The closest thing to an official league position came from Payton, the Saints’ head coach. After the game, he said he had spoken on the phone with Alberto Riveron, the N.F.L.’s senior vice president of officiating, who told him the officials botched the call, a position the league chose not to refute.
While the relative silence may seem odd in the age of very public apologies and mea culpas, the N.F.L. actually has no consistent strategy for dealing with high-profile officiating errors, a reflection of what is often an idiosyncratic approach to crisis management. Sometimes Roger Goodell, the league’s commissioner, chooses to say plenty; other times he says nothing at all.
When it comes to major officiating mistakes, oftentimes what happened does not become clear until years later, when the official involved chooses to speak.
Bill Leavy can’t forget Super Bowl XL. As an N.F.L. referee, officiating the biggest game of the season should have been an honor for Leavy. Instead, it is the night he will always remember for all the wrong reasons.
Leavy and his crew made several controversial calls that went against the Seattle Seahawks, who ended up losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers by 21-10. The league tried to protect Leavy’s crew when it said the game was “properly officiated.”
Years later, Leavy acknowledged the missed calls and said they still weighed on him.
“It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly,” Leavy told reporters in Seattle in 2010, four years after the game. “I’ll go to my grave wishing that I’d been better.”
Video replay was supposed to rectify much of that. The former N.F.L. coach Mike Holmgren refers to it as the “50 guys in a bar” rule. If 50 people watching in a bar agree it’s a bad call, it should probably be overturned. Yet, like a lot of things that happen in the N.F.L., which has a dense, 89-page rule book, it is never that simple.