Football Zebras commentary
Our annual tradition is to predict which referees are assigned to the postseason and the Pro Bowl. As we find every year, there tends to be a razor-thin line at the playoff cut, so an omission on this list does not necessarily mean we thought the referee was not worthy of a playoff assignment. We simply ran out of room.
In previous seasons, there is usually some discussion about who’s up and who’s down in the playoff race among officials, and some sense of the grading does leak out. This year, it seems that the grades are being held close to the vest, and no clear frontrunner has emerged. Still, there were little signals, particularly with assignments in the final weeks that seemingly indicated deliberate choices for key games.
With that, I have scratched out my playoff selections, red-lined them out, changed back, and swapped rounds several times. It is a close race, and not having reviewed every snap of every game a minimum of 20 times, there is an amount of guesswork here. And it is possible I may have overthought it.
I have Tony Corrente in his second Super Bowl, in the same building as the last one he worked in February 2007. Super Bowl XLI was the only Super Bowl where it rained, so hopefully this will have more pleasant weather. With the last two Super Bowl referees retiring after their games — Gene Steratore and John Parry — we hope that Corrente will break that string.
Bill Vinovich has been a consistent top-tier official, and it is no accident that he would be in a conference championship or Super Bowl for the fifth time in six years. Craig Wrolstad has also proven himself as a consistent game manager, and I see him getting a high assignment. In addition to the Conference Championship game, I will also pencil Vinovich and Wrolstad in the wild card round, as senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron has done in the past two seasons to close the gap from the final regular season game.
I also feel there was nothing to really bump Clete Blakeman out of another championship game, but I see him still in the top tier. Carl Cheffers and John Hussey also had good seasons in my estimation which rounds out my divisional round picks. Corrente, as Super Bowl referee, would work this round as well.
For the remaining two Wild Card spots, I looked at Shawn Hochuli, Alex Kemp, Clay Martin, and Shawn Smith all coming into their second season at the referee position very strong. I have a sense, though, that they would want to limit the number of first-time referees in the playoffs; therefore I would expect to see some alternate assignments sent their way, perhaps multiple ones. In the end, I have Clay Martin emerging from that pack to take a wild card assignment, and for the other I see Ron Torbert continuing his streak of working an on-field assignment in every postseason he was qualified to work.
It has become harder to get assigned a playoff game in the Al Riveron era. Previously, only the Super Bowl officials were assigned a second playoff game (a divisional round). Since Riveron took over, the conference championship officials also worked a wild card round.
There are only 11 post season games of consequence. If conference championship referees get assigned a wild card game, there are only eight on-field playoff assignments for 17 referees.
With that in mind, I have Ron Torbert tossing the coin for Super Bowl LIV. I saw him working the college game at referee a long time ago. He has all the tools to be a Super Bowl referee, including mechanics, mic work, presence, inter personal communication and proper rule enforcement. Look for number 62 to work the Super Bowl.
For the conference championship round, I have Carl Cheffers and John Hussey working. Cheffers his a former Super Bowl official and has proven himself capable of the big game. He has a great command of the game and is still near the peak of his skills. John Hussey worked the Super Bowl as a line judge and will get back to the Super Bowl as a referee soon, possibly this year. He has an excellent command of a game, including the ones that need a firm had. The Super Bowl is in the future for Hussey, but not this year.
In the divsional round, I have Craig Wrolstad, Torbert, Brad Allen and Tony Corrente working. Each official has had a good year and they have earned a playoff game on the field.
In the wild card round, I’ve penciled in Clete Blakeman, Shawn Hochuli, Shawn Smith and Alex Kemp. I have Hochuli and Kemp as the last two in. If Riveron assigns the conference championship referees to work two playoff games, I predict Hochuli and Kemp will be alternates. It is a tough numbers game.
I’m still new to the idea of publicizing my predictions for postseason assignments, but I’ve been making these predictions for years on my own, so I feel that there are some correct choices in my list. Last year, my Super Bowl prediction only received an alternate assignment, and the actual Super Bowl referee was not on my list at all. This goes to show how tough this task is, especially having to pick and choose great officials over other great officials just because there are so many games to officiate.
I’ll start at the top this year. I’ve slotted John Hussey in the top spot this season. His game management, rules knowledge, and overall feel of the game are top-notch and he is well-deserving of the assignment. While Hussey is only in his 5th season as a referee, he is already in his 18th season overall. With one Super Bowl under his belt as a line judge, it’s his turn to wear the white hat in Miami this February and lead the top crew from the NFL’s centennial season.
Staying in Tier 1 with the conference championship games, I’ve selected Carl Cheffers and Ron Torbert. Last season, we all figured that Torbert would be the Super Bowl referee once we received the divisional round assignments, but I am sure that he will finally receive his first top-tier assignment. Torbert has received a playoff assignment in every year he was eligible, and I don’t expect that streak to end this year. For the other conference championship, Carl Cheffers will be the man in charge, as he has had many high profile games this season and he and his crew have delivered on some of the game’s biggest stages.
For the divisional round, I have selected Clete Blakeman, Shawn Hochuli, and Bill Vinovich. Blakeman and Vinovich are fresh off of their conference championship assignments from last season, and I fully expect them to be back in the postseason this year. I still fully believe that Vinovich is the best overall referee in the league, and Blakeman, in the years to come, may very well assume that role and fill the shoes of some of the great referees who have come and gone. As for Hochuli, I feel he has performed the best out of all four sophomore referees, and with that, he will receive a second-round playoff game in his first year eligible at the position. His constant comparisons to his father, Ed, have ceased, and he is starting to make a name for himself. John Hussey is also on my list for the divisional round as the pre-requisite for the Super Bowl assignment.
Finally, in the wild card round, I chose Alex Kemp and Craig Wrolstad. Again, Carl Cheffers and Ron Torbert are also slotted here, as the new pre-requisite for the conference championship games, that has been in effect since senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron has been in power. Kemp has also been very strong in his first two seasons at the referee position, and is ready for his first playoff game as a white hat. Craig Wrolstad, my Super Bowl prediction from a season ago, missed out on the postseason last year, but this year he has shown his strengths as the leader of the crew and will officiate during Wild Card Weekend.
Yes, I know what you’re saying. I omitted the longest tenured referees, Walt Anderson and Tony Corrente, the up-and-coming Shawn Smith, and Brad Allen, who missed the playoffs last year. However, this means that they aren’t deserving of a playoff assignment. The new procedure of assigning the conference championship officials to officiate wild card games to prevent them from potentially losing the feel for the game in a full two-week hiatus is a good idea to prepare the top-tier officials, however, it takes away two playoff spots away from each officiating position. Tony Corrente and Brad Allen are my runners-up this year. They would be in my predictions for the wild card round under the old assignment system.
|Ben Austro||Mark Schultz||Cam Filipe|
|Super Bowl LIV||Tony Corrente||Ron Torbert||John Hussey|
|Conference Championships||Bill Vinovich||Carl Cheffers||Carl Cheffers|
|Craig Wrolstad||John Hussey||Ron Torbert|
|Divisional Playoffs||Clete Blakeman||Brad Allen||Clete Blakeman|
|Carl Cheffers||Tony Corrente||Shawn Hochuli|
|Tony Corrente||Ron Torbert||John Hussey|
|John Hussey||Craig Wrolstad||Bill Vinovich|
|Wild Card Playoffs||Clay Martin||Clete Blakeman||Carl Cheffers|
|Ron Torbert||Shawn Hochuli||Alex Kemp|
|Bill Vinovich||Alex Kemp||Ron Torbert|
|Craig Wrolstad||Shawn Smith||Craig Wrolstad|
|Pro Bowl||Walt Anderson||Clay Martin||Tony Corrente|
When double playoff assignments are predicted, the earlier one is shown in italics.