As we approach Super Bowl LVI, let’s break down the officiating crew by the numbers.
1. Half of officials in the Super Bowl era get the assignment (and half do not)
A total of 411 people have officiated at least one season in the Super Bowl era (not including replacement officials). In those 56 years, there have been 373 available Super Bowl assignments. As of this year, 208 officials (slightly more than 50 percent) have called at least one Super Bowl.
2. One of the most experienced crews in over 20 years
In Super Bowl XXXIV, Bob McElwee’s crew had a combined 21 Super Bowl assignments. It is highly doubtful that there will be another, more experienced crew call the game, but this year’s crew is in the ballpark. Counting this game, Ron Torbert’s crew will have 14 Super Bowl assignments among them.
|Yrs||2021 crew||College||Occupation||Prev. Playoff||Prev. SB|
|R||62||Ron Torbert||12||Michigan State||attorney||3 WC, 6 DIV|
|U||92||Bryan Neale||8||Smith||Indiana||sales consultant||4 WC, 2 DIV, 2 CC|
|DJ||74||Derick Bowers||19||Novak||East Central||sales representative||8 WC, 5 DIV, 2 CC||XLIII|
|LJ||101||Carl Johnson||18||Hussey||Nicholls State||retired sales manager, former full-time official||3 WC, 8 DIV, 3 CC||XLII, LIV|
|FJ||15||Rick Patterson||26||Allen||Wofford||banker||8 WC, 8 DIV, 3 CC||XXXVII, XXXIX|
|SJ||7||Keith Washington||14||Torbert||Virginia Military Institute||program financial analyst||2 WC, 4 DIV|
|BJ||93||Scott Helverson||19||Kemp||Iowa||sales, printing and promotions||6 WC, 5 DIV, 4 CC||XLII, XLV|
This is the 7th Super Bowl where at least 3 officials were on their third trip to the big game, and the first one since that supercrew headed by McElwee in XXXIV.
Since 2000, this is the 8th time that over half the crew has at least one prior Super Bowl.
- All 7 crew members with prior Super Bowl experience
- Super Bowl XXXVIII, headed by Ed Hochuli
- 6 crew members with prior Super Bowl experience
- Super Bowl LIV, headed by Bill Vinovich
- 5 crew members with prior Super Bowl experience
- 4 crew members with prior Super Bowl experience
The last four Super Bowls have had four or more crew members with prior Super Bowl experience. So, it appears a trend is developing where the NFL wants most of the crew with prior Super Bowl experience.
The fewest in that span was 1 experienced official, which happened 4 times, most recently with Super Bowl XLVII. The only times there ever were shutouts of prior experience were Super Bowls I (naturally), II, and IV.
Torbert, Bryan Neale and Keith Washington call their first. This is the third Super Bowl with 3 third-timers and 3 first-timers on the same crew.
3. Welcome back, Rick Patterson, Derick Bowers, and Scott Helverson
The veteran field judge returns to the Super Bowl 17 years after his last assignment.
Patterson and field judge Scott Steenson are tied for second place for the longest time between assignments. The record between assignments is 22 years, held by line judge Jeff Bergman.
Bowers is back for his first Super Bowl in 13 years, and Helverson returns to the big stage 11 years after his last one.
4. Position streaks
This is the 6th consecutive year where the line judge is not a first-time Super Bowl official, which is the longest current streak of any position, and the second longest of all time. Last year, field judge James Coleman broke the string for field judges at 7, which is the longest such streak at any position.
Incidentally, there were 7 consecutive white hats from Super Bowls XXV to XXXI (1990 through 1997 seasons) that had worked a prior Super Bowl, but two of them (Dick Hantak in XXVII and Gerry Austin in XXXI) did not work at the referee position in their previous assignment.
Back judges are currently in a long streak of 5 repeaters, inching close to the record streak.
All other positions have reset their streaks either this year or last year.
5. Weren’t you here last year?
A provision in the current collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its officials is that no official can work consecutive Super Bowls. But this rule was not always in place, and it also doesn’t apply to the replay staff.
Centralized replay coordinator Sean McKee, by virtue of his position, is placed as the booth replay assistant for the second consecutive season. Although the word “official” is not in the title, the position is generally included as a member of the extended officiating crew. Not including alternate assignments, this is the fourth time someone has worked consecutive Super Bowls:
- Jim Tunney, referee for Super Bowls XI and XII
- Tom Sifferman, field judge for Super Bowls XXXVII, XXXVIII, and XXXIX
- Hall of Famer Art McNally, replay official for Super Bowls XXI and XXII
6. Inside the numbers
In Super Bowl I and II, officials were assigned special uniform numbers for that game only. From 1979-81 (Super Bowls XIV, XV, and XVI) officials had an unusual numbering system where each position was numbered sequentially.
Here are the number of times the Super Bowl LVI crew numbers were part of the standard issue uniform numbers in prior Super Bowls.
|Times||Previously worn by other officials|
|U||92||Bryan Neale||3rd||BJ* Jim Poole (XXI, XXVII)|
|DJ||74||Derick Bowers||3rd||HL Ray Dodez (XIX)|
|LJ||101||Carl Johnson||5th||U Bob Boylston (XXI, XXVI)|
|FJ||15||Rick Patterson||5th||LJ Bama Glass (XX), U Ralph Morcoft (VIIIâ€¡)|
|SJ||7||Keith Washington||3rd â€||R Tommy Bell (III, VII)|
|BJ||93||Scott Helverson||6th||FJ* Jack Vaughan (XX, XXV, XXIX)|
*Back judge and field judge position names were swapped prior to 1998. â€ Number was assigned years special number applied. â€¡Morcroft also worked Super Bowl II, but not with his regular number.
So, back to those special numbering systems. Torbert’s 62 was also assigned to the extraordinary back judge Stan Javie in Super Bowl II, where every crew member’s number ended in a 2. Javie wore 29 in the regular season. And Washington’s number 7 has actually been used 7 times. Four officials wore the number 7 in a Super Bowl under the positional numbering system. Wait, that’s four officials in three years? Yes, there were two number 7s in Super Bowl XIV. And had they not scrambled to issue new numbers, there would have been four 7s the following year. We told you it was an unusual system.
Carl Johnson is the only official wearing a triple-digit number in this game. The first official to wear a jersey over number 100 in a Super Bowl was Dick Hantak as a back judge (now field judge) in Super Bowl XVII. The last Super Bowl that didn’t have at least one on-field official with a triple-digit jersey number was Super Bowl XLIV.
OK, let’s dig a little deeper into uniform numbering history.
The highest number worn in a Super Bowl is the highest number ever on an officiating roster (not including officials in training or replacements), number 135 by the retired Pete Morelli who worked Super Bowl XXXVI between the Rams and the Patriots as a field judge.
Discounting the special numbers, the numbers worn the most times in the Super Bowl are:
- 34 — eight times
- 9 and 25 — seven times
- 32, 51, 59, 77 and 106 — six times
- 22, 28, 39, 41, 78, 93, 105 and 110 — five times
And, discounting the above numbering systems, the following numbers have never been worn by an official in a Super Bowl:
- 69 (never been issued to an official)
Once again, yes, I’m that much of a nerd.
Have a great time zebra-watching the final game of the year!
Image: Chad Young for Football Zebras, Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, StadCo LA LLC