Super Bowl IV
Chiefs vs. Vikings
January 11, 1970
Covering official: FJ Tom Kelleher
Chiefs coach Hank Stram’s constant chatter on the sideline while wired for sound has provided NFL Films with reels of pure entertainment. And it provided two entries on this list, counting his first-down measurement critique (#46).
Stram was disputing that the Vikings fumbled the ball and the Chiefs had recovered. He approached the closest official he could find, field judge Tom Kelleher, who was officiating the first of a record five Super Bowls. Stram said, “Hey, Mr. Official, let me ask you something. How can six of you miss that?” and proceeded to plead his case for a fumble.
Kelleher, who was getting ready for the next play, did a half turn to Stram and said, “Oh, I thought you were talking about you being on the field.” Kelleher turned back to his pre-snap mechanics while a confused and flustered Stram said, “No — what?!”
This was a masterful job by Kelleher to stop an argument. The ball was getting ready to be snapped so Kelleher didn’t have time to talk to Stram let alone have him continue to argue. Without any yelling, threatening or ignoring, Kelleher used a terse, witty retort that completely diffused the situation. Stram can dwell on the previous play. Kelleher is already evaluating the formation and counting players for the next play.
Super Bowl XLVII
Ravens vs. 49ers
February 3, 2013
Covering official: HL Steve Stelljes
In the second quarter, a Colin Kaepernick pass was intercepted by Ravens safety Ed Reed — the first interception of any 49ers quarterback in the six Super Bowls they participated. Frustrations bubbled over, and some post-play pushing and shoving ensued.
In the fracas, Cary Williams, Reed’s teammate in the secondary, was being restrained by head linesman Steve Stelljes from escalating the situation. Williams pushed back slightly against Stelljes to disengage and was restrained by his teammates. Williams was not penalized for contacting the official, as it was apparently deemed to be unintentional. This was very fortunate for Williams, as that degree of latitude is rarely given to a player; even minor infractions are typically cause for immediate ejection.
There were two offsetting personal fouls assessed in the dead-ball period. If Williams drew a penalty for contacting an official, his penalty would be handled separately from the personal fouls. Fouls against officials are always enforced as “between-downs” fouls, no matter when it occurs. This means that the between-downs foul is held over until they change to the next down, and enforced from there. In this hypothetical, the Ravens would have the ball 1st-and-25 after the mark off.
The Ravens were able to take the lead on that drive, and never trailed after that. They were spared the 1st-and-long and the loss of a defensive back. And Williams avoided being the first player to be ejected from a Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLIX
Patriots vs. Seahawks
February 1, 2015
Covering official: SJ Tom Hill
Two years after Cary Williams flirted with ejection (#24) Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin took an early trip to the locker room when tempers flared with 20 seconds remaining and the Patriots heading for victory.
A comeback charge by the Seahawks had just been decapitated at the goal line when Malcom Butler intercepted the ball for the Patriots. The Patriots were charged with unsportsmanlike conduct following the interception. The Seahawks were then penalized for encroachment on the next snap, trying to force a fumble on a kneel-down. The officials were just trying to get the final few seconds off the clock with the fate of the game essentially sealed.
On the ensuing play, tempers on both sides of the ball finally boiled over. While there was a great deal of fighting on both sides, players were not connecting with closed fists, which warrants an ejection by rule. Irvin was seen punching Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, and was ejected. Gronkowski was also throwing haymakers, but officials did not see him in the chaos. It would be interesting if Grokowski, as a key member of the Patriots offense, would be excluded from the trophy ceremony at the end of the game had he been ejected.
There were $35,884 in fines handed out on the play: $10,000 for Irvin, and $8,628 for Gronkowski, Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, and Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett. The league warned players on all teams at the start of the next season that penalties and ejections would be enforced stricter for fighting because of what the NFL felt was an embarrassing situation on the world’s sports stage.
No player before Irvin has been ejected from the Super Bowl. There is an unconfirmed report that Dolphins defensive tackle Alan Page was ejected from Super Bowl VIII, but there was no ejection signal given by referee Ben Dreith when indicating offsetting penalties. Page was likely benched as a coaching decision for two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls in the waning minutes of the game. Referees did not have microphones to make announcements until two years later.
NBC Universo video via Deadspin (opens in an external window)
Super Bowl XIX
49ers vs. Dolphins
January 20, 1985
Covering official: LJ Ray Dodez
The 49ers got off to a rocky start on the opening kickoff when rookie kick returner Derrick Harmon fielded the kickoff by Uwe von Schamman. Von Schamman’s kick placed the ball very close to the sideline, and although Harmon was on the tips of his toes attempting to stay in bounds, his momentum carried him out of bounds at the 6-yard line.
Line judge Ray Dodez had a perfect view of Harmon’s feet as he recovered the kick. If Harmon hadn’t recovered the kick before going out of bounds or had been out of bounds himself when he recovered the kick, then it would have been a free kick out of bounds, which would have given the 49ers better field position for their first possession.
Super Bowl XII
Cowboys vs. Broncos
January 15, 1978
Covering officials: FJ Robert Wortman, BJ Ray Douglas
Facing a fourth and long, the Broncos punt to the Cowboys. The receiver inexplicably tried to field the ball inside the five yard line and muffed the ball. For an instant, it appeared that the Broncos recovered right at the goal line for a potential touchdown. But, the Broncos’ player didn’t fully secure the ball and Charlie Waters of the Cowboys pulled the ball away.
Give credit to field judge Robert Wortman and back judge Ray Douglas for getting to the bottom of the pile quickly and determining possession. The goal line came into play as it could have been a potential Broncos’ touchdown or a Cowboys touchback, but they ruled neither and gave the Cowboys the ball at the one.
Other images: #22. ABC Sports/NFL.