Football Zebras commentary
We made it to the Divisional Playoffs. The guessing game for the Super Bowl crew begins, as the eventual Super Bowl LVI officials will be working this weekend.
All four referees working this weekend, Clete Blakeman, Shawn Hochuli, John Hussey, and Ron Torbert, are eligible to work the big game, which doesn’t seem to make narrowing down the field that simple. However, based on assigning trends and Divisional Playoff crews for this weekend, we believe that either Torbert or Blakeman will be granted the honor to lead the all-star crew in Inglewood, Calif. on February 13. Football Zebras editors Cam Filipe and Mark Schultz break down the two finalists.
I considered copying-and-pasting my analysis from last season into this commentary, as I was in the same position as I am in now: Ron Torbert was assigned a Divisional Playoff game and he is ready to officiate the Super Bowl.
This is like clockwork. 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 our frontrunner for Super Bowl LIII. Just prior to Week 18 of this season, I predicted Torbert would be the Super Bowl LVI referee, doubling down on my prediction from last season.
In all of those seasons, someone other than Torbert was selected to officiate the Super Bowl. We’ve been vouching for and pulling for Torbert for 4 seasons now. Please, please, please, let this year be the year.
Torbert worked as a side judge for 4 seasons before being promoted to referee in 2014. In just his 8th season as a referee, he has been assigned to many high-profile games and is becoming a familiar face to fans among the pool of referees.
In all but one of his 10 playoff-eligible seasons in the league, Torbert was assigned a playoff game. That is a remarkable feat. I’m still baffled that Torbert was shut out of the postseason in 2019, even two years removed, I’m still shocked.
Torbert is an excellent game manager and always gets the best out of his crew. The games that he officiates are fun to watch, and very rarely do you hear groans from the crowd when he is at the helm. I’m convinced that if Torbert is not assigned the Super Bowl this season, we’ve jinxed him each time. All irrational thoughts aside, Ron Torbert is ready for his Super Bowl assignment. It’s been a long time coming, and this year is his year.
When it comes officiating the Super Bowl, it is important for the official to already have several important playoff games under his or her belt before calling a game in front of a world wide audience.
I still think of Blakeman as a young official, but he is finishing his 14th year in the NFL – and a referee since 2010. Prior to his NFL career, he was a college football referee in the Big 12 conference.
Clete Blakeman fits the description of a solid, veteran official. He has officiated 12 playoff games in his career, 11 as a referee. He has worked three out of the last five conference championship rounds on the field (another as an alternate) and reached the ultimate prize in 2015 – working Super Bowl 50.
Blakeman has constantly proven himself as a highly regarded referee, cool under fire and not afraid to make the big call. I think the Super Bowl referee will be a veteran of prior big games this year and I predict it will be Blakeman.
We could still be surprised
Shawn Hochuli and John Hussey are still highly qualified to work the Super Bowl this year. Normally, we’d select one of these two over someone like Clete Blakeman, who has worked a Super Bowl before, but all signs are pointing to Torbert or Blakeman getting the assignment.
In all but one season since it became standard process to select Super Bowl officials from those who work the Divisional Round, the Super Bowl referee is selected as a duo with the umpire that they worked with in their Divisional Playoff game. Using this rule of thumb, combined with Super Bowl eligibility rules for this weekend’s umpires, only Tony Michalek and Bryan Neale are eligible to work the Super Bowl. Blakeman is working with Michalek in Tennessee and Torbert is working with Neale in Green Bay.
We could very well see Hochuli or Hussey be chosen for Super Bowl LVI. We would be very happy with any of these 4 referees. However, that would require a break from a nearly decade-long tradition. With that being said, Torbert and Blakeman are our two finalists for the 2021 season.