Now that the divisional playoff assignments have been posted by Football Zebras, we can look to who the potential crew chief will be for the Super Bowl. The NFL assigns its Super Bowl officiating staff to a second-round game to break up the gap between the end of the regular season and the big game, leaving us to choose from Terry McAulay, Craig Wrolstad, Clete Blakeman and Tony Corrente. McAulay most recently officiated Super Bowl XLVIII, two seasons ago. Wrolstad is ineligible for the Super Bowl, as he needs to have three years’ experience at the white hat position. (He has already worked a Super Bowl as a field judge.) For Super Bowl 50, we make our case for …
Tony Corrente is a 21-year veteran with 19 years experience as a referee. He got off to a strong start early, working four playoff games in his first four years of eligibility, including a conference championship game. He then seemed to fall off the radar, missing out on three straight playoff assignments. He bounced back by being assigned to Super Bowl XLI. After the Super Bowl assignment he received playoff games in six out of the last eight years — including the last two conference championships.
Corrente definitely has the experience to handle the big game. He would also come into the game seasoned overcoming throat cancer four years ago.
After a season where officiating, rightly or wrongly, drew fire from public, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino needs to field an officiating crew that gives the officials the best chance to “win.” While any of the officials this weekend could handle the big game, Corrente gives the NFL the best chance to win the officiating. Look for number 99 to be assigned Super Bowl 50.
— Mark Schultz
Clete Blakeman had been the new kid in town for a while. He was on the fast track to being a referee when the league hired him in 2008; although they waited until his third season to make him crew chief, he was ready right away. In the past two years, the league has seen a sizable turnover in the officiating department and four officials promoted to the white hat, Blakeman has emerged from the junior status to that of a seasoned veteran.
Now in his eighth season, Blakeman has demonstrated he is ready for the top assignment. While there have been some notable breakdowns in the past with his crews, but he also has run an efficient crew. This season he continued to show his ability to command an efficient game, most notably when an unusual and complex clock situation was corrected in an unorthodox, but correct, manner. Successfully navigating through a thicket of a runoff, a timeout, and a potential penalty, Blakeman was able to get the proper ruling and the proper time on the clock.
In addition to grading, in my estimation, in the top tier this season, his leadership intangibles round out the entire equation as to why Blakeman is the choice to represent the historic Super Bowl. He will once again the new kid in town on Super Bowl Sunday, but he will return again to the big stage as the veteran.
— Ben Austro