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Leavy says he’s haunted by Super Bowl XL calls




With an unbelievable amount of candor, referee Bill Leavy admitted that he made game-changing mistakes when he officiated Super Bowl XL in February 2006—mistakes that helped propel the Steelers over the Seahawks.

It was immediately branded as one of the worst called Super Bowls in history. The Seattle Times ran a list of six questionable calls that illustrates the frustration on the Seahawks sideline, beyond the frustration with the team’s own performance (see the list below).

Leavy’s comments came during the preseason rounds by the officials to brief players in training camp of new rule changes. Leavy apologized for, in his estimation, two late-stretch calls that helped the Steelers put the game away:

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.

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren addressed a crowd in Seattle after the loss saying he “didn’t know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well.” The NFL reviewed his comments, but did not fine him. However, the conspiracy machine was churning so hard, that NFL spokeman Greg Aiello released this statement two days after the game:

The game was properly officiated, including, as in most NFL games, some tight plays that produced disagreement about the calls made by the officials.

That, essentially, still rings true. Leavy and his crew failed on a few calls, but it is a part of the game. There were no misapplications of the rules or crew mechanics, so all the calls in question were judgment calls. Good teams are able to overcome bad calls just as much as adverse weather conditions. For instance, a questionable holding penalty can be blamed on an official, but an interception thrown three plays later also has to balance out the conversation.

The Seattle Times “6 Key Plays”

  • Offensive pass interference nullifies touchdown
  • Dropped pass could have been ruled catch & fumble
  • Replay review upheld Steelers touchdown
  • Touchdown reception denied for contact with pylon
  • Questionable holding call nullifies first-and-goal
  • Illegal block called when it appears there was no contact

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)