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Ron Torbert is likely to be the Super Bowl LIII referee [updated]

With reasonable certainty, Football Zebras has determined that Ron Torbert will be assigned to the 53rd Super Bowl in Atlanta.



Football Zebras analysis

Editor’s note: The following analysis of the playoff assignments was the first time in the 5 years we have offered our selection that we completely missed the referee position. It was bound to happen at some point, and shows that even the experts can miss the mark. We did not characterize it as a “lock” or a projection with “high confidence” as in years past, and our analysis and our sources weren’t able get a clear picture of this year’s assignments. We congratulate Ron Torbert and the others mentioned below on a spectacular year in our estimation as well as to John Parry and the all-star officiating crew assigned to Super Bowl LIII.

The original post is below.

The Super Bowl LIII crew is selected from the officials assigned to the Divisional Playoffs, under long-standing practice with no indication they will change that formula. The crew will not be assigned together — at most, there have been 5 Super Bowl officials assigned to one divisional game — and the Super Bowl assignments will not be known for certain until after the divisional games. In extremely rare circumstances, a controversy in a playoff game has resulted in revoking a Super Bowl assignment prior to being announced, therefore the officials are not told until after they have all officiated.

The Divisional Playoffs give the eventual Super Bowl officials a game to break up the month-long gap back to their Week 17 assignment.

With reasonable certainty, Football Zebras has determined that Ron Torbert will be assigned to the 53rd Super Bowl in Atlanta.

Torbert, 55, is a logical choice and, with the retirement of perennial championship referees Ed Hochuli and Terry McAulay, is poised to be one of the top referees into the early part of the league’s second century. Torbert is in his 9th season in the NFL, but in that time he has earned a playoff assignment in every year he was eligible. (First season officials and referees in their first season are not eligible for postseason assignments.) In the six eligible seasons before this year, Torbert has 3 wild card playoffs and 3 divisional playoffs on his résumé. Notably absent is a conference championship, but this can be attributed to a crowded field for the top games with more experienced officials having equal or equivalent accuracy grades. In Torbert’s case, this does not disqualify him. The Super Bowl referee must have 5 years in the NFL, at least 3 years at the referee position, and must have officiated a playoff game in the referee position, meaning that Torbert has been Super Bowl eligible for 3 seasons.

Torbert was promoted to referee in 2014, and largely assumed the crew of retired referee Ron Winter. Referees Scott Green and Mike Carey also left the league that offseason, with Craig Wrolstad being promoted and Brad Allen going directly to the referee position.

The other referee we have listed as a potential Super Bowl candidate is John Hussey. Hussey was promoted to referee in 2015, after the retirement of Bill Leavy. By working a playoff game last season, Hussey is in his first year of eligibility as a white hat. In his 13 seasons at line judge, he worked 9 playoff games, including 2 conference championships and Super Bowl XLV (2010 season). The other divisional playoff referees also have recent Super Bowl experience — John Parry in Super Bowl XLVI after the 2011 season and Carl Cheffers in Super Bowl LI two years ago — and the preference usually goes to an official who has not received a prior assignment out of the officials that scored in the top tier. While Hussey could be in the running to get the assignment as a white hat, it seems more likely that Torbert gets the nod.

The rest of the crew can usually be determined by certain pairings on the field, although the officiating department has been known to not follow the formula strictly. Usually, the Super Bowl referee and umpire are paired together in the divisional round. Also, wing officials tend to be assigned together, based on which sideline they are on: the down judge with the side judge and the line judge with the field judge. The back judge doesn’t follow any pattern, although there have been times the referee and back judge work the same game.

The nonreferee positions require an official to have (1) at least 5 years of NFL experience, and (2) either a conference championship game in a prior season or have worked at least 3 playoff games in the previous 5 years. All officials, including the referee, cannot work consecutive Super Bowls.

In previous seasons, we have had a “lock” or “high confidence” in the selections. Last year, there were no clear indicators for any position, so we deemed it the “most likely” crew, and only the referee and umpire were correct. This year we are just as guarded with our selection, but certain assignments seem to be assured.

Field judge Steve Zimmer and side judge Eugene Hall are essentially guaranteed to get the Super Bowl, because there are no other qualified officials at their positions. For Hall, this is his first season of eligibility with 5 years of seniority, and 4 previous playoff games, including a rare double assignment last year to a wild card and a conference championship.

The back judge position is a near toss-up with all having a Super Bowl assignment in the past 7 seasons. Perry Paganelli is ineligible, having worked last year’s game.

We also feel there is a strong likelihood to keep Torbert paired with his eventual umpire, which means Rich Hall gets the nod. Rich Hall was paired with referee Bill Vinovich in a 2014 divisional game, with Vinovich getting the Super Bowl with a different umpire.

With that in mind, our likely Super Bowl crew is as follows:

      Yrs 2018 crew Divisional game Previous playoffs Previous SB
R 62 Ron Torbert 9   LAC-NE 3 WC, 3 DIV  
U 49 Rich Hall 15 Kemp LAC-NE 6 WC, 1 DIV, 1 CC  
DJ 28 Mark Hittner 22 Smith IND-KC 7 WC, 2 DIV, 8 CC XXXVI, XXXVIII, XL
LJ 101 Carl Johnson 15 Wrolstad IND-KC (w) 3 WC, 5 DIV, 2 CC XLII
FJ 33 Steve Zimmer 22 Allen IND-KC 7 WC, 7 DIV, 4 CC XL
SJ 103 Eugene Hall 5 Cheffers DAL-LAR 3 WC, 1 CC  
BJ 105 Dino Paganelli 13 Smith LAC-NE 2 WC, 6 DIV, 2 CC XLVII

We expect the Super Bowl assignments to be distributed to the officials by Tuesday.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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