Football Zebras analysis
For around the last 15 years, the Super Bowl officials have been chosen from the pool of those who worked in the Divisional Playoff round. This has been done as a way to get a game in following the regular season’s conclusion to prevent a stagnant four-week gap before officiating the Super Bowl.
While the Super Bowl crew is not comprised of a single crew from the Divisional Playoffs — at most, 5 officials from one Divisional Playoff game — assignment patterns of previous seasons have made it possible to make a prediction with high confidence for this year’s top-tier, all-star crew.
With reasonable certainty, Football Zebras has determined that Ron Torbert will be the referee assigned to Super Bowl LVI.
This is not the first time that Torbert, 58, has been our frontrunner. In 2017, 2018, and 2020, we named Torbert as one of the final two Super Bowl candidates, and in 2018, we even went a step further and named him as the likely referee for Super Bowl LIII; former referee and current ESPN rules analyst John Parry was ultimately selected.
Torbert is known as an excellent game manager and crew chief. In addition to his rules knowledge, he is also known as one of the top class acts among the officiating roster. A Football Zebras staff member who attended last night’s 49ers-Packers Divisional Playoff game noticed at the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, Torbert walked to each member of the game-day staff and gave them each a fist bump, thanking them for a job well done. Sources have told Football Zebras that this is routine for Torbert, and this is a selfless ritual he performs at each game.
The entire crew can usually be determined by certain pairings on the field. Generally, the Super Bowl referee and umpire are paired together in the Divisional Playoffs. 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 instances where the referee and back judge work the same game.
The officials in non-referee positions must have a Conference Championship game on their résumé — or qualified for 3 of the last 5 postseasons — in addition to being at least a 5-year veteran. All officials, including the referee, cannot work consecutive Super Bowls.
Additionally, with the exception of the 3-year span betwen the 2017 and 2019 seasons, officials are typically not assigned to more than 3 postseason games, whether as an alternate official or an on-field official. This was the case prior to 2017, and was re-instated in the 2020 season, and we expect that guideline to remain in place this year.
With these assignment patterns in mind, we can take a comfortable stab at the 7 officials who will be on the field at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., on Sunday, February 13. Torbert is the likely referee since his umpire this past weekend, Bryan Neale, is the only umpire eligible to officiate the Super Bowl. Among the other Divisional Playoff umpires, Terry Killens has not worked enough seasons to qualify, Alan Eck has not qualified for 3 of the last 5 postseasons, and Tony Michalek will have already officiated 2 postseason games (Wild Card alternate, Divisional Playoff on-field). In all but 1 of the previous 9 seasons, the Super Bowl referee and umpire worked together in the Divisional Playoffs, which makes it very likely that Torbert and Neale will be the backfield officiating tandem for the Super Bowl.
The sideline pair on the chain crew side — the down judge and side judge — will likely be down judge Derick Bowers and side judge Keith Washington. Both men will officiate the Rams-Buccaneers Divisional Playoff on Sunday. Side judges Don Willard and Allen Baynes are not eligible to officiate the Super Bowl either, as Willard is only in his 4th season, and Baynes will have already officiated 2 postseason games (Wild Card alternate, Divisional Playoff on-field). Down judge David Oliver has qualified for 3 of the last 5 postseasons, but has not worked 3 on-field games during this span. He is also currently in his 5th season. While he and his Divisional Playoff partner, side judge Boris Cheek, are an eligible pair, it is not likely that Oliver will be assigned in his first eligible season without 3 on-field postseason assignments. This leaves Bowers and Washington as the likely pair on this sideline, and Oliver and Cheek as a potential, but not as likely, Super Bowl sideline tandem.
The other sideline pair — the line judge and field judge — is a bit more clear to predict. Line judge Rusty Baynes is ineligible to repeat, as he was the line judge for Super Bowl LV, and line judge Greg Bradley has not qualified for 3 of the last 5 postseasons. This leaves line judges Mark Perlman and Carl Johnson. Perlman was paired with field judge Anthony Jeffries in Tennessee this past weekend. While Jeffries is a strong, up-and-coming new official, he has only worked 4 seasons, making him ineligible. This leaves the final pair — line judge Carl Johnson and field judge Rick Patterson — as the only remaining duo qualified and eligible to officiate Super Bowl LVI.
The back judge position is a 50/50 toss-up between Scott Helverson and Todd Prukop. We’re leaning slightly toward Helverson for two reasons: he was on Torbert’s Divisional Playoff crew, and Prukop has been assigned to a Super Bowl more recently than Helverson.
With that in mind, our likely Super Bowl crew is as follows:
|R||62||Ron Torbert||12||Michigan State||attorney|
|U||92||Bryan Neale||8||Smith||Indiana||sales consultant|
|DJ||74||Derick Bowers||19||Novak||East Central||sales representative|
|LJ||101||Carl Johnson||18||Hussey||Nicholls State||retired sales manager, former full-time official|
|SJ||7||Keith Washington||14||Torbert||Virginia Military Institute||program financial analyst|
|BJ||93||Scott Helverson||19||Kemp||Iowa||sales, printing and promotions|
We expect the Super Bowl assignments to be distributed to the officials by Tuesday.