- Officials these days have gone from obscurity to the spotlight. The seven men who will share the field with the players can only hope to stay out of the headlines.
ATLANTA — Before whatever notable dignitary gets the honor to toss the commemorative Super Bowl LIII coin, and just before Matthew Slater inevitably calls heads for the Patriots, referee John Parry will show captains for New England and Los Angeles both sides of the coin.
His hand will be shaking as he presents the coin to the captains. The Super Bowl referee’s hand always shakes in this moment.
“It isn’t another game until the game starts. You have to understand that and accept that,” said Gene Steratore, the referee for last year’s Super Bowl and current CBS rules analyst. “Again, you take all of that build-up and pressure and you try to use that as a positive rather than a smothering fact. Once I got through the coin toss, which was probably the most pressure I was feeling last year, and we just got to kickoff, there was that sense of we’re back to it. It’s still the football field.”
It’s impossible for us to know how the seven men called to officiate Sunday’s game must feel this week because the league has long prohibited officials from talking to the media before the game. But with the blown (no) call in the NFC title game that helped send the Rams to Atlanta, and considering the ever-expanding media around the biggest sporting event of the year, it can be safely said without threat of hyperbole that officials in the Super Bowl have never been under more pressure.
Earlier in the week, an ESPN report pointed that four officials from the NFC Championship Game take up residence in Southern California. Excluding referee Bill Vinovich, the three officials are otherwise anonymous even to those of us who cover the league for a living. On a decision that took a fraction of a second, they went from black-and-white-striped (relative) nobodies to having their names attached to their city of residence on the Worldwide Leader.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fielded no fewer than a half-dozen questions about officiating at his annual Super Bowl press conference Wednesday. He swatted away a few, dodged a couple others and ultimately, finally, publicly admitted to the blown call from 10 days before.
“You have to make snap decisions under difficult circumstances, and they’re not going to get it right every time,” Goodell said. “We have worked very hard to bring technology in to make sure you can do whatever’s possible to address those issues. But technology is not going to solve all those issues. The game is not officiated by robots, and it’s not going to be.”
Below are the seven non-robot humans who will officiate Super Bowl LIII. And much like B-Rabbit beat Papa Doc to the punch by anticipating what Papa Doc would negatively rap about him in the freestyle championship battle at The Shelter, here are ties the men have to these teams.
Referee John Parry: Since becoming a referee in 2007, Parry has overseen seven Rams games. All seven have been Rams victories. He also was the referee for Super Bowl XLVI, when the Patriots lost to the Giants.
Down judge Ed Camp: He was the head linesman when the Patriots beat the Rams in 2016, in the only previous meeting between Jared Goff and Tom Brady.
Side judge Eugene Hall and umpire Fred Bryan: Both men have already officiated one Rams playoff game this postseason. Could one argue they are too familiar with Los Angeles?
Back judge Terrence Miles: He served as the back judge in the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seahawks.
Field judge Steve Zimmer: He was an official for the Rams’ 2017 loss to the Eagles that began the Eagles’ run to the Super Bowl.
Line judge Jeff Bergman: He also served as the line judge when the Patriots beat the Colts in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, aka the Deflategate game.
Now that we have that nonsense out of the way…
“All of these officials that are here have earned that through their talents and the pressure that comes with working this game,” Steratore said. “There’s always a microscope on you.”
CBS doesn’t anticipate magnifying the officiating any more than usual, according to Harold Bryant, the executive vice president of productions for CBS Sports. He said CBS doesn’t plan on focusing too much on the blown call from the NFC title game, nor will they lean more heavily on Steratore in the booth than they have in the past.
“Our plan is not to go to [Steratore] any quicker or force him to make any quick judgments. It’s actually the exact opposite,” Bryant says. “You need to give him enough time to see the replay before he can make a well-informed call. There’s a breath there. It could be a good window there before we bring him on.”
So the axiom that Steratore used during his officiating days—and one all officials should use—will be important in the booth and on the field. When you think you’re going slow, go slower. Those extra seconds on the field may seem like minutes to officials, but it’s crucial to take a breath and collect your thoughts before making a call that could define their careers, this Super Bowl and the immediate future of officiating in this sport.
“We hope they aren’t the story whatsoever, which is the official’s final hope in everything that he or she does,” Steratore said. “We do not want to be mentioned.”
Good luck with that this weekend.
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