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6 observations from Super Bowl XLVIII



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McAulay crew handles first dud Super Bowl in 10 years

Well, this year’s Super Bowl will not go down as a classic in terms of excitement, but the Seahawks’ defensive performance will be talked about for a long time.  Peyton Manning’s future and legacy (rightly or wrongly) will be hot topics for the next few news cycles.  Thankfully, the officiating will not be a topic to debate.  There was no call that swung momentum or decided the game, but there were some things I noticed while zebra watching tonight.

1.  McAulay was very relaxed at the coin toss, even though there was a gaffe.  

McAulay handed the coin to Joe Namath and forgot to ask Seattle to call heads or tails – or Namath tossed the coin before getting permission from McAulay.  The veteran referee quickly reacted, caught the coin, and got the captain’s choice. Everyone, including McAulay, got a nice chuckle out of it, there was no need to be embarrassed, and everyone got on with the game (video).


Referee Terry McAulay (left) was thrown a curve ball during the coin toss.

2.  Speaking of coin tosses, the media was kept at bay and let the referee and captains do their job.

The Super Bowl coin toss is the most viewed football coin toss annually.  The crew even goes through a coin toss dress rehearsal the day before the game.  There are many layers of extra detail to the coin toss, including a special coin, special guests to toss the coin, an extra layer of tension as the teams just want to kick off and a crush of media that wants to be in on the ceremony.  In the past few years, the media crush at the center of the field has gotten ridiculous (video from Super Bowl XLV).  I don’t know if the NFL Referees Association requested a little relief, or if the NFL executives took the initiative, but the media kept its distance and let McAulay and the captains do their job.

3.  All in all, pass interference wasn’t a factor in the game.


Side judge Dave Wyant calls a play in Super Bowl XLVIII

One big story line this past week was how the aggressive Seattle defense would fare against the Denver pass attack, and how the officials (especially field judge Scott Steenson, side judge Dave Wyant, and back judge Steve Freeman) would call defensive holding, illegal contact, and pass interference.  There was one pass play late in the first half where I thought a Seahawks player got away with illegal contact or pass interference, but all in all, the officiating crew called a very good game in the secondary.  

4.  Line judge Tom Symonette set an early tone.

The Seahawks hit hard and then tell their opponents all about it.  Early in the game, the Seahawks kicked off to the Broncos and once the receiver downed the ball in the end zone for a touchback, a Seahawks player delivered a late hit on an unsuspecting Bronco.  Symonette didn’t bother scolding, warning or giving the teams a “talk to.”  He brought out the flag, and helped the crew send an early message that post-whistle nonsense would not be tolerated.  Honorable mention goes to Terry McAulay who warned a Seahawks player in the first half as he was starting to bark at the Broncos’ sideline.  Thankfully there were not any major scraps this game and both teams mostly displayed good sportsmanship.

crop malcolm smith carl paganelli5.  Umpire Carl Paganelli showed hustle and snuffed out potential tinderboxes.

Several times, #124 jumped between players who were pushing and shoving, jawing, or about to square off.  One time, two players were wrestling on the ground after the whistle, and Paganelli jumped on the two players and separated them.  He worked hard to set the ball ready for the next play, and from his position in the backfield, was able to rule a pass over the middle incomplete.  Here, he is in reverse mechanics on the interception return by Seahawks linebacker and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith.

6.  The officials have to be ready on the first play.

Ok, McAulay got the coin toss out of the way without major problems, everyone lined up on the right side of the field, the kicker waited until he blew the whistle, and the game got started with a routine kickoff return.  Time to settle in, get a few plays under the belt, and get into the groove.  Right?  Wrong.  The first play featured a complete breakdown, illegal motion by Peyton Manning, a bad snap into the end zone and a safety.  McAulay could have been caught napping or not ready for the start of the game and looked really bad on that play.  He was ready, Seattle was ready, the Broncos were not ready (video).  

This game did not feature any calls that will be scorned or praised, but the seven officials who were tasked to call Super Bowl XLVIII did themselves and the game proud.

 Photos: Ben Leiberman/NFL, Denver Broncos (middle photos), Ric Tapia/NFL

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"