The NFL made an important decision this week and decided to give its beleaguered officials a hand. From now on, the referee will receive help with the difficult and complex task of executing the pre-game coin toss. The new rule requires that he be assisted by the field judge and back judge for this demanding, pre-game maneuver. That's one-two-three officials for the job.

Swell, but was this really the best way to help the officials? First, NFL referees are a national joke; now the NFL piles it on and gives everybody a perfect setup. How many referees does it take to have a coin toss? Three. One to flip the coin and two to have a conference about it.Mucho thanks. Just what the men in stripes needed. Sure, they blew the coin toss, but couldn't they just turn up the volume on the old Miracle Ear?

It happens. If you blew a whistle a thousand times a year, your eardrums would look like Cream of Wheat, too. To the average NFL referee, "tails" sounds a lot like "heads," not to mention "elephant," "taco" and "automobile."

There's a second part to the new coin-toss rule change that also is designed to help the officials. It requires team captains to call "heads" or "tails" before the coin is actually flipped, so the ref doesn't have to listen AND flip the coin at the very same time. In the event this fails, referees will resort to paper, scissors, rock.

The addition of two referees for the coin toss is certainly a huge vote of confidence for NFL officials. If they add one more, they could be a barbershop quartet and sing the National Anthem.

As long as they're out there . . . .

A trio of referee. Wow, you figure if it takes three referees just to handle the coin toss, it probably takes, what, 14 of them to call roughing the passer or offsides. For pass interference, maybe they dial up a panel of judges, or Judge Judy. Eventually, the refs will outnumber the players 2 to 1.

I think NFL referees are in way over their heads. Officiating the super-fast NFL game is like trying to make traffic citations at the Indianapolis 500 on a moped. As a result, referees are always holding conferences after a play, trying to decide what they think they saw by putting their heads together and rolling dice.

These are tough times for NFL refs. They're the only people I know who are having a worse year than Bill Clinton and Ken Starr. I mean, other than Karl Malone and that agent of his (don't you think that man just looks like a snot; I'll bet the kids picked on Dwight Manley when he was a child -- if he ever was a child).

The NFL Referee Problem became a national crisis because of two games last week, which, in the annals of refereeing, will be remembered the same way the Hindenburg is remembered by pilots.

On Thanksgiving Day, during the coin toss for overtime between the Steelers and Lions, Jerome Bettis called "tails," -- that's "tails," rhymes with "heads" -- and referee Phil Luckett naturally thought he said "heads" because the two words sound so much alike, and when the coin turned up tails he awarded the ball to the Lions. When everybody started arguing and pointing fingers, the referee smiled weakly and said, "Two out of three anybody?" (Can you imagine what Luckett was thinking to himself: Uh-oh, wait'll the boss hears about this one. I just blew the freakin' coin toss. This could cost me my whistle!

Last Sunday the referees had another bad day at the office, particularly in the closing seconds of the Bills-Patriots game. They gave Shawn Jefferson a catch on fourth down even though replays showed that if he had been any farther out of bounds he would've had to buy tickets. On the next play, they called pass interference on a Hail Mary pass in the end zone, which set up the winning touchdown on the last play of the game. Afterward, the refs quickly applied for the witness protection program.

It's been that kind of year for the men in stripes. Earlier this season the NFL actually issued an official apology for two erroneous pass interference calls against the Colts in a game against the 49ers. They were discredited with failing to award the Raiders' Don Hollas a touchdown in a narrow loss to Baltimore.

They also failed to see that the Ravens had 13 men on the field during one play. When you add that blunder to that coin toss business, well, you can see why NFL referees are under siege. It never looks good when a referee can't count, can't hear and can't see. But maybe we're asking too much.

Well, the first thing we've got to do here to remedy the situation is simple: Bring back instant replay -- for the coin toss.

Many people are demanding the return of instant replay for all disputed calls, but I don't know. Let's see, players hold conferences before the play, and referees hold conferences after the play. Now we're asking for more conferences with replay? Is this a football game, or the state legislature? Some people think the answer is to make the NFL's part-time referees -- who are, in real life, doctors, lawyers, accountants and so on -- full-time referees. Personally, I don't think they should give up their day jobs yet.