Now that the divisional playoff referee assignments have been released, we can now look to who the potential crew chief will be for Super Bowl LII. For the past five seasons, the NFL has assigned 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. While the officiating department is under new management, we believe that this procedure still applies. (The NFL would not confirm when we asked.)
This season, Brad Allen is one of the referees, but he is excluded from the Super Bowl, since he has not been in the league for the minimum of 5 years. Preference is given to an official who has not worked a Super Bowl among officials that are placed in the highest “tier” as evaluated by the head of officiating, Al Riveron. Bill Vinovich has worked a Super Bowl, and he has a chance of overriding the preference if he has graded #1 in consecutive seasons, a provision in the referees’ collective bargaining agreement. (This is a possibility, as Vinovich was a conference championship referee last year).
With that in mind, Football Zebras makes the case for …
After guessing him for several years, I think this is finally the year Gene Steratore will work a Super Bowl.
Steratore has been assigned a playoff game 9 of his last 10 seasons, including the 2013 NFC Conference Championship.
Off the field, Steratore co-owns a janitorial supply company with his brother, Tony, who is also a NFL official. Gene is also a college basketball official, who you can find calling Big 10 and other high-profile games. Many NFL officials have worked major college basketball over the decades, and I’m sure Steratore wants to join a short list of officials who have called a Super Bowl and the Final Four. (Vinovich is also a Division I basketball official.)
While Ed Hochuli was the first referee to use the microphone to conduct mini-rule clinics, Gene Steratore has given many a self-assured replay or penalty announcement. And, he has been featured many times in the media, most notably in a must-read Sports Illustrated three-part feature in 2013, and he was the first referee to take the field after the bitter lockout of 2012.
Steratore is very avuncular and presents a very self-assured image on the field. While come may call this “cocky,” this is necessary for a NFL official. They must always deliver their calls with self-confidence that engenders trust from players, coaches, fellow officials, and … maybe even fans.
While his unique-yet-up-until-then-accepted way to measure for a first down earlier this season created a mini-controversy, Steratore has long been ready to call a Super Bowl, and in a few days, I feel he’ll toss the coin in Minneapolis.
Ron Torbert has the poise of a seasoned veteran; yet he’s only been in the league for eight years. Don’t let that fool you however.
Torbert entered the league as a side judge in 2010. Soon after he was evaluated to move to the referee position by getting preseason assignments as a white hat. After his fourth season he was promoted to referee, and the only reason it took that long was because a vacancy had to open first.
One thing is for sure when Torbert is covering your team’s game: he fully immerses himself in the game. Last year at Soldier Field in Chicago, the wind chill was -4, and Torbert was seen psyching himself to face the elements right before kickoff (video) by pretending to punch the goalpost padding like he was in a gym. (He never made contact with the goalposts, otherwise it would have been a celebration foul on Torbert for using the goalposts as a prop.)
Torbert had many unique challenges this season, including a conflicting signals on a “backward forward” pass, a clock error near the end of the game, and a forward fumble spot that was not correctly spotted. While some may become confused or even agitated, Torbert exhibits a “forceful calm” demeanor, and does not slip into prolonged delays to sort things out. It would have been a stronger case for Torbert had the fumble been handled correctly, but he might have been able to grade neutral on it based on his distance from the end of the play.
Torbert shares a few traits with fellow referees Ed Hochuli and Clete Blakeman: all three are attorneys by profession during the week, and all three are effective and highly regarded referees. Hochuli and Blakeman both worked their first Super Bowls early in their NFL careers, and I think the same will be true for Torbert.
Images: Skyline photo from Minnesota Vikings/Football Zebras graphic, Denver Broncos photo, Carolina Panthers photo.