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2016 Postseason

Who will be the referee at Super Bowl LI?

Football Zebras editors Ben Austro and Mark Schultz take a look at who is likely to be heading the Super Bowl officiating crew.



Football Zebras commentary

Now that the divisional playoff assignments have been posted by Football Zebras, we can look to who the potential crew chief will be for Super Bowl LI. 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 Gene Steratore, Pete Morelli, Carl Cheffers, and Tony Corrente. Both Morelli and Corrente have worked a previous Super Bowl, although Morelli’s was as a field judge. This does not disqualify an official, but preference tends to go to an official who has not yet been assigned to a Super Bowl.

[Update 1/14: A front-runner is emerging.]

For Super Bowl LI, we make our case for …

Gene Steratore

I think this might be the year that Gene Steratore makes to to the Super Bowl. Steratore is an established veteran who has worked the conference championship both as a field judge and as a referee. He is confident and poised while working the game, and when you watch him work, you can tell he loves what he’s doing. Officiating the NFL isn’t enough for Steratore as he is a college basketball referee when not working the gridiron.

Steratore has proven he can lead a crew and get the best out of each position. The NFL has expressed that confidence in giving him and his crews high profile regular and postseason games. He has drawn an on-field playoff assignment in eight out of the last nine seasons.

Working so many high-profile games in both sports has seasoned him. He is unflappable. A screaming college coach doesn’t faze him, nor will the white-hot lights of the Super Bowl.

I predict Gene Steratore for Super Bowl LI. —Mark Schultz

Carl Cheffers

Who is Carl Cheffers?

If this is your immediate reaction when hearing the name of a referee on any given Sunday, chances are that official is doing their job. And, admittedly, he flew under our radar this season.

I’ll spare our friends in Detroit, as I am aware that a very costly facemask penalty in 2015 gave the Packers new life against the Lions — when replays showed that the facemask did not occur. I get the gravity of the call from a fan’s perspective. While it doesn’t change the outcome, it was surely a call that Cheffers was hyper-self-critical about, even though it is highly likely that any other official would have made the same call, albeit erroneous.

From that, an official must maintain perspective: learn from the mistakes to become a better official and put the past behind you. During the Lions training camp last August, Cheffers was assigned to review the new rules and answer any questions the team had. A reporter attempted to get more information on the ill-fated facemask call. Cheffers declined.

“It’s 2016, dude,” was the response. He must, in order to do his job, focus at the task at hand.

Cheffers is also known for a viral moment when a complex enforcement of three fouls following a possession change became a living nightmare when he opened the microphone. While Youtube does not forget, in the time since this cringe-inducing moment, Cheffers has shown a tremendous amount of growth as a referee.

He may not have the spotlight like Gene Steratore or Ed Hochuli, but Carl Cheffers has been efficiently and effectively steering his crew through successful seasons in the shadows. His name will be widely known in two weeks as the crew chief on the big stage. But, when the 2017 season kicks off next September, I expect a familiar question to come up:

Who is Carl Cheffers? —Ben Austro

Your take

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?"

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