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And then there were 2: Who will wear the white hat at Super Bowl?



ImageNow that the divisional playoff referee assignments have been determined by Football Zebras, we can now look at the potential crew chief for the Super Bowl. The NFL assigns its Super Bowl officiating staff to a second-round game to break up the gap between their Week 17 assignment and the big game.

This means that the Super Bowl referee, barring any complications, will be either Clete Blakeman, Carl Cheffers, Terry McAulay, or Pete Morelli. And we think we’ve narrowed it down to two:

Terry McAulay

I think Terry McAulay will toss the coin at Super Bowl XLVIII in a few weeks. McAulay has already officiated two Super Bowls (XXXIX and XLIII) and several championship games, so the light will not burn too brightly on him for another big game. McAulay’s games always seem to run smoothly and he and his crews have a history of not getting in the way of the game. Number 77 has consistently scored at the top of the rankings as evidenced by his assignments so another Super Bowl will not be a surprise.

The NFL might want to assign McAulay to this game for another, bigger reason. This season has seen rule misapplications, penalty misenforcements, and raggedness by some of its officiating crews.  The NFL really needs to have a smoothly officiated Super Bowl. The NFL needs an experienced, proven referee to call the game. Coaches always say they want to set a lineup or roster that gives them the best chance to win. The NFL has the best chance to win the officiating of Super Bowl XLVIII by assigning Terry McAulay to lead the seven man on-field crew.

If McAulay is assigned to the Super Bowl, the TV cameras had better be ready to find him quickly when there’s a penalty. He announces and enforces penalties so fast, the camera has troubling finding him before the announcement is over!

Morelli could still get the assignment, but after surveying the divisional playoff referees, I think the arrow points to McAulay.

—Mark Schultz

Carl Cheffers

It was not a banner year for officiating by any standard, generally. But, when applied to Carl Cheffers, he has had a real workmanlike season amidst the chaos. He has quietly guided his crew through the season with a veteran-like command.

The laymans’ standard for evaluating an official is “have I ever heard of him?” To be known by name is generally a curse in the profession. Cheffers has always shown tremendous potential as a crew chief, and has proven himself in the trenches. Cheffers is known for a penalty call which went viral, as he had to navigate through a multiple-foul-with-change-of-possession announcement. Vice president of officiating Dean Blandino stresses growth of an official, and in the time since that cringe-inducing moment, no one has shown more growth than Cheffers.

I am fairly certain that Cheffers is ranked in the top tier by the officiating department. Because of the rules of the system, agreed to by the NFL and the referees’ union, Cheffers might be a lock for the top slot.

The Super Bowl assignment does not always go to the top-ranked official, but can be any official in the top 5 who has never worked a Super Bowl before. So, if Cheffers is ranked, say, third behind McAulay and Pete Morelli, Cheffers leapfrogs to the Super Bowl assignment, because he would be the highest ranked official without a Super Bowl. The caveat is that an official cannot be passed over in consecutive seasons. McAulay might get the nod in that case, because he worked a conference championship game while Jerome Boger was assigned to the Super Bowl. If McAulay was ranked even or better than Boger, McAulay will get the assignment.

Based on the divisional playoff assignments, it appears that it is a two-horse race between McAulay and Cheffers. Morelli had an outstanding season, but it looks like he will have to wait for another year.

—Ben Austro