Even the ham-handed replacement refs and Roger Goodell's arrogance can't break the NFL's stranglehold on its fans.
Derrick Rhone-Dunn had not been impressive serving as the back judge in Monday night's game involving Green Bay and Seattle. Yet, here was his chance to end the night in heroic fashion, saving his collection of imitation officials, the NFL and Jon Gruden's blood pressure from spiraling into chaos.
More than most of the lady and gentlemen posing these days as the NFL's arbiters of on-field justice, Rhone-Dunn should have been up to this moment. He had worked as a Big 12 official, and was part of the crew for the 2007 Sugar Bowl.
Rhone-Dunn's experience was revealed as he moved into perfect position to view the result of the scrum that took place on a pass lofted to the end zone by Seattle's Russell Wilson on the last play.
A yard in front of Derrick, there was Green Bay's M.D. Jennings with the football tight to his chest and secured with two arms. And there was Seattle's Golden Tate with a late, one-armed reach-around, after he had lost contact with the football while in the air.
All Rhone-Dunn had to do was make an emphatic signal that this was an interception and a touchback, and the NFL would have survived another week of clownish but not catastrophic results with the flag-happy temps.
Sadly for all, except the members of the locked-out NFL Referees Association, Derrick choked. He made an innocuous arm-waving gesture, enabling the poorly located side judge, Lance Easley, to arrive on the scene and to signal touchdown -- giving the Seahawks an illegitimate victory.
Easley is a junior college and high school ref. Why would a guy who has worked a Sugar Bowl, and who had his eyes right on top of the play, decide to step aside for a colleague with a JUCO pedigree who did not have the great view?
I'm betting Derrick will be asking himself that question until this weekend, when he and Easley and the clueless leader of these sorry imposters, Wayne Elliott, get a chance to screw up another game.
On Tuesday, the NFL backed the decision to uphold the touchdown, which was announced in comedic fashion by Elliott with Pete Carroll, the jubilant Seattle coach, standing a couple of feet to his left.
No doubt, the NFL's decision to go with doublespeak rather than to admit the outcome was a fiasco led more fans to social media and to websites to make this declaration:
They are done watching the NFL until the experienced refs are allowed to return to work.
I went to NFL.com early Tuesday morning, and the comment area was filled with these vows of NFL celibacy. Of course, the posters were all posers. The follow-up to Monday's brouhaha could lead to the largest NFL Network audience so far Thursday night when Cleveland visits Baltimore.
How could we resist? We get to watch Larry the Cable Guy lead an officiating crew, and maybe hear a louder, longer "manure chant'' than Ravens fans mustered during Sunday night's game with New England.
Which offers this reminder: There's about a 75-25 percent chance that the entire football was not inside the outside of the goalpost on Justin Tucker's winning field goal for Baltimore, meaning the ragtag refs might be on a two-game streak for producing erroneous results.
What does the NFL care? It knows that "The Shield'' is bullet-proof.
The NFL knows your threats to stop watching, attending and Fantasizing are hollow. It will remain the most watched, most profitable and most cynical league in the history of American sports.
Commissioner Roger Goodell grabbed 7 percent from the players with the lockout, and continues to steal the players' money with a weekly litany of fines. The lockout of the players worked so well that Goodell and the owners are now attempting to cut pension money and exert more authority over the refs ... and the product be damned.
Emperor Rog also knows how to deal with the peons, the taxpayers, who better not whine about ponying up a half-billion dollars to build a Taj Mahal of a stadium for a real estate developer from New Jersey, or your team will wind up in L.A.
The officials are frauds. The NFL's cover-up for them is a fraud. Results have turned fraudulent. The owners' financial demands are fraudulent.
And we'll all be watching Thursday night.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. firstname.lastname@example.org