Terry Killens will be the umpire for Super Bowl LVIII, 24 years after he played for the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. He is the first person to both play in and officiate a Super Bowl.
In 2001 and part of 2002 he played for the San Francisco 49ers, before concluding his playing career with the Seattle Seahawks.
So, not only is Killens the first official to ever play in and officiate a Super Bowl, he is officiating a team he used to play for. And, this is not a concern to the NFL.
The NFL has long had the policy of awarding the Super Bowl based on how well an official did during the season with officials who graded in Tier 1 eligible for the game. The NFL does not consider potential teams in the big game before awarding the assignment. There is no “we’ll give it to this guy if Team X is eliminated.” In earlier rounds, these adjustments may be made to avoid a prior-team assignment since there is flexibility, but there are no games to move to when there is only one game left.
The NFL has confidence in its officials to call a fair game. The last time Killens played for the 49ers was in the early years of the George W. Bush administration. None of his teammates and coaches remain from that team. Most of the front office is not there, so essentially only the ownership remains from that time. This is not a problem.
We asked the league to comment on Killens assignment, and declined through a spokesman, although we were pointed to information previously provided over the years on the selection of Super Bowl officials.
This isn’t something new for the NFL
Ron Botchan was a pro player before he was a distinguished NFL official. In the early days of the American Football League, Botchan was a linebacker for the 1960 Los Angeles Chargers. The league didn’t bat an eye when they assigned him Super Bowl XXIX between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers.
There can also be perceived conflicts of interest based on an official’s hometown.
In 1978, the NFL assigned Jerry Bergman to Super Bowl XIII between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bergman was a prominent member of the Pittsburgh community, and he worked in county government. Bergman told NFL Films that he didn’t officiate the Steelers and Cowboys — he officiated one team wearing white jerseys and one team wearing black jerseys. He said this wasn’t any different than any other game.
There was one documented instance, however, when an official’s assignment to the Super Bowl was in question because of geography. Jerry Seeman, the head of officiating in 1998, considered keeping the name of Minnesota resident referee Bernie Kukar — seen in the Killens video clip above — in pencil for Super Bowl XXXIII while the Vikings advanced through the playoffs. This was thought of as different than Bergman’s situation because of the prominence of the referee position. Reason prevailed and Kukar was assigned without conditions, although the Vikings did make it a moot point by losing the championship game.
Integrity rules all
By the time an official makes it to the NFL, they have put in a lot of grass time and all of their playing and rooting interests have been washed away. They have learned to think like an official. In order for them to make it to the NFL, they must display unflappable characteristics of fairness, honesty and neutrality.
Terry Killens, Ron Botchan, Jerry Bergman, and Bernie Kukar have all displayed those qualities. The Super Bowl is in good, honest, and fair hands.