nfl referee*For a sporting league that is – arguably – bigger than the other three “major” sports in America, the NFL sure has a way of testing our patience.

No, we’re not referring to the baffling selection of the Black Eyed Peas for the halftime show from a couple of years ago (don’t watch this clip, whatever you do http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zV4d6Ig1xtA). This time it’s something a lot more serious, although nowhere near as orally damaging. This quagmire with the NFL referees’ strike – and the horrible performance of the NFL’s replacement referees – threatens to turn this football season into a five-month joke.

Football, as with every major sport, is a game of flow. One play to the next one, focusing only on the athletes on the fields and the coaches on the sidelines. The referees (or umpires, or linesmen, or whatever) are just a necessary evil, making sure – at the absolute minimum, making sure the rules are followed, penalties are enforced, and that the game doesn’t turn into Thunderdome. It’s not an easy job, and it’s a thankless one. With the possible exception of the built-like-Schwarzenegger Ed Hochuli (LINK), the only officials we really recognize are the ones who screwed up so terribly (Jim Joyce, Don Denkinger, Phil Luckett) or who were so corrupt (Tim Donaghy) that they became just plain infamous.

However, it’s definitely a profession for professionals, and it’s not a job for amateurs, as the first three weeks of the NFL season have proven. There was an extra timeout in a close Cardinals-Seahawks game (http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2012/9/9/3306741/seahawks-vs-cardinals-referee-timeout). They turned the Broncos – Falcons Monday nighter into a punch line (http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/8393575/replacement-officials-poor-performance-steals-show-denver-broncos-atlanta-falcons). One referee got canned after his massive Saints fandom was discovered – before he worked a Saints game (http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/8392925/brian-stropolo-ref-pulled-new-orleans-saints-game-nfl-review). Another referee even told Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to do well because he was on the ref’s fantasy football team. Seriously (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1338608-lesean-mccoy-claims-replacement-ref-told-him-to-do-well-for-fantasy-team). It’s turned games into choppy, stuttering messes, not the smooth football flow that’s made the sport into the America’s biggest pastime.

The NFL has to settle this referee issue as soon as possible. Give them whatever they want – pots of gold, flying cars, unicorns, the real truth behind the JFK murder. Anything. There is no way that these replacement referees can continue another week, or we might actually have to start spending time with our families on Sunday.