NFL officials have an ethos by which they live: "Success is silence," says Mike Pereira, the league's former vice president of officiating and current Fox rules analyst who will be part of the network's broadcast of Super Bow LI Sunday.
This year's seven-man crew – including referee Carl Cheffers, umpire Dan Ferrell, head linesman Kent Payne, line judge Jeff Seeman, field judge Doug Rosenbaum, side judge Dyrol Prioleau and back judge Todd Prukop – were the best among their colleagues at living in the game's shadows this season. That's why they were selected. Though the players will take center stage Sunday, making it to Houston is no less a pinnacle of professional achievement for those men officiating the game.
Rolling Stone spoke with Pereira on how these seven officials will prepare for the biggest moment of their professional lives.
Officiating is a craft just like playing any position in the NFL. I imagine this is pretty special for these guys in the same way it is for the players.
The interesting thing is it's not at all about the money. It's exactly like it is for the player. It's about the ring because officials get a Super Bowl ring also. It's not the same ring that the players get because those are so big and hefty. An official's finger would probably drag on the ground if they put that on. But it's a scaled-down version that is beautiful and recognizable and it's a symbol that you’re part of an exclusive club that basically worked the biggest game on the biggest stage with the most people watching and with the pressure at its utmost intensity. And so the greatest part, I really do think, about officiating the Super Bowl for the official is that presentation that is made in the spring when he actually is given his Super Bowl ring and he wears that thing with pride for the rest of his life.
How are they preparing right now for these two teams? Do you prepare any differently when you know you have two high-powered offenses playing in the game?
You try to keep it the same but you're just going to prepare more. There's more things you have to deal with. You have to deal with the rotation of the footballs because so many more footballs are used in the Super Bowl than in a regular-season game or playoff game. You have to prepare for the coin toss because it’s a spectacle and it’s on national television and you don’t want to screw up the coin toss.
They're also going to talk about putting this game – once you get over the nervousness – back into the game of normal football. Don’t let one team take advantage of another. There's a lot of discussion about how is New England going to handle Julio Jones: Are they going to pressure him? Are they going to hit him? Are they going to hold him? You have to make sure you don't get lax, just as they did in the Green Bay-Dallas game and missed a few defensive holding calls that they should have made. You've got to make sure that you stay on top of the game. They know the pressure.
I'm optimistic that they won't be the story Monday and that's all you ever ask for as an official is not be a part of the narrative the next day.
You rarely hear the officiating complimented the day after the game.
Rarely? I don't think I've heard that. We know what it is and it's just the way it is. Success is silence. That's success from an officiating standpoint. You have your own level of feeling as an official when you walk off the field. You generally know if you've had a good game or a not-so-good game or a bad game and your expectations are probably even higher than what others expect of you. But ultimately silence is golden.
Some of the rules are left to a little bit of interpretation and are a little bit subjective. Is there any way to characterize how this crew may call the game, what they may let go, within their interpretation of the rules?
I don't expect to see anything called any tighter. You are absolutely right about the rules. I mean we state that. If you look at the rulebook – pass interference – contact is allowable. But contact that significantly hinders the receiver’s ability to make the catch then becomes pass interference. So you have to judge as an official: Is the contact enough to keep him from catching the ball. Offensive holding: Is the hold – is it enough? It must keep the defender from having a chance to get to the runner or the ball carrier. It must obviously impede his ability to get to the ball carrier.
You historically look at the playoffs and there are usually a lesser amount of fouls called in the playoffs and the historical question back when I was running the program is why. Do you tell the officials: Make them big? And I used to stand in front of the competition committee and tell them truthfully: "No. I never tell them that." Because I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's fair that they should change their standard that they have all year and have them try to officiate the game differently. I don't think it’s even fair to the teams. But I think when it’s one-and-done in the playoffs, I think the teams have the ability to concentrate more and you don’t see those black-and-white fouls show up as often: the false starts, the off-sides, the delay of games. I think teams have a tendency to play a little better.