And then there were four. Four teams fighting for the Super Bowl. Two more teams will officiate their exploits on Sunday, and here are some officiating odds and ends as we get ready for kickoff.
Hat tip to russ from our affiliated Behind the Football Stripes message board for many of these nuggets.
1. More firsts
Shawn Smith is the white hat for his first conference championship. He was umpire for a previous championship game. Grantis Bell, Anthony Flemming, Nate Jones, Anthony Jeffries and Chad Hill also call their first championship game. Bell and Flemming are in their fourth seasons and Jones is in his fifth. Talk about a fast track in the playoffs!
2. Consistent runs
This is the seventh year in a row for Clete Blakeman to be assigned a divisional playoff or higher. Not many other referees can say that – except one. Bill Vinovich has been assigned a divisional playoff or higher for 10 straight years. That is a Jerry Markbreit-like streak!
In a game where one bad call can knock an official out of the playoffs, to be on such a playoff streak and at such a high level is amazing.
Turning to the black hats, down judge Jerod Phillips has called a conference championship or Super Bowl in four out of the last five years. He is an eight-year veteran. And, 22-year veteran Jeff Seeman is calling his fourth-straight conference championship.
3. Young “deep judges” on the NFC championship game
Side judge Chad Hill, back judge Grantis Bell and field judge Anthony Flemming have a combined 14-years experience and all are calling their first championship game. They have earned this right and have felt the hot lights of an NFL game. I am excited to see these young official ply their craft Sunday evening.
I heard a sports talk show host say championship weekend is his favorite weekend in the playoffs because it is “like watching two Super Bowls.” The stakes are high and emotions are running high.
The officials are the only ones paid to keep their cool this weekend. We wish all of them well.