Ask a die-hard New Orleans Saints fan whether a lawsuit is the best way to settle the score of the 2019 NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams that cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl, and you’re likely to get plenty of affirmative responses.
At least two Saints season ticket-holders and a Saints “super fans” website have endorsed the idea, filing a civil lawsuit in a Louisiana state court on Tuesday against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL, and its successor-in-interest NFL Properties, Inc.
To recap, there’s little debate that at least one major officiating error, with 1:45 remaining on the game clock, changed the game’s outcome. Game referees failed to call pass interference or unnecessary roughness when Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman made an illegal helmet-to-helmet tackle of Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis. An interference call would have allowed the Saints a first down, and with it, an opportunity to run down the clock and attempt a field goal to win the game. Instead, the tied game was forced into overtime during which the Rams solidified a 26-23 win.
Writ of Mandamus
The plaintiffs are seeking zero monetary compensation. Instead, they’re asking the court to issue a Writ of Mandamus that would compel the league and Goodell to invoke an official NFL rule that provides remedies for “extraordinarily unfair” game occurrences. The complaint asks the court to enforce the rule by taking one of three actions: schedule a “do-over” from the point of the game in dispute; replay the entire game; or reverse the game’s result.
“What we’re hoping is that the commissioner does the right thing,” Frank D’Amico, Jr., the plaintiffs’ attorney, told Yahoo Finance. “He has the authority to correct this egregious error that will go down in infamy as probably the worst non-call in NFL history.”
The lawsuit was served on Commissioner Goodell on Tuesday.
“We have not heard anything from the commissioner,” D’Amico said. “He has not made a public statement; he has not returned any of our calls; and he has not explained to the world why he has not taken the corrective measures he has the authority to do under Rule 17, so we had no choice but to file this lawsuit to ask the court to intervene to ask the NFL to enforce its own rules.”
According to D’Amico Jr., Goodell could invoke Rule 17, which gives the commissioner sole authority to take corrective measures “if any club action, non-participant interference, or calamity occurs in an NFL game which the commissioner deems so extraordinarily unfair...that such action has a major effect on the result of the game.”
D’Amico Jr. emphasized that Saints head coach Sean Payton said officials admitted that they blew the call, and said that by all accounts the play was characterized as an intentional act by the defensive back for the Rams. Yet he doubts whether his case and the official’s error will ever be evaluated by the court, or by the NFL.
The case is set for an initial hearing on Monday, the first available date on the court’s calendar, less than five business days before the Super Bowl.
“I expect the NFL and its legion of lawyers to file every exception they can to get this dismissed or not heard on Monday,” D’Amico Jr. said. “I don’t know why the commissioner is not acting on his own authority.”
Damages listed in the plaintiffs’ complaint include mental anguish and emotional trauma, loss of faith in the NFL, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of entertainment, and distrust of the game.
D’Amico said that while Rule 17 cannot be utilized by the clubs or the players, it is available to NFL customers.
“The fans who actually pay to see these games, the customers of the NFL,” D’Amico Jr. said, “are the ones who can complain that the rules aren’t being enforced fairly and equitably.
“We are dismayed at the lack of the integrity in the game,” D’Amico Jr. said. “This isn’t just an average game. This is the NFC Championship game determining who goes to the Super Bowl.”
“If there was ever a time when Rule 17 needed to be implemented, this is it.”
Alexis Keenan is a New York-based reporter for Yahoo Finance. She previously produced live news for CNN and is a former litigation attorney. Follow her on Twitter at @alexiskweed
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