NFL’s Sunday showcase featured the two teams who played for the AFC Championship earlier this January. In that game, Baltimore Ravens’ kicker Billy Cundiff missed a short field goal which would’ve tied the game just after Lee Evans couldn’t hold onto the ball in the end zone which would’ve given the Ravens the lead and probably the win and trip to the Super Bowl. As it was, New England won the game and would go on to lose the Super Bowl two weeks later.

The Ravens and Patriots are two of the best teams in the AFC again this year and their game last night was representative of that. The teams went back and forth until the very end when Justin Tucker’s 27-yard field goal went through the uprights to end the game and give the Ravens the victory. Or, at least the replacement officials thought it did. Because the kick was higher than the right upright, it was hard to tell if it was good or not. The game was riddled with mistakes from the officials causing the Ravens’ crowd to audibly chant, “Bull-shit!” on national television. After Tucker’s field goal ended the game, Patriots head coach Bill Bellichick was so dismayed, he chased down one of the officials and tried to grab him.

It was yet another game on national television that looked ridiculous at times because of inefficient officiating. You can somewhat blame the replacement officials because they’ve allowed themselves to become bullied and reactionary toward the bullying, but really, the blame is on the NFL. They’ve allowed their product which is bigger, stronger, and faster than ever, to be officiated by guys who aren’t all that better than high school referees.

The skinny is this: the NFL locked out the officials in June after their contract expired. The two sides remain far apart on salary, retirement benefits and operational issues. Steve Young said that he thinks the NFL is “inelastic for demand“, meaning the game is so popular, fans and sponsors won’t turn away, even if the product is worse because of the officiating. According to Peter King, both sides met Sunday, but talks broke off and they are still far apart on the major issues.

While the ugliness of the league roared, something else shined brightly on Sunday night that took most of the stench away. It actually started on Sunday morning when young Ravens’ receiver Torrey Smith tweeted some heartbreaking news.

Smith learned after just a couple of hours of sleep on Sunday morning that his young brother Tevin Jones died in a motorcycle accident. Smith wasn’t just an older brother, according to the stories told on Sunday night. He had a part in raising Tevin as well as his other siblings, helping out his mother when she was at work.

I never expected Smith to play, but thinking back, I remember hearing other players say that during times of tragedy they wanted to play because it would allow them to escape the reality of what was happening. Smith told coach John Harbaugh that he wanted to play in the game later that night.

Torrey Smith and Tevin Jones via Smith’s Instagram

Smith was shown on television before the game with tears in his eyes. Smith’s story was better than any story the greatest television writers could create (which was ironic considering the 64th Emmy Awards were on the opposite channel at the exact same time). Torrey Smith had the game of his life. He caught a second quarter touchdown that was the first score for the Ravens, who started slowly and were down 13-0 prior.

The teams traded scores back and forth, but in the 4th quarter, the Ravens were down 30-21 and needed a big drive. Joe Flacco hit Smith again in the end zone with just 4:01 left and brought the Ravens to within two, which put them in range to win the game with a field goal. He finished the night with six catches and 127-yards receiving to go along with those two touchdowns.

I do a weekly podcast with Jason Hagholm which is mostly about MMA, boxing, and pro wrestling, but during the football season, we discuss football in the first segment. I’ve edited the portion in which we talk about Torrey Smith and the game. You can listen below (and if you’d like to listen to the whole show, you can):

Smith’s inspiring, courageous, and emotional performance overshadowed the ugly display by the officials. While the story about the replacement officials may continue throughout the year until the NFL gets their act together and does the right thing for their sport, one of my strongest memories of this season will be of Torrey Smith. His star shined the brightest on Sunday.

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