January 8, 2003

A Travesty Without a Remedy

By: Timothy P. Carney

The pizza man was coming in from the cold, but he didn’t realize he was walking into an inferno of rage. We had ordered the two pies at the start of the third quarter, and they were just arriving now, after the game had ended.

The lateness in itself would not have made me explode at the pizza guy. The fact the Giants had just lost, also, would not have been enough to send me into a rage. It was the way we lost (yes, I call the Giants “we”).

We blew a 24-point lead, flubbed a snap for the game-winning field goal, and then the referees missed a blatant pass interference call right in front of the end zone. The Giants were penalized for an ineligible man downfield, and the game was ended. It was all too infuriating and loud and rapid for me to understand–so I took it out on the poor pizza man, who had to endure my angry rant before I stormed off.

Things were not made much better a day later, when the NFL admitted that the officials had made a mistake. The ineligible Giant downfield did not erase the fact that a 49ers defender had torn to the ground the Giants’ receiver. We should have gotten to replay the kick, the league said.

If we had replayed the kick, there was a fair chance we would have made it, and won the game. It being the playoffs, where one loss ends your season, this is a fairly big deal. Referees, blowing a call–not because they didn’t see it, just because they weren’t thinking right–ended the Giants’ season and denied one of the most highly-talented offenses in recent years a chance at the Super Bowl.

So “TalkBack Live,” the worst show on CNN, had a segment asking whether the NFL should replay the game, or at least the final play. There had to be some sort of remedy for such a travesty, the hostess figured.

A New Jersey politician demanded the NFL reimburse the state (where the Giants’ actually play) for revenue lost by the team’s perhaps-premature departure from the season.

And I yelled at the poor pizza guy.

These three reactions are all fairly typical, profoundly unconservative, and inherently destructive.

Liberalism has at its core the human instinct that problems ought to be solved and wrongs ought to be righted. In most cases this is a good reaction. But often, this instinct to “do something”–about the unemployment rate, bad CEOs, etc…–leads to terrible abuses of power where the remedy is worse than the problem.

The French Revolution was a prime example. The statewide recount ordered in 2000 by the Florida Supreme Court was another. Edmund Burke’s argument–and conservatism’s defining insight–was fairly simple: just because something was done wrong, and you have the power to change things, doesn’t mean you should.

NFL rules do allow for replaying all or some of a game in the case of an emergency or other extraordinary event. Think of what this would entail.

The Giants, who had already packed up for the season, would need to return to San Francisco. Some coaching staff and free agents had probably begun their deliberations with other teams–they basically had one foot out the door, in all likelihood–but would have to put their blue back on for at least one more play.

Would the 49ers sell tickets for the one play? If not, would having no fans take away from their home field advantage? Could the Giants sign a new long snapper? A new kicker? What if the wind was blowing one way or the other? How would the three days to write a play affect the second try at the field goal?

But more profound than the logistical nightmare would be the precedent. This is a worry conservatives must always keep close to their hearts–bold changes yield vast and unpredictable consequences.

In any big game, would a bad call near the end cause the game–or part of it–to be replayed? If an official blew a big call in the third quarter that shifted the momentum of a game, could the eventual loser demand a do-over? We would turn every game into the 2000 elections.

The reparations argument, similarly, opens its own Pandora’s box. Why should anyone stop at reimbursing New Jersey for the 2003 revenue loss? A Superbowl title this year would allow the Giants to charge higher prices next year and attract better players and do even better down the line.

There is no end to the absurdities once you try to undo an injustice. Some injustices are not reparable. Some may be, but the cure is worse than the disease. The “solution” often causes more problems. This is the conservative lesson that we ought to apply to economic woes, corporate misbehavior and unsavory dictators among other plagues on the world.

Don’t feel that every wrong should be righted.

But also, don’t be 50 minutes late with my f*%&ing pizza.