part of it was we wanted the cooperation of his family, the blessing of his wife, and the people who were closest to him, to help tell the story. If we were going to go at it from a scandalous way, I don’t know if those people would have come on board with that.

How do you expect people will react to the film?

When you look at Steve, he had a model NFL career, and yet the way he died was not consistent with who everyone thought he was.

In the back half of the story, you see people reacting to the news (his death) almost in real time. The way it unfolds in the show, they’re almost processing the thoughts the same way the viewer is processing them. ‘This is not right; this isn’t consistent with the guy we knew.’

One of his friends said, ‘The substance of a man is so important.’ But Steve’s substance didn’t mesh with how he passed away. Exploring that as best we could was an interesting challenge for us.

We’re not trying to pass any judgement, one way or another. We want viewers to take out of it what they want.

McNair’s mother and brothers appeared on the show. However, his wife, Mechelle didn’t.

We contacted her early on, but didn’t hear from her. Eventually, I sat down with her for an hour in mid-August. I told her what we were doing and how it came from a place of respect. She listened, but let me know she wouldn’t do an interview.

How did it come about that McNair’s children appeared in the film?

Just before the film was completed, I sent (Mechelle) a copy. I wanted her to know what was in it. She watched it with her kids. She called us and said, ‘They want to be in the film.’ I said, ‘We can make that happen.’

Mechelle was there when we did the interviews. I asked her, ‘Are you OK with them being interviewed?’ She said she was very appreciative. It meant a lot to me to get her blessing.





Q/A with Andrea Kremer: Why NFL Network hired her to cover league’s most controversial issue: player safety

The biggest threat to the future of the NFL is the repercussions of increasingly bigger players banging into each other at increasingly higher speeds.

Not to be a doom and gloomer, but if something truly catastrophic happens during a game, it will cause the country to re-examine this thing called football.

So it’s big news that the league-owned NFL Network just hired Andrea Kremer to cover the one issue that threatens the entire sport.

Sunday, Kremer made her debut on the network as the new “health and safety” correspondent. She did a story (here’s the link) on Oakland receiver Darrius Heywood-Bey, who recently had to be carted off the field after a concussion. Heywood-Bay talked openly about what happened, and Kremer’s interview with a doctor at Cleveland Clinic showed with graphics what happened to Bey’s brain. Sobering stuff, to be sure.

Kremer is an important hire for the league and the network. It begs many questions about the motives and how much she will be allowed to do.

A long-time reporter for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Kremer is one of the best in the business as an investigative journalist. Given the subject, her reports on “health and safety” could make things uncomfortable for the NFL and football, in general. She said her domain will span the entire spectrum, including youth programs.

Kremer also is anxious to learn some of the answers. Several times she used the phrase, “cautiously optimistic” about her work with NFL Network during an interview with her last week.

How did it come about?

The NFL Network decided they wanted to launch this unit covering health and safety issues. When I first heard about it, my skepticism oozes out from every fiber of my being. What? Why?

I talked to Mark Quenzel, (senior VP of programming and production). He says to me, ‘Look, we feel we need to do more substantive stories. And the key issue is health and safety.’

They are hiring my credibility, my reputation. I didn’t build that–put it in parentheses over 30 years–to have it reduced to propaganda. That’s not the way it is going to be.

My role isn’t to take anyone down. My role is to present the issues out there. We are not bereft of ideas.

What were behind your initial reservations?

You don’t want to be a mouthpiece for the NFL. There are a lot of issues that exist. I view this as trying to enlighten the audience about these issues in a deeper way. It’s that simple. There is a lot of stuff out there about concussions. What can we show differently about it? There is a lot of concern and misinformation about concussions.

This is like a managing editor position. My job is to generate content. We walked into a brain-storming meeting with 12 very smart people in the room. I have this huge file in my hand. I go, ‘You guys have been thinking about this for about 10 days. I’ve been thinking about this for about 20 years.’

When you talked to Quenzel, what did you say to him? What kind of assurances did you get?

There are never assurances for anything. There’s always good faith, but it’s not as if I had anything written in my contract. I know what I’m comfortable with and not comfortable with. It’s a fluid situation. We’re working on a case-by-case basis. I go back to what I said: ‘I didn’t spend my entire career building up my credentials to have it tossed out here.’

The best way to put it is that I’m cautiously optimistic. I have no reason to not think I won’t be able to bring a different level of programming and ideas to the network.

What kind of statement is NFL Network making by hiring you?

I give them a lot of credit. I know there are people there who said, ‘Do you understand what you’re doing by hiring her? Do you understand what you’re getting yourself into?’ That was respectfully, not negatively. They said, ‘Yes, we do. If we’re going to be credible, taken seriously, this is what we need to do.’

I sense the network is fully aware that this is a huge issue. They have not fully dealt with it. They need to deal with it from a journalism perspective, and they will. But it’s definitely a learning curve for them.

Former players have filed lawsuits against the NFL. Will you be able to report on stories on an NFL-owned network when the league is a defendant?

I haven’t been told (she can’t). Dealing with the lawsuit would be no different than how the NFL Network–or quote-unquote–TV partners with the league dealt with the CBA, handled the refs, or other issues. You had plenty of people at the NFL Network pining about how poorly the refs were. The commentators have been very honest with their assessment.

That’s part of what’s going on. If there’s a former player we wanted to profile who had a number of significant issues, in my mind, as long as we go to somebody at the league or with the players association, if we can find that person to tell their side of the story, then we’ve presented both sides. Our job is to provide the audience with enough information to reach their own conclusion.

Are you concerned that people will view your reports through the prism of the NFL Network? As a result, people might not feel you are totally objective.

I learned through the Twitter universe there’s nothing I can do to mold people’s opinion if they have some agenda.

I can say this: Not only have I been given any indication of censorship, I’m sure not being given any special treatment. I’m not going to get people just because I work for the NFL Network. I’ve been trying to work on a story, and I’ve put in requests and I’ve been rebuffed.

I know how I’m going to approach my job. I know my comfort level; I know what my obligations are, and that’s what I’m going to adhere to.

You’re a top reporter. If you found a story that blew the doors off this issue, are you confident you would be able to run it on NFL Network?

It’s so hypothetical. Here’s all I can say: I’m going to try.  I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to do something that’s impactful.


Fearsome Foursome: George Allen’s daughter narrates new NFL Network documentary

The NFL Network looks at arguably the greatest defensive line in NFL history tonight at 8 p.m. ET.

The nickname, Fearsome Foursome, really says it all. Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Roosevelt Grier, and Lamar Lundy.

Here’s a link to the preview. Just to show how times have changed, not one of those guys weighed more than 285 pounds. At 260 pounds, Jones might be a quarterback in today’s game.

George Allen’s daughter, Jennifer, wrote and narrated the documentary. In an interview with Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News, she said:

“This project was the most fulfilling endeavor. I grew up respecting these men as both players and as men.  Deacon Jones is like a great uncle to me.  It was a pleasure to be able to talk with Susan Olsen and Phil Olsen, Merlin’s brother who played alongside him at the Rams.  And to meet Lamar’s son, Lamar III, brought me even closer to the heart of Lamar and his complete resilience to press on in the face of all physical adversity.

“I knew Merlin as a child and then again as adult, sitting beside him at dinner parties,” Allen said of Olsen, who died in 2010. “To meet Susan — his high school sweetheart — and his brother who bears such a deep resemblance to Merlin – as they walked me through his last visit home to Utah when he knew he was dying, was terribly moving, and poignant.”

NFL Network hires Andrea Kremer to cover health and safety issues

This is an interesting development. Is the league really going to turn the spotlight on itself with its own network? Or is this just a token effort to show that the NFL is “serious” about its biggest problem.

Hope to have some answers soon. Meanwhile, here’s the release from the NFL Network:

NFL Network has added veteran sports journalist Andrea Kremer to its ranks, it was announced today. Kremer will be the chief correspondent in a newly-formed unit dedicated to covering NFL player health and safety issues. She will also contribute other reports and features on major topics across NFL Network programming.

“Andrea’s journalistic credentials, particularly in regards to reporting on the NFL, speak for themselves and we’re thrilled to add her talents to NFL Network,” said NFL Network Executive Producer Eric Weinberger. “Reporting on player health and safety across the league is a key initiative for NFL Network and Andrea will do an outstanding job covering this issue.”

Kremer, who has been called “the best TV interviewer in the business of covering the NFL” by the Los Angeles Times, served in the sideline and feature reporter role for the Emmy Award-winning “Sunday Night Football” onNBC, for whom she has also covered the last three Olympic Games. Prior to her work forNBC, Kremer was a correspondent for ESPN, providing in-depth reports for “SportsCenter,” “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “Monday Night Countdown,” among other studio shows.

Producer Arash Ghadishah has joined NFL Network to work with Kremer and other reporters on player health and safety coverage. Ghadishah previously worked as a producer on ABC’s “Nightline” and as a White House producer for ABC News.


A little perspective: Videos show regular NFL refs also blew plenty of calls

Heck, NFL Network even dedicated one of their Top 10 shows to “The Most Controversial Calls” of all time.

Remember the Tom Brady and the “Tuck Rule”? Jamie Dukes called “one of the most heinous crimes ever committed against a team.”

And how about the official who screwed up the coin toss? Imagine if that happened to a replacement ref.

This video below also includes the controversy over the “Music City Miracle.”

And No. 1 on the list was Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception.” Back in those days, a pass couldn’t be tipped from one player to the next. Imagine if replacement refs were on the call for that one.

Since I was a Steeler fan, I’m glad they made that call.

Sunday, Phil Mushnick of the New York Post wrote:

If you scroll back to roughly this time four years ago, you would find that many of the same print and electronic media, letter-writers and callers to radio shows, who now are demanding a return of the tried-and-true NFL game officials, were calling for a total overhaul of NFL officiating, a demand to replace the old with the new.

Many fans and media, without suggesting or considering how officials spend the rest of the week and year, demanded that the NFL hire full-time officials.

Now, this isn’t too excuse what happened last night in Seattle. It was terrible and inevitable. The NFL deserved to get burned for playing with fire with the replacement refs.

The blown call should hasten the return of the regular refs. When the stripped-shirt brigade does return, they should give thanks to all the network analysts, who despite their networks having big-money deals with the NFL, have been grilling the league for their ridiculous hard-line stance against the referees.

I listened to the end of the game on radio and Kevin Harlan and Dan Fouts tore into the NFL in the aftermath.

Still a little perspective. Things will get better when the regular referees come back. But as the videos show, they won’t be perfect.


Replacement refs cost ESPN viewers on Monday night

Normally, ESPN would be celebrating over its rating for Monday night’s Denver-Atlanta game. The network did a 10 rating, with more than 15 million viewers tuning in. It marked the fourth highest audience on cable for 2012.

Yet it could have been better.

The inept replacement referees brought the game to a screeching halt in the first half. It took nearly an hour to play the first quarter. Nothing like watching confused officials trying to figure out what they’re doing.

The second half didn’t begin until nearly 11 p.m. ET. By that time, I’m guessing many fans, numbed by the inactivity, were ready for bed.

The end result had ESPN leaving money, as in ratings, at the table.

As I have written earlier, pace is of huge importance during a sports telecast. When things start to drag, viewers reach for their remotes.

I would imagine ESPN president John Skipper wasn’t pleased. Perhaps he even put in a call to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

I’m not blaming the replacement refs. They can’t be expected to do the same quality job as regular officials.

The NFL, though, has to do something to resolve this mess. Its partners, namely ESPN on Monday, are being impacted.

And so are weary viewers. Enough is enough.