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5 observations from Super Bowl LII

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Another season is in the record books, capped off by one of the best Super Bowls ever. Here are five officiating takeaways from the big game.


Twice we saw very close touchdown catches and twice we saw field judge Tom Hill and back judge Perry Paganelli communicate before going up with the touchdown signal. While fans might be upset to have to wait a few extra seconds, the delayed signal is better than dueling signals. Gene Steratore and crew were communicating all night (the mark of a Steratore-lead and prepared crew) and it showed.

Instant replay tweaked for postseason

I sure thought instant replay would reverse the first Eagles’ touchdown after seeing similar touchdowns reversed this season. But, Al Riveron went with the call on the field each time. Fans were upset about the inconsistent replay rubric between the Super Bowl and the regular season. But, let’s face it — the replay results Sunday were what the fans  wanted all year. I have nothing to prove it,   but it would not surprise me in the least if word came down directing replay reviews to lean towards the call on the field instead over-officiating the play. The NFL will consider the catch and replay guidelines this offseason. If those guidelines mirror what we saw on Sunday, it will go a long way to solving the problem.

Preventative officiating

All game long I noticed the officials quickly converging on players getting together. Those players were either talking, starting to woof at each other or thinking about getting physical. The officials stepped in between the players and calmly encouraged them disperse and not do anything silly. Kudos to the officials for helping keep the peace and kudos to the players for being disciplined.

Pregame conference was very important this year

The referee meets separately with each head coach starting 75-minutes before kickoff. This is the time for the coach to list captains, synchronize watches, try to work the referee for a call and to tell the referee if they plan on running any trick plays. The referee confirms with the coach that the trick play is legal. He then makes sure to inform the rest of the crew about the trick play. So, while the opposing team is  surprised, the officials aren’t. With two wide receiver option passes to the quarterback on Sunday, the pregame conferences were important this year!

Make it be there

The officials made sure each call was there. We didn’t see any by-the-book flags. One of the mantras to good officiating is “make it be there.” Steratore and crew didn’t throw a flag unless it was big, the entire stadium could see it on replay and it had a material impact on the play. Some people pointed out that there was a lot of contact on the last heave to the end zone. There was contact by both teams on that last play. But, the last thing the officials wanted to do was inject themselves on the last play, unless something  had  to  be called.

Active offseason

Football Zebras  has stories to share this week before we formally put the 2017 season to bed. Check back and, as always, we’ll be here with all off-season rule changes and officiating news.


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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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7 thoughts on “5 observations from Super Bowl LII

  1. The biggest issue the NFL still needs to address is helmet-to-helmet hits. The hits to Kelce, Gronk and Cooks and resulting concussions are all very bad for the game, the league and the players. IMO, when a player lowers his head and leads with his helmet, there should be “strict liability” for any resulting helmet-to-helmet contact. The strict liability should mean a 15 yard penalty, regardless of intent, and if a player is injured as a result of the hit, the penalized player should have to sit out as well until the injured player is cleared to return. There might be an exception for front-on hits between a runner and a defender, but not for hits to the side or back.

  2. It’s time to start calling Hail Marys just like any other pass play, with holding and pass interference calls when applicable. It’s really getting silly to see guys cheat on the last play of the game because they know the refs won’t call anything.

  3. JW, you are dead wrong about Hail Marys. Nothing should be called unless it is an obvious shove on a player who is obviously going to catch the pass. In 1998, Terry McAulay, then a side judge, called DPI on a Hail Mary during a Bills-Pats game which allowed New England to win. Jerrry Seemann said the next week it was ‘terrible’ and that ‘it should not be called unless it is the most blatant thing you’ve ever seen’.

    JW, are you a Pats fan? Sounds like it to me.

  4. The commentary is plain out wrong, but not unexpected from an official who only works high school games. On the hail mary, the contact in the end zone was nothing. However, the ICT against Hogan was huge and had to be called. Yes, the mantra is “Make it be there.” That was “there.” Huge contact clearly initiated by the defender without doubt, that took the receiver off his pattern and in fact, out of the play. Hogan was the “trail receiver” on the pattern, designed to catch the deflection. He was prevented from this by monstrous illegal contact well beyond 5 yards. This was an example of an official who was not 100% focused, on the biggest stage. Not sure who keyed him as I don’t have the play in front of me, but this was a game affecting missed call. Then again, this is what you get when you have officials who are not accountable. Also, on a 4th down play in the first half (might have been same official) on a 4th and 2, OPI was missed which cleared out Ertz for a first down catch. Lack of focus. Finally, on Foles TD catch, again – this was a huge ILF and had to be called. The closest of 5 backs in the formation was a whole TWO yards off the LOS, meaning 6 on the LOS illegal formation. A team when trying a trick play needs to be disciplined to line up legally. Clearly the team did not. 2 yards is not in any gray area, 2 yards off the LOS is too far back. Again, lack of attention and lack of focus by the covering official. These are basic, simple black and white calls that anyone working D3 will not miss, if he has any basic skill at his craft. This was simply terrible officiating. A crew should not have this many major misses in a season, and this crew had three of ’em in one game! Terrible. By the way, Ref, you really should stand still when announcing a foul. Piss poor performance by the crew as a whole, but not unexpected from an NFL crew these days.

  5. The trick play was fine…he was 1/2 a yard back, lined up as a reciever. There Would be Flags on half of the plays if they called that, and its part of the “it needs to be there” ideal.

    I also love the non reversals on the reviews, and with the Sound FX show that had Gene miced up, you can clearly hear the thought process. The 1st was he had control to move the ball, it didnt slide on its own, and Gene was describing the football moving to another official (didnt get which, probs U) and was talking about the ball moving from the receivers are to his hand, just because it moves does not mean loss of control. The Ertz touchdown was even clearer, the receiver caught it, established himself inbounds as a runner and lunged for the goal line. As the Steelers player in week 14 was already on his knees when he caught it, he was going to the ground, different situation.

    Also, on the final play, Gronk has his arms in the air, he’s able to jump, and so are the 7 eagles around him. Everyone went up for it. Where do you see the PI? Because it looked cleaned in real-time and in every single replay (and its been replayed a lot).

    I am the 1st one to admit when my team earns the fouls, when the holds are clear and we go early. This game was well called. The teams that make it to the SB are usually very very clean, they don’t win by making errors. Im not surprised that there are as few flags as there were.

  6. On the hail mary it was either DPI or illegal contact vs the Patriots receiver (Hogan?) about 20 yds downfield that was blatant and should have been called, not the offensive & defensive jostling in the end zone. Probably wouldn’t have changed anything, but there should have been one more play.

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