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Who is the Super Bowl referee for the Chiefs vs. the 49ers? How do NFL officials prepare?

Bills Chiefs Football
Posted at 5:52 AM, Feb 08, 2024

Some folks who could get plenty of TV time during Super Bowl 58 between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers are household names, of course, from Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Christian McCaffrey on the field to a certain pop star — Taylor Swift — expected to cheer from a suite.

And then there’s a whole other group who will be seen often during the NFL championship game, seven people who probably prefer if no one realizes they're in Las Vegas at all Sunday: The officials in the black-and-white uniforms in charge of making sure rules are followed and chaos is kept to a minimum.

“You’re just doing what you’ve been trained to do, which is: You see a call, you make the call. You want it to be right. ... You call what you need to call, and if it’s controversial, it’s controversial,” said Scott Green, a former NFL official who worked at three Super Bowls, once as the referee.

“Coming off the field,” Green said, “I said to one of the other guys, ‘You know, that was a great game. And the best part of it is no one will ever remember who officiated the game.’”

Some ins and outs of NFL officiating:

HOW MANY OFFICIALS ARE THERE FOR NFL GAMES?
There are seven on-field officials plus one in charge of replay review; that's the same for a regular-season game or a Super Bowl.

WHO ARE THE SUPER BOWL 58 OFFICIALS?
The referee — the person in charge — is Bill Vinovich. He also ran things for Super Bowl 54, when the Chiefs beat the 49ers. And he was the referee for the infamous NFC title game in January 2019, when the Rams edged the Saints with the help of a no-call on an obvious foul (maybe even two) by Los Angeles cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman against New Orleans receiver Tommylee Lewis. Sunday's other officials: umpire Terry Killens, down judge Patrick Holt, line judge Mark Perlman, field judge Tom Hill, side judge Allen Baynes, back judge Brad Freeman and replay official Mike Chase. Killens — who made one tackle on special teams for Tennessee in Super Bowl 34 — is the first person to play in one Super Bowl and officiate in another.

DID THEY WORK TOGETHER ALL SEASON?
No. The NFL picks an all-star group for each playoff game and the Super Bowl, based on who had the best season. Vinovich, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, is “a seasoned official and ... does a good job of uniting everybody and getting them together, so that's a good thing.”

HOW ARE OFFICIALS JUDGED?
Every call they make — or don't make — in every game receives a numerical grade; officials are assigned an accuracy percentage at season's end. That's not all. “There’s a qualitative grade that takes into consideration their mechanics, their fitness, their appearance, their professionalism. That’s more subjective,” said Dean Blandino, a replay official for two Super Bowls and, later, the head of NFL officiating. Officials, he said, “get constant feedback” from 12 to 15 people involved in the evaluation process, including former officials.

HOW DO THEY PREPARE FOR GAMES?
Officials generally spend three days after a regular-season game going over how things went — watching video, perhaps as soon as during the flight home — before turning their attention to the next game. Preparation includes weekly rules tests, reading memos from the NFL and watching training videos that can run nearly a half-hour “with a gazillion plays on it,” according to former on-field official Mike Pereira, who, like Blandino, used to run the league's program. “It'll show plays and say: ‘This is illegal contact. This is not illegal contact. This is defensive holding. This is offensive holding. This is not one that should have been called.’” Officials study past games of the teams playing in their next assignment to look for tendencies.

ARE OFFICIALS FULL-TIME EMPLOYEES IN THE NFL?
Unlike in the NBA, NHL or Major League Baseball — where all, or nearly all, officials are full-time employees — the NFL relies almost entirely on part-time employees who work on one-year agreements without full benefits. Most have other jobs. But as Pereira, who ran an embroidery and silk-screening business during his time as an on-field official, put it: “It's an unbelievable time commitment.” Rule study begins in the spring. There are officiating clinics. Visits to teams' training camps. The studying continues all season. “It's a grind, like it is for coaches and players,” said Green, now head of the NFL Referees Association.

DO OFFICIALS GET A SUPER BOWL RING?
Yes. “I don’t wear them that much anymore,” said Green, who has three, “but I do keep them in a safe place. It’s the same thing the players are shooting for and the coaches are shooting for: You want to be on the field for that last game of the year.”