Super Bowl LIII is fast approaching and the officiating crew assignment is approaching faster. Traditionally, the Super Bowl referee officiates on the field in one divisional playoff game. If the NFL follows that tradition, one of the four referees this weekend will toss the coin the first Sunday in February.
Since Carl Cheffers and John Parry have both worked Super Bowls before at the referee position, we think the Super Bowl referee assignment this season comes down to the two other men: Ron Torbert and John Hussey. Football Zebras editors Cam Filipe and Mark Schultz break down the two finalists.
Mark thinks it will be John Hussey
John Hussey became a referee in 2015. While he hasn’t been a referee very long, he has a total of 17 seasons of experience, including being the line judge for Super Bowl XLV. The Super Bowl criteria are five years total experience, three years experience as a referee and a playoff assignment at the referee position in a previous season. Hussey checks all the boxes.
I am glad Hussey became a referee. He auditioned for referee in several preseasons prior. But, after Brad Allen became a “double rookie” at the referee position, I thought his window for the white hat closed. Hussey kept working hard at the line judge position and the NFL rewarded him the very next season with a white hat.
Hussey was the line judge for several years on Ed Hochuli’s crew so he learned how to be a referee from the best. The league over the years assigned struggling officials to Hochuli’s crew, and Hussey was a sideline partner for some of the officials who needed an extra boost. If I am the officiating boss and one of my officials needs some help, I would assign them to John Hussey’s crew. He has the teaching pedigree from Hochuli.
Hussey has extensive playoff experience at line judge and also has playoff experience at the white hat. He runs a tight ship on the field and does a good job preparing his crew. That preparation paid off this year, as the NFL assigned him the prime time Thanksgiving game.
In the last four seasons at referee, Hussey has steadily improved at the position and when his crew is on a game, I have confidence that his crew will keep the game under control.
Any of the divisional round referees are eligible for the Super Bowl this year and each one would handle the game just fine. But in season with tight competition for the top spot, I think the NFL will give the nod to John Hussey to be the Super Bowl LIII referee.
Cam thinks it will be Ron Torbert
When I watch Ron Torbert officiating a game, it is a hard concept to grasp that he has only been an NFL official for nine seasons. To someone outside the officiating fandom, you would think that Torbert has been in the league for decades.
A member of the white hat class of 2014, along with Craig Wrolstad and Brad Allen, Torbert was promoted to referee after four seasons as a side judge; a well-deserved promotion that was predicted a year prior by my colleague above.
Torbert is now in his fifth year as a referee and is as skilled and professional as anyone else who dons the white hat. He was assigned to four primetime games this season, including the Thanksgiving game in Dallas, and one game that was flexed out of its original Sunday Night Football spot. The officiating department puts Torbert on these games because they know how skilled he is at his position, and I think they will put him on one more game this season, the final one.
Torbert has been assigned to a playoff game in every year of eligibility, and that streak has continued. Don’t let the lack of championship games fool you. If Torbert graded in Tier 1 in a previous season, his assignment may not have reflected it because he did not have the requisite seniority or there were more than three Tier 1 officials at his position. But this is the year where it will change.
Torbert has the smarts, the leadership, the game management skills, and for sure, the intensity. If you ever question Torbert’s love for the game, just recall this moment from 2016 (video).
Last year, Torbert was one of our two guesses to officiate Super Bowl LII. He had some rough patches last season that made him grade just a tad below the eventual assignee for the game, former referee Gene Steratore, but this season, I have every reason to believe that he will be on the field in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.