Did Golden Tate catch that ball? Steve Smith thinks it's funny you should ask. (Getty Images)It's generally nice when your heroes talk about you. When you get in the game, you're always looking for validation, if you can get it, from those who came before you and showed the way. For Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, one of the main guys who showed him how you should catch footballs in the NFL has been Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith. Tate, a third-year NFL player from Notre Dame, very much likes the five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro, who had one of his best seasons in 2011 at age 32.
"Yeah, definitely — he's a guy I like to model my game after," Tate told me in 2010, when I asked him about Smith's influence on his receiving style. "He's a very physical guy with the same kind of build — same kind of speed, also. I think that we play alike. I want to have the kind of swagger he has on the field, and also make the big plays that he makes. I'm not sure that he might not be even shorter than me, but he plays very tall. I'm not sure that at my height [5-foot-10], there are many players like me."
However, Smith was not impressed by the apparent touchdown Tate was gifted in the Seahawks' 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers on Monday night. When Tate came down with the ball, or was ruled to have done so, and the replacement officials missed a blatant example of offensive pass interference when Tate pushed off on Shields, Smith saw what most of the NFL-watching country saw.
"Hey, I'm a wide receiver, and I'm always rooting for a wideout, but that wasn't no catch," Smith told the Carolina media on Wednesday. "I think Golden Tate's a great player, he went up, he did the best he could, he's coming down, [but] he's got amnesia now, I mean, I don't blame him, but at the end of the day, come on.
"That was not a catch that he possessed. He didn't have that ball."
"I'm gonna keep preaching it -- I can't control what other people say or do," Tate told me before Wednesday's practice, when I asked him about Smith's comments. "I had the ball at the time, and looking back, and just from what I remember, I felt like I had the ball in my hands. We both competed for the ball, and the call ended up going our way, and we won the game, We're 2-1 now, and it's time to move forward."
Of course, as Smith then went on to detail, the real issue was the refs calling the game, not whether Tate had the ball. After all, there was an uncalled offensive pass interference moment that would have negated the touchdown and ended the game.
"They gotta do something. The integrity of the game, the shield, all that stuff, all the things they said in the lockout. At the end of the day this is about numbers. It's about what everyone else wants -- It's about money ... If we start just doing stuff as players, just doing stuff outside the rules, we get fined. Where's the accountability for Roger Goodell and these guys who are inadequate at their jobs, who aren't doing what they're supposed to do, who are making just flat out bad calls? And it sucks, cause it cost a team a game." [...]
"I would like them to actually do something more than just send out press releases, to do exactly what they expect players to do. To have integrity, to have safety of the game ... You've got to have competent people and if they're incompetent, get them out of there."
At this time, there are multiple reports indicating that the NFL and NFL Referees Association are close to an agreement in their ongoing labor impasse. That would be good news for the league, which can't take too many more embarrassments in this case.