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6 officiating observations from Super Bowl LI

Well it finally happened. Overtime in the Super Bowl. For the first three quarters I didn’t have much to write about for this article but boy, did the fourth quarter change that!

In no particular order, here are the six officiating observations from Super Bowl LI.

1. Officials let borderline calls go early

There were two late hits out-of-bounds by each team early in the first quarter. Instead of sending a message through a penalty flag, wing officials Jeff Seeman, Doug Rosenbaum, Kent Payne and Dyrol Prioleau talked to both teams and sternly warned the players to knock off the extracurricular activity. The officials could easily have flagged both late hits but instead chose to nip late hits in the bud by using preventative officiating.  

2. Gutsy calls everywhere

The officials, especially the secondary officials weren’t afraid to keep drives alive with pass interference and holding. The officials operated on the MIBT philosophy (make it be there). The crew made sure the foul created an unfair advantage before throwing the flag. The crew called fouls that kept drives alive, put teams out of field goal range, and wiped out big gainers. When it was time to throw the flag, they did so without fear of recriminations.

3. Jeff Seeman

Each crew member made outstanding calls, but Seeman called the game of his life: a Julio Jones amazing catch with Rosenbaum (video); a defensive pass interference call in overtime; and calling the Julian Edelman circus catch (video). For the record, Payne, the head linesman, also had it a catch and came in and emphatically affirmed Seeman’s call. NFL officials have an innate ability to slow the action down and be able to make lightning-fast calls in real-time. There have been some amazing calls in the last several years: Mario Manningham’s catch, David Tyree’s catch, Santonio Holmes’s  catch, and Eli Manning’s scramble. But, Seeman’s call (affirmed by Payne) could take the cake.  

4. Sometimes the best look isn’t the best look

On the Edelman catch, the field judge, side judge or back judge should have had the best look. They didn’t. If umpire Dan Ferrell was in the traditional position, he would have had a great look at it. Sometimes the closest official has a bad angle and an official several yards away has the perfect angle to make the right call. Closest to the play sometimes isn’t the best. Such it was with Seeman making the call from far away. This is similar to Super Bowl IX when Ed Marion made a critical, correct call as one of the farthest officials from the play (video).

5. The chop block that wasn’t called

We extensively covered the potential chop block non-call in overtime, and how the officials might not have gotten a good look at it as they were positioned. The umpire in his traditional position in the defensive backfield may have gotten that call. The NFL is considering adding an eighth official to act as a hybrid umpire/back judge. The still-hypothetical position might have had a good look at the chop block. The chop block might be the weight that tips the scale to adding an eighth official.  

6. Hold everything

In addition of an outstanding game, Seeman had the honor to make the last call of the season (video). While Seeman signaled touchdown, the Patriots sideline erupted, cannons shot a blizzard of confetti in the air, and a mob of media rushed the field, referee Carl Cheffers wasn’t going anywhere (photo above). He and replay official Tom Sifferman first had to look at the play to make sure the TD was legit. Thankfully the touchdown was good. I fear what would have happened if they had to overturn the call. It’s one thing to play in snow and mud–it’s another to play in confetti (as what happened in a 2005 Arena Football league playoff game:  video).  

Well, it’s over. But, we still have the afterglow for the rest of the week. I’ll break down the Edelman catch in more detail, post a photo gallery of the officials in the Super Bowl, and preview what will be a very active off-season.

Stay tuned, more zebra-talk is coming!

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Mark Schultz
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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6 thoughts on “6 officiating observations from Super Bowl LI

  1. Late hits are safety fouls NOT borderline calls. These were obvious fouls that need to be called, Super Bowl or not.

  2. Very curious as to the interpretation of the rule book on the third down sack fumble of Matt Ryan late in the game. When I saw the play happen live, I thought to myself “his arm was going forward, incomplete pass.” Then I saw the officiating crew signal fumble, and thought maybe I missed something. Watched and re-watched the replay, and IMHO his arm was clearly going forward to attempt a pass.
    Here’s a link to a great replay.

    HOWEVER – Atlanta never challenged the play, so I am assuming that I am misinformed on the intent of the rule. Can you shed any light on that play? It really changed the momentum of the game, and I was surprised to see Atlanta didn’t challenge. (And in the interest of full disclosure, I have no axe to grind. I am not an official at any level, nor am I a Pats/Falcons fan/hater, and I had no money riding on the game whatsoever – although I did wager a full box of Mike and Ikes with my kid – who DID have the Patriots.)

  3. Thank you, Ben. After reading the other page, I see now that when I look carefully at the replay, it is indeed an open hand coming forward. Makes sense now.

  4. I feel that if those late hits were called, we would be having the same discussion, just on the other side. On at least one of them, the runner had not yet stepped on the sideline, but it was clearly obvious that he was going to. Therefore in my mind late hit could not be called even though everyone in the stadium knew the play was going to be dead almost immediately.

  5. Which one? The Pats player was on the white. It was so obvious they could see it on the radio.

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