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Tuesday, February 7, 2006 - Page updated at 07:37 AM

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Steve Kelley

Super Sunday wasn't a good day for zebras

Seattle Times staff columnist

And now a word about the officiating in Super Bowl XL. Two words actually.

It stunk.

The interference call, a push-off on Darrell Jackson that cost the Seahawks a first-quarter touchdown, was hideous.

If former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin hadn't been allowed to use his arm to get separation the innocent way Jackson did in Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh, Irvin would have caught maybe 20 balls in his career.

And the fourth-quarter holding call on right tackle Sean Locklear that nullified a spectacular catch by tight end Jerramy Stevens at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line was equally egregious.

Is this the best the NFL can find for the most important game of the season?

Referee Bill Leavy should be embarrassed. The NFL should be embarrassed.

All night this crew seemed hesitant to make a call. Flags were late coming and when they came, they were wrong almost as often as they were right. And the flags lopsidedly went against the Seahawks.

It made you yearn for an NFL version of NBA official Joey Crawford, an expert in the art of the makeup call. If Crawford had been the referee on Sunday night, you can be sure he would have found a phantom holding call or two to even the playing field just a bit.

The Steelers were flagged three times for 20 yards, while the Hawks were penalized seven times for 70 yards. But the timing was crushing.

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Replay was created so officials would get it right. But even after sticking his head in the dark replay hutch and taking look after look, from every angle but underneath the turf, Leavy couldn't overturn the supremely over-turnable touchdown call on Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's second-quarter, 1-yard touchdown lunge.

It has been a bad postseason for the zebras.

From Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu's interception that was ruled an incompletion and gave the Indianapolis Colts life in the AFC conference semifinals, to the block-in-the-back non-call that sprung Carolina's Steve Smith on his 59-yard punt return in the NFC championship game loss to the Seahawks, the NFL officials have been making big-time errors in the biggest games.

And it's hurting the integrity of the league.

On the morning after the Super Bowl, fans shouldn't be complaining about the officials. And, if they are complaining, they shouldn't be right.

Super Bowl XL was a nightmare of bad calls.

But, having said that, Leavy and his crew didn't cost the Seahawks the Super Bowl. The Hawks made more mistakes than the officials. Their execution was as poor as Leavy and Company's.

Sunday's Seahawks looked too much like the error-prone 2004 Hawks. Their clock management at the end of the half and the end of the game was sloppy. The dropped passes were eerily reminiscent of '04.

Still, none of that, none of that, can take away from all that the Hawks gave the Northwest this season.

"We took Seattle to a place it's never been before," running back Shaun Alexander said.

They reawakened the city to championship possibilities. They turned Qwest Field into the most electric building in the Northwest. They gave the region that miracle come-from-behind win over Dallas. They rode the thunder of the sellout crowd to an overtime win over the New York Giants.

They created a stir that stretched from Sunday to Sunday, from September into February. Game days were anticipated in a way they haven't been since Steve Largent, Curt Warner, Kenny Easley, Jacob Green and Dave Krieg.

The Seahawks beat Washington and Carolina at home in the playoffs and went to the franchise's first Super Bowl.

And there's no reason the roll they started can't last the rest of the decade.

General manager Tim Ruskell faces a difficult offseason. He has to sign left guard Steve Hutchinson. He has to find probably one more speedy pass receiver and, depending on the health of Ken Hamlin, another safety.

Equally as important as signing Hutchinson, Ruskell has to find a way to fit MVP Alexander under the crowded salary cap.

"I want to be here," Alexander said after the game. "I've said that from the very beginning."

The last five Super Bowl losers — the Giants, St. Louis, Oakland, Carolina, Philadelphia — didn't make it back to the playoffs the next season. Seattle should break that streak.

Ruskell's first season let us know that he can be trusted to make the right moves. The Seahawks should be favored to win the NFC again next season.

And you can be sure, Bill Leavy won't be the referee in Super Bowl XLI.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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