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Handed a lemon by ref, San Diego makes lemonade

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Dec 24, 2008.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=ap-jimlitke-122408&amp;prov=ap&amp;type=lgns" target="_blank">Associated Press</a>

    By Jim Litke

    <a href="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e8/Ed_Hochuli.jpg/225px-Ed_Hochuli.jpg"><img class="alignleft" title="Ed Hochuli" src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e8/Ed_Hochuli.jpg/225px-Ed_Hochuli.jpg" alt="" width="180" height="173" /></a>Sometimes the breaks even out.

    Not always as neatly as they did in this instance, and rarely in a way that makes everybody happy. But a little bit of cheer penetrated the gloom hanging over the officiating department at NFL headquarters and here's why:

    One of the league's best refs blew a call in Week 2 at Denver that cost the San Diego Chargers a win against their division rivals and, until last weekend, looked as if it would cost them a shot at the playoffs, too. Three months later, though, it's almost as if that split-second mistake by crew chief Ed Hochuli never happened.

    After three straight wins, the Chargers clawed their way back to 7-8 and host the 8-7 Broncos, losers of their last two, with the AFC West title on the line-and Hochuli nowhere in sight. The 17-year veteran will be thousands of miles away in frigid Green Bay, officiating a regular-season finale between the Packers and winless Detroit Lions.

    "We like to take guys who hail from Arizona and stick them in the cold every so often," Mike Pereira, vice president of officiating, chuckled into the phone earlier this week from New York.

    But that's not what we meant about the breaks evening out.

    It's been a tough season for his zebras so far, but Pereira was only kidding about banishing Hochuli and his crew to the NFL equivalent of Siberia. That's just how the schedule, prepared weeks in advance, panned out. Actually, Pereira is more than satisfied with the performance of that crew since the gaffe in Week 2. Enough, anyway, that you'll probably see Hochuli &amp; Co. working somewhere come playoff time.

    And though he wouldn't say so, Pereira is just as pleased that the Chargers' surge effectively took one of his best employees off the hook. No one felt worse about the call than Hochuli, who went to Chargers coach Norv Turner immediately afterward and apologized after ruling an incompletion on what should have been a fumble.

    When replays confirmed that, Hochuli was buried under an avalanche of hateful e-mails from fans and more than a few threats. Instead of laying off the blame, hiding behind a "no comment" or forwarding those e-mails to the league office, Hochuli responded to every one.

    "I talked to Ed right after that game and said, ‘You've been one of the best around for 18 years. One play can't tear that all down.' And Ed's crew rebounded exactly the way I expected," Pereira said.

    "In this job, you're going to get kicked in the teeth at some point. If you can bounce back and put it behind you, then you belong in this league. Otherwise," he added, "the instructions from this office will be, ‘Move on, and we'll find people who can.' "

    Much the same message was delivered to the Chargers, who slipped to 0-2 after losing at Denver and then to 3-5 after being beaten by New Orleans in London just ahead of their bye week. Before the long trip home, San Diego general manager A.J. Smith called an emergency meeting, dumped defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and replaced him with linebackers coach Ron Rivera, who used to call the defensive signals in Chicago.

    At first the shake up had little impact. San Diego lost three of the next four. But gradually the defense morphed into the kind of opportunistic unit that Rivera's Bears had been. The Chargers picked off six passes in their last three wins-after just seven interceptions in the first dozen games-and climbed back into the playoff race.

    "It took time to buy into the scheme. Improvement didn't come right away," Smith recalled. "Plus, we'd dug ourselves such a deep hole-three games out with three to play. So we came up with a slogan: ‘Win and hope.'

    "We had to win two, hope Denver lost both, and then we'd get them at our place in a winner-take-all game. - Now, if we'd won the game at Denver, we'd already be Western Division champs," he added. "But with everything else that happened in between, it's almost a miracle the way things worked out."

    It's likely that Hochuli was rooting for the same result, though we can't be sure, since the collective bargaining agreement prohibits refs from conducting interviews during the season. Pereira, however, spoke with Hochuli earlier Tuesday and said the ref "appreciated" that people were interested in how he was dealing with the setback.

    "We've got 120 guys to deal with," Pereira said. "When there's a mistake, we tell each and every one the same thing: ‘Focus on looking forward, not backward."'

    When the game knocks you down, you can stay down or get back up. It took Hochuli and the Chargers time to recover, but both have moved on from that fateful call and learned an important lesson in the bargain.

    "I'd heard about breaks evening out, and maybe I believed in it somewhat before," Smith said.

    "But after we won last weekend in Tampa, we got on the plane, took off and weren't optimistic, to say the least. And I don't remember where we were when we heard Denver lost, but I wish other people could have seen our faces. -

    "Even when there wasn't much hope, our guys refused to let go of the rope. After everything that went wrong-and I don't mean that one call; we're human, we all make mistakes-we still had something worth holding onto.

    "And I wouldn't trade that experience," he said, "for anything."

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