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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NFL admits mistake in Steelers game; error costly to gamblers

By Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

Mike Tomlin and Steelers emerged with an 11-10 victory against San Diego on Sunday, and the NFL acknowledged it wrong nullified a touchdown at the end of the game that would have boosted the margin of victory.

By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY
PITTSBURGH — The officiating mistake and touchdown that wasn't at the end of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 11-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers didn't change the result. From a betting standpoint, it was huge.

"It didn't have an effect on the outcome of the game NFL-wise, record-wise, but it definitely was a big difference for people that had (bets on) Pittsburgh," says Sean Van Patten, odds maker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which provides point spreads to Las Vegas casinos for legal sports betting.

Van Patten said the big winners to the tune of millions of dollars were the sports books, which take the wagers, because the public tends to bet on favorites. His firm had the Steelers favored by 4½-points.

"Say a weekend rolls in where 10 favorites cover the spread. That's always a bad weekend for the sports books," said Van Patten. "The regular Joe that walks in off the street and bets, I would say probably 85-90% of the time they're (betting) on the favorite. … The professional (bettors) are more where you get your underdog money. But the public money dwarfs that money."

Trailing by a point, the Chargers had one play left from their own 21-yard line with five seconds remaining. Philip Rivers threw a short pass to running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

Then it got wild.

Tomlinson tossed the ball to wide receiver Chris Chambers. When Chambers tried a toss of his own, the ball was batted away by Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu, who picked it up and ran 12 yards into the end zone.

The officials signaled touchdown. Pittsburgh led 17-10 on the scoreboard. Steelers swarmed the field, then returned to their sideline for an extra point kick that never came.

After a replay review and consultation by the officials, the touchdown was taken off the board. The 11-10 score stood. But after the game, referee Scott Green said the crew had made a mistake and that the touchdown should have counted.

"We should have let the play go through to the end," said Green.

The play originally was ruled penalty-free. No flags.

The NFL confirmed the mistake on Monday, but said the final score of the game will not change.

After the play the instant replay official buzzed down and told the crew it needed to review the toss from Tomlinson to Chambers, that it appeared to be an illegal forward pass and not a legal backward lateral.

Green looked at the replay and agreed it was forward. "From the release point to where it was touched, it was about a yard forward," Mike Pereira, NFL vice president of officiating, said Monday on ESPN.

Green then made the announcement that there was an illegal forward pass, that the penalty was declined and that it was a touchdown. "Which is right, and that's where we should have remained," said Pereira.

Under NFL rules, had the illegal forward pass hit the ground, it would have ended the play. The toss from Tomlinson to Chambers did not hit the ground.

The problem was the officials got together again.

Pereira said that in a moment of "confusion" they got the Chambers toss (a legal lateral that hit the ground) into their conversation about the Tomlinson toss (an illegal forward pass that did not hit the ground).

Somehow, they applied the fact that the ball hit the ground incorrectly to the Tomlinson toss.

"That led to the misinterpretation and taking away the points, which they shouldn't have," said Pereira.

Said Green: "The first pass was the one that was illegal, but it only kills the play if it hits the ground. … There was some confusion over which pass we were talking about, and it was decided that it was the second pass that was illegal that did hit the ground, and therefore we killed the play there."

They got it wrong.

Van Patten said that while the sports books made money, they would rather not have such complex outcomes and mistaken calls.

"They don't really care for that situation much," he said.

"You have a whole bunch of disgruntled bettors. … They've got people standing in line thinking they won and they didn't. And they also still like to see the integrity of the game and the right call made regardless of what the result may be."