5. Mario Manningham threads the sideline
Super Bowl XLVI
Giants vs. Patriots
February 5, 2012
Covering official: SJ Laird Hayes, HL Tom Stabile
The Giants were trailing by two points with 3:46 remaining in the fourth quarter. A late-game, one-score deficit in a Super Bowl against the Patriots was familiar territory for the Giants, as they had the ball in similar fashion in Super Bowl XLII en route to a victory. Could lightning strike the same place twice?
On the first play of the drive, Giants quarterback Eli Manning tested the defense and threw a 38-yard pass to receiver Mario Manningham, who was riding the sideline.
Side judge Laird Hayes was ahead of the play, as he is supposed to be, but had to make a judgement on the catch. Was Manningham in bounds? Did he complete the process of the catch? Hayes likely had assistance on the call of two feet in bounds from head linesman Tom Stabile, who was upfield. Hayes continued to run forward to remain out of the way of the play, but had his body turned and kept his eye trained back on the players for any potential interference and then ruled on the catch. Hayes, himself, made an athletic play to make the call. The Patriots challenged the ruling, but Hayes’ call was upheld.
Super Bowl XL
Steelers vs. Seahawks
February 5, 2006
Covering official: R Bill Leavy
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren was just as furious at the officiating as the team’s faithful, but at a public rally in Seattle, he addressed the crowd with a wry smirk, “I didn’t know we’d have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well.”
While the vociferous complaints continued in the days after the game (#17), the league issued a statement that the game was properly officiated, and that there might be disputed judgement calls that are a part of any NFL game.
Referee Bill Leavy was not content, however. While the opposition was overblown, and incorrect in some aspects, Leavy was particularly upset with a couple of calls late in the game. He was visiting the Seahawks training camp in 2010, as the league sends officials to get preseason workouts, address new rules with players and coaches, and answer any questions about the interpretations of the rules. He addressed the team and took responsibility for his performance in Super Bowl XL four years earlier:
It was a tough thing for me. I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that. It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly. I’ll go to my grave wishing that I’d been better … I know that I did my best at that time, but it wasn’t good enough … When we make mistakes, you got to step up and own them. It’s something that all officials have to deal with, but unfortunately when you have to deal with it in the Super Bowl it’s difficult.
One of those calls was on an interception return by the Steelers. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was making the tackle and was flagged for an illegal low block. While it seems counterintuitive for a quarterback to be penalized for “blocking” on an interception return, the low-block foul applies to both teams on a change of possession. However, a player cannot be flagged for blocking a ball carrier (absent some other action that is a foul), because that action is simply an attempt to tackle . Hasselbeck did go low, but he did not cut any opponent down other than the ball carrier. It should not have been a foul.
The other call Leavy spoke of, despite our continued attempts to determine which one it was, remains a mystery.
While Leavy was hung out to dry by fans and the media, this was a well-officiated game. Leavy’s placement this high on this list is not for the two erroneous calls he made at game speed that were controverted by slow-motion replay. Even though the core of the 2005 Seahawks had moved on, Leavy still had the balls to stand before the team, lay his soul bare, and admit his mistakes.
It is that courage and integrity that is rarely seen in our world these days.
NFL video (opens in an external window)
Super Bowl XIII
Steelers vs. Cowboys
January 21, 1979
Covering officials: FJ Fred Swearingen, BJ Pat Knight
Early in the fourth quarter, Steelers quarterback targeted wide receiver Lynn Swann on 2nd and 6. While running his route, Swann and Cowboys cornerback Benny Barnes inadvertently tangled feet and the ball fell incomplete.
Both back judge Pat Knight and field judge Fred Swearingen had the play covered, and Swearingen threw a flag for pass interference. Knight appeared surprised upon seeing the flag, stopping his “incomplete” signal halfway through the motion.
“Swann ran it right up my back. When I saw the flag, I knew it was on him,” said Barnes as reported by The Evening Independent of St. Petersburg, Fla. Barnes was wrong, though; the flag was on him, which gave the Steelers the ball at the Cowboys 23-yard line. Barnes said that Swearingen “couldn’t explain it to suit me. I explained it once for you guys. Everybody’s seen the replays. Let’s leave it at that.”
Back then “incidental contact” as it pertained to pass interference wasn’t codified. The officials could use their independent judgement to rule pass interference or not. Quite simply, Swearingen judged Barnes’ contact to be enough to warrant a flag. The next year, the NFL codified the “incidental contact” rule, so further situations like Swann/Barnes would go uncalled.