It is time. No more practice. No more clinics. The NFL season begins for real this week. Here is what I’m keying on as I zebra-watch this fall and winter.
- Sarah Thomas breaks the gender barrier. Ms. Thomas probably doesn’t want it to be a big deal, but it is. She will be the first permanent female NFL official in league history. She has many years of experience and has spent two years in the advanced training program. One officiating source who said he was initially felt Thomas was not quite ready for the pro level, told us that she did very well on Pete Morelli’s crew in preseason. Here’s hoping she has an uneventful, yet successful, regular season.
- John Hussey is a new referee. How will Hussey do this season as a white hat? The former line judge first joined the league in 2002, and is a Super Bowl veteran — so the experience and qualifications are there.
- How will extra point rules impact the game? This year, extra point kicks will be from the 15-yard line, eliminating the “chip shot” extra point and making the kick a little more difficult. The two-point conversion will still be from the 2-yard line. Also, if the defense recovers the ball during the PAT, they can run it back to the end zone for two points. I opined that there was no reason to change the extra-point rules. We’ll see how the rules shake out this season.
- Which sophomore officials will take the next step? Rookie officials are not eligible to officiate playoffs. Let’s see how many of the 13 sophomore officials will get a playoff assignment this year.
- Will Deflategate — I hate that term! We’ve been tacking “gate” on every scandal since 1974, but I digress. Will Deflategate be a factor this year? The long offseason was even longer due to the controversy over whether the New England Patriots cheated by deflating air pressure on the game balls. In light of the accusations and investigation, the NFL adopted new game ball procedures for the 2015 season. I predict that the biggest offseason controversy will be a non-factor this fall.
- Who will work the golden anniversary Super Bowl? I rarely get any of these right, but for Super Bowl 50, my crew prediction is:
- Referee Gene Steratore (114)
- Umpire: Dan Ferrell (64)
- Head Linesman: Tony Veteri, Jr. (36)
- Linesman: Jeff Bergman (32)
- Field Judge: Doug Rosenbaum (67)
- Side Judge: Jon Lucivansky (89)
- Back Judge: Dino Paganelli (105)
- Alternate Referee: Pete Morelli (135)
- Alternate Umpire: Paul King (121)
- Alternate HL/LJ: Jerry Bergman, Jr. (91)
- Alternate FJ/SJ: Jeff Lamberth (21)
- Alternate Back Judge: Lee Dyer (27)
Best wishes to the entire NFL officiating staff this year. May you have the safest, most accurate season yet!