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5 officiating observations from Super Bowl 50



No iconic calls, but Blakeman’s crew handles business

The game wasn’t a classic, but it was more competitive than the 24-10 score. While none of the calls from Super Bowl 50 will make our list of best all-time calls, the officiating crew can be satisfied with their efforts.

Here is what stuck out to me officiating-wise Sunday night.

  1. Good coin toss. Referee Clete Blakeman had a moment during his overtime coin toss in the playoffs, but tonight he handled himself well. First of all he had a classy introduction, and was entirely in command during the coin toss. He didn’t rush, was deliberate, and the coin toss went off without a hitch. The media crush of this coin toss is ridiculous and Blakeman did great.
  2. No nonsense. Last year the league was embarrassed as one of the last plays of Super Bowl XLIX degenerated into a fight, leading to the first-ever ejection is Super Bowl history. Tonight, Blakeman’s crew was quick to flag late hits and was quick to flag taunting and other unsportsmanlike conduct. Some of the calls tonight have been “talk-to’s” in the past where officials warn players to tone it down and cajole them to play with good sportsmanship. Not in Super Bowl 50. The crew set the tone early and were consistent in enforcing late hits and taunting. Therefore, the teams concentrated on football and not running their mouths.
  3. No officials injured, but some close calls. Two members of the crew took a spill. In the first half, back judge Keith Ferguson was hit from behind and took a nasty spill when Broncos safeties were chasing a Cam Newton scramble. Ferguson got right back up and didn’t miss a beat. Late in the game, referee Clete Blakeman faced a nightmare. Cam Newton fumbled and as Blakeman moved forward to rule on possession, the ball squirted out of the pile and landed right at his feet. Blakeman slipped and stumbled trying to get out-of-the-way (video). Fortunately he was not hit by any players. To the best of my knowledge, a Super Bowl alternate has never gotten into the game. I’m glad that streak remains intact.
  4. Possible catch ruled incomplete (video). In the first quarter, it appeared Jericho Cotchery appeared to catch a great pass. Back judge Keith Ferguson moved in to spot the ball like it was a catch, but head linesman Wayne Mackie come in, emphatically waving it off. He apparently ruled that the ball was moving too much and Cotchery didn’t control the ball to the ground. I thought it was a catch, Mike Carey thought it was a catch, but the ruling was that there was no indisputable evidence to reverse the call. If it was called a catch and reviewed, I would guess it would have stayed a catch. To me, that was the most controversial moment of the game. Mackie had a good angle to make the call and he made it with conviction. He wouldn’t have waved it off unless he was sure.
  5. The fouls were there. There are no tight calls in this game like the Mario Manningham catch in Super Bowl XLVI, the David Tyree Catch in Super Bowl XLII or the Santonio Holmes toe-tapper in Super Bowl XLIII. When the officials threw a flag, the replay clearly showed the infraction. Fans of both teams will quickly point out and claim a horribly officiated game, but they are wrong. The game was hard-hitting and the officials called what needed to be called. 

It ends so suddenly. Six months go so fast from the Hall of Fame game to the Super Bowl. We will tie up any loose ends as it pertains to Super Bowl 50 officiating this week, and Football Zebras will be here in the offseason to report on rules changes, officiating roster changes and any other pertinent NFL officiating news.

Photo: Umpire Jeff Rice and the rest of the officiating crew rule on possession after a fumble a pile-up. (Getty Images)

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?"