Bleep you, Gene Steratore.
Raider Nation is furious with the guy who refereed their team’s 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, and so am I. Though we might be steamed for different reasons.
Oakland fans believe Steratore and his crew snatched victory from them at the Coliseum. The Raiders are now clinging to playoff hopes by bloody, cracking fingernails, whereas if the officials had fairly adjudicated the game, the team could be holding on with six or eight actual fingertips.
And yes, some of the officiating in that game was (sound of bird springing in and out of cuckoo clock). The Raiders were, and are, convinced that the Steratore gang botched several key calls. Questionable pass interference penalties against the home team … a Raiders touchdown taken away … a rare holding call on a defensive lineman … Michael Crabtree being ordered off the field by the NFL spotter though the wide receiver claimed he felt fine, then missing the crucial play on which quarterback Derek Carr scrambled and lost a fumble with 31 seconds left.
And of course, Steratore’s now-infamous note card, which has taken its place among the Declaration of Independence, the handwritten lyrics to “Like a Rolling Stone,” Barack Obama’s birth certificate and other important documents in U.S. history.
The Raiders swore they could see a little space between the ball and the first-down stick after Dak Prescott’s quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 with about 5 minutes left, and you know the old saying: “If there’s space, you must erase” offensive possession. But when Steratore stuck the folded paper into that space, suddenly the gap had disappeared. He flashed a smile and signaled the first down, and the Cowboys proceeded to march to the game-deciding field goal.
None of it sat right with the Raiders or their fans.
“I saw it myself from the sideline. But I also saw plenty examples on Twitter,” coach Jack Del Rio said Monday. “The guy ran out there with the camera and put the camera right down on it, so the whole world got to see what it was. It’s not like we’re making something up. … So how you can look at that and then get up with a smirk? I don’t know, that’s hard to take.”
No question, this team has every right to feel it was cheated Sunday night. But that’s not my complaint. The real problem occurs when Raiderdom begins to see a pattern of conspiracy in NFL officiating. And Steratore’s crew has cracked open that door again.
Accusing NFL refs of anti-Raider bias is a hallowed Oakland tradition. I’m sure it predates the Immaculate Reception, but that was our Benghazi. I say “our” because I was a Raiders fan growing up, and Franco Harris’ game-winning touchdown catch in a 1972 playoff game is one of my earliest sports memories. I accepted it as doctrine that the Raiders were robbed that day. Only now, in a more objective role, can I watch the trajectory of that ricocheting football on video and find it obvious that Oakland safety Jack Tatum batted it.
After Rob Lytle’s disputed non-fumble in the 1977 AFC championship game and the Raiders’ legal battles against the NFL in the 1980s, it was easy to adopt an us-vs.-them mentality. So by the time the Tuck Rule Game happened in January of 2002, launching a dynasty in New England and snuffing a good thing in Oakland, Raider Nation knew the fix was in.