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50 Super Bowl calls

50 Super Bowl calls, Part 1: L to XLI

They may be good calls, questionable calls, or controversial calls. There are unusual rules interpretations or circumstances. There are moments where officials were tested, where judgements had to be made, where the fortune of an entire season hangs in the balance. We begin our list of 50 Super Bowl calls with the first ten.



⇐ #50-46

45. Bills kick off twice to start the game

Super Bowl XXVI
Washington vs. Bills
January 26, 1992
Covering officials: R Jerry Markbreit, FJ Ed Merrifield

After missing the Super Bowl title on a Scott Norwood field goal attempt that went wide right a year earlier, the Bills were able to defend their AFC title with the hope of securing the NFL title. Bills fans could not wait, and neither could their kickoff specialist Brad Daluiso. In fact, he kicked it too soon.

The protocol is for the back judge (at that time, the position was the field judge) to hand the ball to the kicker and run the play clock. Even though the time is counting down, the back judge must get in position at the sideline to judge offside calls on the kicking team. In this case, the officials were clearly not set, as Bills players had to go around field judge Ed Merrifield to cover the premature kickoff. Daluiso had to wait for referee Jerry Markbreit to give the signal (a whistle and a downward chop) before he could approach the ball

Markbreit disallowed the kickoff and informed both sidelines to return the kickoff teams to the field. Markbreit’s explanation to the Super Bowl crowd was short: “The kicker misunderstood the referee’s signal.” No penalty was issued, and three minutes after their first kick, the Bills kicked off again. The result was effectively the same as Washington recovered the kick in their own end zone and kneeled for a touchback.— Ben Austro

44. Red Cashion mixes up sides of field, runs 120 yds to start game

Super Bowl XX
Bears vs. Patriots
January 26, 1986
Covering official: R Red Cashion

Many times, when teams reverse direction between quarters, players and sometimes officials have to be reminded which side of the field they need to be on. Usually, though, everyone knows which way is which at the start of the game. Usually.

After the coin toss for Super Bowl XX, referee Red Cashion proceeded to the Patriots’ end zone to prepare for the opening kickoff. As the players began taking their positions and the Patriots took up their kicking formation, Cashion realized his mistake. Quickly making his way to the other side of the field, Cashion paused to speak with Patriots kicker Tony Franklin. Surprised to see Cashion on his side of the field, Franklin asked, “Red, what in the world are you doing here?”

Cashion responded, “Well, Tony, to tell you the truth, I am on the wrong end of the field, and if I could just talk to you for a few seconds here, maybe everyone will really think that I have something important to tell you since this is the Super Bowl.” It seemed to work, as the TV commentary never mentions the 120-yard run of the referee.— Marcus Griep

43. Incomplete pass results in a … touchback?

Super Bowl V
Colts vs. Cowboys
January 17, 1971
Covering officials: Norm Schachter’s crew

Late in the second quarter with the Colts driving, quarterback Earl Morral’s pass on a 4th-and-goal play fell incomplete in the end zone.

Under the rules of the day, on an incomplete fourth-down pass in the end zone, the defense would be awarded the ball by a touchback and start the series at the 20-yard line.

This was rare ruling from referee Norm Schachter’s crew. The philosophy was to award the defense for a goal line stand by letting them start from the 20, instead of inside the 10-yard line in the shadow of their own goal line. The rule was changed in 1975 to be a standard turnover on downs, probably because the defense was rewarded too much. But the arcane rule was on the books in various forms since the early days of the game, with the original intent to suppress the passing offenses.— Mark Schultz


42. Offsetting offsides

Super Bowl IX
Steelers vs. Vikings
January 12, 1975
Covering officials: R Bernie Ullman, HL Ed Merion, LJ Bruce Alford

In the third quarter, the Vikings, desperate for offense, faced a fourth and one from their own 37-yard line. Quarterback Fran Tarkenton tried to draw the Steelers into the neutral zone. There was a lot of movement on the line. Bernie Ulman called head linesman Ed Marion and line judge Bruce Alford together to determine who did what to whom. The final ruling was an offsetting offside call, both teams were in the neutral zone before the snap.

This is before the strict head bob, unabated to the quarterback and other rules that tighten up the pre-snap line shenanigans. Ulman and his crew decided both teams were in ragged alignment so they called offsetting fouls.— Mark Schultz

41. Bengals short on 4th-and-goal

Super Bowl XVI
49ers vs. Bengals
January 24, 1982
Covering officials: HL Jerry Bergman Sr., LJ Bob Beeks

Having successfully converted a fourth down play into a 1st-and-goal, Bengals fullback Pete Johnson brings the ball to the 1-yard line on a third down swing play late in the third quarter. Instead of attempting a field goal, the Bengals decide to go for the touchdown on fourth down.

Johnson was given the ball again and ran into the hard wall of the 49ers goal line defense. Head linesman Jerry Bergman Sr. and line judge Bob Beeks had the call on the goal line play and spotted Johnson down short of the goal line. Having failed to convert the fourth down, they turned the ball over to the 49ers on downs.

The Bengals would go on to score two additional touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including one with 20 seconds left in the game, but lost the game by five points.— Marcus Griep

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