Brad Meier is married and the father of two young sons. I am worried for him. Days have passed since Team USA beat the Russians in a shootout, in this country’s most significant and patriotically galvanizing hockey victory since the Miracle on Ice, and Meier remains the most hated man in Russia. He’s the U.S.-born referee who famously waved off a goal that would have given the Russians a 3-2 lead with less than five minutes left in regulation, effectively handing a fresh oxygen tank to the Americans.
And now, he is the man they want to place in a grater and shred up into little pieces.
“Make soap out of the ref!” they chanted Monday, bringing along a cheese grater to make their visual point at a Moscow protest.
If I wasn’t so concerned for Meier, knowing that the Russian team could be eliminated from the Olympic tournament while the Americans play for gold, I’d laugh out loud. Don’t the Russians realize this is karma payback for 1972, when the Americans were screwed out of Olympic basketball gold in a truly flagrant sports crime? In this case, Alex Ovechkin and the boys still had plenty of time — the rest of regulation, all of overtime and the shootout — to prove they were the better team Saturday, and they failed.
Forty-two years ago at the Munich Olympics, in a conclusion oozing of corruption, the Americans had no chance. You’ve heard the story. After two free throws with three seconds left by Doug Collins — yeah, kids, the old dude on ESPN — an inbounds pass was deflected out of bounds, and time expired. The Americans appeared to have beaten the Soviet Union, 50-49, until the secretary-general of FIBA, the international governing body of basketball, rushed out of the stands and ordered without explanation that three seconds be placed back on the clock. That man, Renato William Jones, had been the recipient of a friendly visit a few months before the Games by Soviet basketball official Nikolai Beshkarev, as recounted recently by Bloomberg.com. With the extra time, the Soviets threw a court-length pass that Aleksandr Belov converted with a history-altering layup. To this day, Collins and his teammates are seething.
What happened Saturday doesn’t compare. There is no doubt the U.S. net apparatus was off its moorings, which prompted Meier to disallow the goal after a tape review — as he should have according to international hockey rules. The question, as I wrote Saturday, is whether U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick intentionally or accidentally pushed the net off its anchor, because it’s clear on the replay that he made contact with the front post that was loosened. The Russians were applying considerable pressure in the U.S. zone at the time. “Nobody touched the net,” Ovechkin told the media. “The goalie touched the net and pulled it out. But the referee didn’t give him two minutes (a penalty).”
Did Meier see the loose apparatus but not notice Quick knocking it loose? Did he decide the contact was unintentional? Or, was Meier indeed a U.S.-born ref siding against the Russians in a Cold War redux? The issue became moot when Konstantin Komissarov, supervisor of referees for the International Ice Hockey Federation, ruled that Meier’s crew had made the accurate call. But did Komissarov notice Quick’s nudge? A large Russian newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, inflamed the argument Monday by publishing a photo of what looks to be Quick shoving the side post.
The accompanying headline: “An American referee and the puppet international federation deprived us of a deserved victory.”
The media and fans aren’t alone in their suspicion. Russia President Vladimir Putin said Monday that the game “should have been stopped” if the goal was dislodged, then suggested the U.S. was lucky. “Even if the judge was wrong, we can’t stick labels on anybody,” Putin said, per the Associated Press. “We can’t forget that sport takes courage but also luck.”
Luck? What was lucky about an American victory contested for nearly another hour after the controversy?
First of all, Meier is not technically an “American referee,” in that he holds American and Canadian nationality. Second, the Russians have had problems since the U.S. game, while the Americans have cruised into the quarterfinal round, with Canada appearing to be the team in their way, while T.J. Oshie becomes the toast of Sochi and America.
Meier is an experienced international referee. If life were fair and the Russians weren’t angry, he should be allowed to work more games in this tournament. But life isn’t fair, and the Russians are angry, preparing for a deep nationwide depression if a team compared to a religious experience loses in Putin’s Games.
I’d get him out of Sochi fast, claiming he was exposed to Bob Costas’ pinkeye condition.
Otherwise, they WILL shred him.