Game 150: A Week in the Life of an Officiating Crew

The MMQB went behind the scenes with NFL referee Gene Steratore and his crew for an unprecedented look at the pressures and responsibilities of the third team on the field on NFL Sundays: the seven men in stripes who enforce the rules. In Part I, we meet—and agonize with—the boss

Note from The MMQB’s editor-in-chief, Peter King:

In November The MMQB was granted unprecedented access to an NFL officiating crew during the week of the Nov. 17 Ravens-Bears game in Chicago. My video partner, John DePetro, and I were able to go where the officials went; we focused on four members of the seven-man crew in the week leading up to the game and then covered the officials’ Saturday rules meeting at a Chicago airport hotel, their group dinner that night, their pre- and post-game locker-room rituals and a breakdown of their game at Soldier Field.

NFL officials customarily are not allowed to speak to the media other than to a pool reporter after a controversial call in a game. We believe this is the first time that the third team on the field each Sunday, the officiating crew, has been profiled to such an extent and in such depth, with the officials allowed to speak freely about their jobs on the field and their lives off it, and the pressures that come with their responsibilities.

Why “Game 150?” The NFL numbers each of its 256 regular-season games, and at the top of each piece of paperwork that the crew members complete after a game is a spot for the number. Baltimore-Chicago was Game 150.

The series will be presented in three parts:

Part 1, Wednesday, Dec. 4 — The Referee

Part 2, Thursday, Dec. 5 — The Crew

Part 3, Friday, Dec. 6 — 24 hours of football: Saturday preparations and Game 150

In addition to the stories, DePetro’s video will take you somewhere you’ve never been before: into the homes and the jobs and the locker room—into the lives—of an NFL officiating crew.

Monday, Nov. 11., Washington, Pa.

Gene Steratore, with son Geno in the background, in his kitchen a day after the Texans-Cardinals game in Arizona. (John DePetro/The MMQB)
Gene Steratore, with son Geno in the background, in his kitchen a day after the Texans-Cardinals game in Arizona. (John DePetro/The MMQB)

You get the address and rough directions to National Football League referee Gene Steratore’s house 45 minutes south of Pittsburgh, and you drive past what looks to be the place. Blank mailbox. No number. Keep driving. You turn around a quarter-mile down the road and go back, stop, and look up again. You think this looks like the place, so you go up to the door, and there he is: referee 114. Gene Steratore welcomes you in with a big smile. He’s cooking angel hair and fresh vegetables in the kitchen.

But the address …

“I don’t put the address on the mailbox,” he says. “I don’t need people to know where I live.”

Three years ago, after a controversial call at the end of a Dolphins-Steelers game, news crews showed up at his local janitorial supply business. A caller to the business told Steratore, “I hope you die of AIDS.” Thus Steratore’s reluctance about his address.


Follow the The MMQB’s unprecedented three-part series.


Part I, Wednesday: The Referee


Part II, Thursday: The Crew


Part III, Friday: 24 Hours of Football


Steratore is 50 and divorced. This is his 11th season as an NFL official and his eighth as a referee—the head of a crew. He is engaged to be married for a second time, to a local college math professor, Lisa Mauro, and you can tell how smitten he is; before games, so as not to confuse the official balls with others that might be found on the sidelines, his crew marks all 24 with the initial “L” (for Lisa) with a silver Sharpie, just below the NFL shield. Steratore has three grown children from his first marriage and lives with his son Gene II, who is 24. Steratore the dad has some officiating confidants, including his brother Tony (a veteran NFL back judge), former ref Jerry Markbreit, and the six men on his crew. But Geno, as dad calls son, is a stickler about the rules, and he’s not afraid to tell his father when he messes up.

The NFL likes Gene Steratore. You can tell by the assignments: He’s reffed the last three Peyton Manning-Tom Brady games. He’s self-assured, confident making the calls and even more confident when the microphone is turned on and he has to explain the penalty to America. His folksy Pittsburgh accent helps. When I told one NFL coach I was doing this story, he said, “I like Steratore. He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have a glass of wine with someday.”

That couldn’t happen on game weekends; the NFL’s 119 officials cannot drink alcohol on the day before a game, and even a beer after the game is frowned upon. Tonight Steratore steers clear of the bottle of Da Vinci Chianti on the table and drinks a cola with dinner. He’s got tape to watch, which he does either on the big-screen TV in his living room or in his office across the hall from the living room, on his laptop or the league-issued Surface tablet. By Tuesday, Steratore will be active on Ref 360, the secure NFL program accessible only to the league officiating department and the 119 officials that logs all grades, appeals and final league marks for each crew each week. And, by 7 a.m. Tuesday, when the hard drive with the week’s plays from every TV and coaches video angle shows up by FedEx at his front door, Steratore can watch any play from any game except the Monday-nighter at the click of a mouse.

Steratore, 50, has been an NFL official since 2003 and a referee since ’06. He also refs college hoops and has a janitorial supply business. (John DePetro/The MMQB)
Steratore, 50, has been an NFL official since 2003 and a referee since ’06. He also refs college hoops and has a janitorial supply business. (John DePetro/The MMQB)

Tuesdays are nervy times for the officials. “Our moment of truth,” Steratore says. That’s when the preliminary grades from the games just officiated are emailed to every official, usually by 2 p.m. Eastern Time. The NFL employs a crew of officiating supervisors, usually former officials, to pass judgment on the current guys. In this case former umpire Ed Coukart is the supervisor assigned to the Texans-Cardinals game Steratore’s crew had worked the previous day, and Coukart spends Monday going over each official’s performance on every play. The grades can be appealed by the crew chief, and supervisors conference with league bosses Wednesday to review the grades before they become final late that day.

Steratore red-eyed back from Phoenix last night after the Houston-Arizona game. That turned out to be a rough one for the crew and will be a big part of this week. Steratore already watched the video of the game once, mostly on the way home, using one of the thumb drives that each official receives before he leaves the stadium, containing an instant copy of the TV broadcast. But Steratore will watch more tonight. He found a couple of plays troubling and knows they’re being reviewed by Coukart at his home in Ohio today.

Game 144, Houston-Arizona, was the toughest of the season so far for Steratore’s crew—and it would show in the league’s grades. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)
Game 144, Houston-Arizona, was the toughest of the season to that point for Steratore’s crew—and it would show in the league’s assessment. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Troubling might be the wrong word. Agonizing is more apt. As he reviewed the game over the course of several hours Steratore ran one questionable non-call back and forth for 15 minutes; I’d guess he looked at it 30 times, from every angle. “This is so close!” he says on the 20th look or so. You soon realize that playoff and Super Bowl assignments hang on interpretations of plays like this, running over and over on Eddie Coukart’s home tape machine on Monday and then in the NFL Officiating Command Center at 345 Park Avenue every Wednesday. Other plays from the Texans-Cardinals would be similarly microscoped. But let’s take this one first.

As Steratore turns on his TV in the living room and fast-forwards the CBS broadcast to the Texans-Cards play he’s talking about, he says: “This business is a tinderbox. You’re walking on a cliff on every play. I want to make sure we get the fouls everyone sees. My belief is you go fishing for whales in this business. Don’t go fishing for minnows.”

On this night we’ll walk the edge of that cliff, video-wise, on two plays in-depth. The first: Ageless Arizona pass-rusher John Abraham steams around Houston right tackle Derek Newton, taking the long way to quarterback Case Keenum. As he turns the corner and heads toward Keenum, Abraham has his jersey grabbed for two-tenths of a second, maybe. You barely notice the restriction at first glance–it’s like the skip of a record or a quick stutter in a speech. If you watch it enough times, you see Abraham being held up for an instant. No more.

I want to make sure we get the fouls everyone sees. My belief is you go fishing for whales in this business. Don’t go fishing for minnows.

Steratore keeps running it back and forth. The TV announcers, Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots, didn’t notice the tug. On the field, Steratore didn’t call it. “There’s the tug,” Steratore says. “He’s two yards from the quarterback. Could he have gotten there … if the quarterback is in his throwing motion when that occurs? Do you call that? Is it big enough?”

I don’t answer for a while. We watch it 10 or 12 more times, normal speed and slow-motion, and finally I say, “I wouldn’t call that.”

“Okay,” Steratore says. “We just watched that for what? Ten or 15 minutes? For the part of the play that takes maybe 1.3 seconds? And you see something, but you’re not sure how much it is. I didn’t call it because I felt like it wasn’t enough of a restriction. But understand, when it’s reviewed by the supervisor or the guys at the league, that there’s a chance that’s enough and that’s a miss. That’s how finely tuned we are. Then understand that five of those happen throughout the course of 15 weeks we work, and your chances of working an AFC or NFC Championship, or the big game, are gone. On maybe five of those plays in an entire year. That’s how tightly scrutinized this business is.

“And all for the right reasons; don’t get me wrong. That is not a complaint. One of the things I’m loving about [rookie VP of Officiating] Dean Blandino is his attitude of, ‘Guys, let’s stop officiating for the grades. Don’t worry if it’s a coin-flip play and you were downgraded. Let’s dissect it, and let’s learn from it.’ ”

Easier said than done. Steratore has never refereed a Super Bowl, and he very much wants to. With Game 150 on the horizon, he has started to think this could be his year. In the first nine weeks of the season he’s had only two downgrades, officiating parlance for incorrect calls. This game worries him, but he’s trying to be a good officiating soldier and follow Blandino’s mantra: Officiate the game. Don’t officiate for grades. “I said that every year too,” says Mike Pereira, the league’s officiating czar from 2001 through 2009. “But it’s tough. As an official the grades weigh on you like a sledgehammer.”

UNR? Steratore’s hardest call of Houston-Arizona came when KOMING (59) landed on Keenum after the QB had fallen in the face of Abraham’s rush. The league did not agree with his decision. (Jennifer Hilderbrand/USA TODAY Sports)
UNR, or nothing there? Steratore’s hardest call of Houston-Arizona came when Benard (59, left) landed on Keenum after the QB had gone down under pressure from Abraham’s rush. (Jennifer Hilderbrand/USA TODAY Sports)

Now Steratore advances to the sixth play of the fourth quarter of Houston-Arizona. Is this play worthy of a UNR call? That’s officiating shorthand for “unnecessary roughness.” (Every foul has a three-letter abbreviation that officials use.) The situation: Arizona up 20-17. Houston ball, third-and-three at its 42. At the snap, Keenum is flushed backward, and three pass-rushers chase him: Frostee Rucker, Abraham, and Marcus Benard. Rucker dives at Keenum, who sprawls away, and then Abraham lunges at the falling Keenum (it’s not apparent that Abraham touched him), and with Keenum on the ground, Benard dives on the quarterback. No flag from Steratore.

“So,” Steratore says, “is that a late hit? He’s now down at the 16-yard line, they’re punting, they’re down 3. They just brought the house on him, he rolled away, he loses his balance. All this is going through my mind in real time.”

He rewinds.

“Does 55 [Abraham] touch him? Okay, let me ask you this, then: Does the other player who hits Keenum [Benard] know that 55 touches him? And here’s how I officiate the play. At what point does the defensive player commit to the tackle and where is the quarterback in relation to that defender when he commits to the hit? So [Abraham] goes over, misses with his hand … “

He rewinds.

“Is that the right call for the game to give Houston a new set of downs? And is that unfair for me to think that way? Is that egregious enough, is there bad-intent enough, in a fevered pitch, to give this team, after a 22-yard loss [actually 23], a new set of downs on a play that if we run this back, technically, there’s a foul? If we run this back, frame by frame by frame, you’re going to tell me the hit’s a second late. But is this unnecessary roughness, which is what it is by description? And do you read that much into it as an official? Do I officiate this play for the grade? Do I officiate this play for the game? I mean, what do you do for that play? Or do you not think of any of that?”

He rewinds.

“I call nothing. This other defender, 59, had no idea that 55 touched him. And I don’t believe that this defensive player [Benard] had any bad intent on the hit. I don’t think he tried to punish this quarterback. I don’t think that he unnecessarily roughed him. I think it’s on the border and in the split second of time did not think this was a foul that warranted a UNR.”

He rewinds.

“Now Keenum looks at me, like, ‘What the hell?’ I shook him off. I said, ‘No, no. This is a man’s game and you fell and got hit.’ ”

Coukart has looked at the same potential UNR over and over. In 12 hours, via email and then Ref 360, Steratore will find out what Coukart thinks of these two plays. There are other close plays in this game too. “Our toughest game of the year,” Steratore says. And before he can think about Game 150, Steratore and his crew have to close the book on Game 144.

Tuesday, Nov. 12, Washington, Pa.

Steratore reviews his league grades from the Houston-Arizona game on the Ref360 program. Tuesdays are are nervy for league officials—grades help determine postseason assignments. (John DePetro/The MMQB)
Tuesdays are nervy times for officials. That’s the day they receive the preliminary grades on their previous week’s performance—evaluations that help determine postseason assignments. (John DePetro/The MMQB)

Steratore has three other part-time jobs. He and his brother Tony run the janitorial supply business, which is not a major concern during the season. He also assigns and grades officials for Division II and III football games in the western Pennsylvania area. And he is an NCAA basketball official. By 11:30 this morning he’ll be on the road, driving four-and-a-half hours for a game tonight between South Carolina State and Michigan in Ann Arbor.

This morning, he spends a couple of hours in his janitorial supply office. He comes home, packs a light bag with his basketball official’s uniform. He reviews a few more plays he knows will be under the NFL microscope.

At 10:58 a.m., Coukart’s email pops into his inbox. It directs him to check his Ref 360 for the preliminary grades.

“Let’s see what the boss says,” Steratore says, and he fires up Ref 360 with its coded play numbers and explanations from Coukart.

Steratore is transfixed and begins reading off the report from Coukart, with some commentary: “Play 229, no call for a trip. My umpire [Bill Schuster] has a no-call there. TRP … Incorrect call OPI [offensive pass interference]. Dino [Paganelli, the back judge] came down and tried to talk Jeff [Seeman, the line judge] out of making that call. Jeff stayed with it. Coukart went incorrect … Roughing the passer—they want me to call RPS here. I want to look at that one … Correct, correct, correct, correct, correct, correct, correct … Now, oh, the play we watched last night, the hit on Keenum—they want that to be unnecessary roughness.”

The only good news of the morning—Coukart agreed that the slight tug on Abraham’s jersey was not a foul—was an asterisk and only that. After Steratore finishes with Ref 360, the air is out of the room.

“Two calls,” Steratore says, trying to sound brave. “How about that? [After] two calls in 10 weeks. This doubled my calls in one week. I went from two to potentially four.”

The first play was an odd one, and unexpected. But after watching it 10 times with his son, Steratore gets the point—even if he disagrees with it. On an incompletion from Keenum to Andre Johnson, the Cards howled for intentional grounding, because Johnson had stopped running and Keenum threw the ball far away from him, with no one around. That’s where the attention was. Meanwhile, Keenum was getting spun around by one Card rusher and speared with the crown of the helmet by defensive end Matt Shaughnessy. Two of the crew rushed to Steratore to talk about grounding. As for the hit on Keenum, Steratore saw the contact but felt the crown-of-the-helmet blow was lessened by Keenum’s getting yanked away by the other pass-rusher.

And now, as he ran it again and again, it looks like Keenum would have been yanked to the ground without the Shaughnessy head-butt. No matter, though. The combo platter of the crown-of-the-helmet hit and hitting him flush when the ball was away was enough for Coukart.

“Boy,” Steratore says to his son, “that doesn’t look like a foul to me, Geno. But he wants the lowering of the helmet.”

Two calls. This doubled my calls in one week. Now I’ll have to finish the season without a miss. Good luck.

The two Steratores look hard at the little screen. The play, ending with Shaughnessy’s helmet planted in Keenum’s sternum, runs again.

“You think it is [a foul], don’t you?” Gene Steratore says to his son.

“I don’t think it’s a foul,” Geno says, “but I think because he’s lowered then kind of sandwiched him, you’re never going to win [an appeal]. That’s going to stick.”

In today’s football referees know quarterback protection is paramount. That’s why Steratore, though he talks with great hope that maybe he can get one of the downgrades overturned on appeal, figures he’s just blown his shot at reffing Super Bowl XLVIII.

“Now I’d have to finish the year without a miss. Good luck. That’s Baltimore-Chicago, Denver-New England, Lions and Packers for the next three weeks.”

It’s quiet in the house as Steratore scurries to leave for Ann Arbor. At one point he looks up and says, “There goes the Super Bowl.” He might be right: There are 17 referees competing to be the best, as there are at each spot on the officiating field. Position by position, officials are ranked in three tiers based on their regular-season accuracy rating. Only officials in Tier 1 are eligible to work the Super Bowl; there is no minimum or maximum number of officials who can be in Tier 1, but according to Blandino there are usually between four and six.

If there are, say, four officials who qualify for Tier 1, it is not necessarily the official with the best accuracy percentage who gets the Super Bowl. Other factors—positioning, mechanics, rules expertise and decisiveness—weigh into the NFL’s decision. Last year Steratore’s back judge, Paganelli, had a rare no-downgrade season and got the call. That’s what they all aim for. There isn’t a set cut-off percentage separating the tiers because every position could have different degrees of proficiency. If five referees are at 98.0 percent or better, and the sixth is at 97.25 percent, the logical line of demarcation would be between the fifth and sixth referee that season.

There is no way for Steratore to know if he’s blown his shot or not. Four downgrades would almost certainly not be enough to knock him out of contention for the Super Bowl, but it would probably reduce his margin for error down the stretch of a tough season.

Tier 1 officials are eligible to work all postseason games. Tier 2 officials can work Wild Card and Divisional playoff games. Tier 3 officials, Blandino says, are not playoff-eligible and would be subject to a thorough offseason review and possible replacement by the league.

There’s some professional mourning here, because now Steratore thinks he’s killed his season. But as the crew chief, he has a lot more to worry about. He cannot sulk; at least none of the men on his crew can see him or hear him complaining over his evaluation, particularly when, as the representative of the league to his crew, he has to support Blandino’s credo of reffing for a great game, not for great grades. It’s notable that after 10 or 15 minutes in the house with the unmarked mailbox, obsessing over the two downgrades, Steratore begins thinking about his team. The crew had a season-high six downgrades in the Houston-Arizona game. He’ll have to tend to one bit of potential tension—Seeman and Paganelli seeing the the pass-interference call differently, and the grader agreeing with Paganelli, causing a downgrade. Steratore will hold a conference call with his six officials tonight at 9:45, and no one’s going to want to hear him whining over two downgrades that might cost him a chance at glory.

What fans might not realize (and in fact I never understood before being embedded with this crew) is that what happened last week affects how an official officiates next week. NFL officiating is a continuing education class. The fact that Steratore has been downgraded twice for hits on the quarterback will carry into Game 150, and it will affect how Steratore views hits on quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Josh McCown in Chicago. Not just because of the two downgrades—because he and the 16 other NFL referees have their antennae raised on hits to the quarterback.

On I-76 near Youngstown, Ohio

Steratore, whose father was an official, heads off mid-week to call the Michigan-KOMING basketball game in Ann Arbor. (John DePetro/The MMQB)
Steratore, whose father was an official, heads off mid-week to work the Michigan-South Carolina State basketball game in Ann Arbor. (John DePetro/The MMQB)

Steratore got into this business because his dad was into it. His father reffed college football and basketball, and many was the weekend when the Steratore family would pile into the car and drive from western Pennsylvania to a football game at Harvard or Princeton. “I found myself watching the officials more than the players,” Gene Steratore says.

Driving over a road he knows like a long-haul trucker (he prefers driving to flying because he can set his own schedule), he considers my question about whether officials today are being asked to do the impossible in making the right calls on helmet-to-helmet hits and blows to defenseless receivers. I suggest the game’s just too fast. He thinks for a few seconds. “It’s becoming more challenging,” he says. “It requires precision at a very, very, very technical level to be ruled on correctly. We’re not asked to do the impossible, but we are being challenged to digest new ways of looking at certain things. The more you see in real time, the slower the play will start to happen in your mind, and the better you will digest it.”

His phone rings. Jerry Markbreit.

“Jerry,” Steratore says into his headset. “I want you to look at a couple of plays for me. You have time?”

Steratore regularly talks officiating with ref legend Jerry Markbreit, who worked four Super Bowls. (George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Steratore regularly talks officiating with the legendary Jerry Markbreit, who reffed four Super Bowls. (George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Markbreit, a veteran of four Super Bowls (no man has refereed more) and eight conference title games, is 78 now. He says he’ll look at the plays and get back to Steratore. A generation ago, when Steratore was climbing the officiating ladder, Markbreit was his idol. “To have Jerry as a resource—for everything—is such a thrill, and so valuable,” Steratore says. “It’s amazing to me that I can pick up the phone and call Jerry Markbreit for advice.” How to deal with crew issues, when to fight a downgrade and when not to, all things officiating—that’s why Markbreit is so important to Steratore.

I rattle off some questions.

Q: Is it tough to put a downgrade behind you?

Steratore: “We don’t just slough it off. Unfortunately, we don’t get to play 180 games like a shortstop does. You have to observe it and look at it from an officiating standpoint rather than a grade. And you try and relive in your mind what you saw on the field. You dissect the play the way you should with or without the grade. I missed this. Why did I miss it? Was I not in the correct position? Did I not think it was severe enough to warrant a foul? Then hopefully use all of that to do what you ultimately want to do: get better and learn from it.”

Q: How about when you disagree with the grader?

Steratore: “There are gray areas, some a little more gray than others. If a play is missed, then you acknowledge the fact that you missed the play. When you have a different viewpoint, you present it professionally and openly and hope that it’s received that way.”

Q: Biggest misconception about officials?

Steratore: “That these guys just show up on Sunday, put their ball caps on, and they can’t get anything right after the play has been shown 10 times in super-slow-motion. The amount of time officials put into their craft and into their job and into their profession is vastly underrated, and the efficiency in our business is well over 97 percent. If you look at any job, and had an employee that was over 97, 98 percent in everything that he did, he would be one of your most highly valued employees in whatever company you work. In our business … you are recognized for the 2 percent wrong.”

Q: Is that fair?

Steratore: “It is fair in the sense that you are paid to get 100 percent of them right. When you make that mistake that potentially costs a team that worked thousands of hours to prepare for that play, and it was done correctly and ruled incorrectly, then you deserve to be recognized for your inefficiency. It’s part of the business.”

Q: How’d you get good at the microphone part of the job?

Steratore: “You just communicate. Don’t make it a big deal. Be confident … Funny story. Week three, preseason, my first year as a ref, 2006. Chicago. First two weeks of preseason I had replays in each game. Both were, ‘The ruling on the field stands.’ In Chicago we ruled interception. I go to replay and it’s not an interception. And I think I have this down pat. Calm and relaxed, I come out. And now I’m standing on the field. I click the mike, in the middle of Soldier Field, and said, ‘After reviewing the play, the ruling is … ’ And I just flat-lined. I blanked. Dead silence for what felt like eternity. And I said, ‘The ruling is … It’s not good.’ My crew, they killed me the whole game.”

* * *

Steratore logs a lot of miles in his officiating jobs and prefers driving so he can set his own schedule. By Saturday he’ll be in Chicago, gearing up for Game 150, Ravens at Bears. (John DePetro/The MMQB)
Steratore logs a lot of miles in his officiating jobs and prefers driving so he can set his own schedule. By Saturday he’ll be in Chicago, gearing up for Game 150: Ravens at Bears. (John DePetro/The MMQB)

It’s 4 in the afternoon. We’re in Toledo now. Steratore is about to drop me off and go on to the basketball game. I’m meeting the field judge on Steratore’s crew, Bob Waggoner. His other job is assistant supervisor of officials for the Big Ten and the Mid-American Conference, and tonight there’s a MAC game at the Glass Bowl in Toledo: Buffalo at Toledo. Waggoner will analyze the crew and, he hopes, help them continue to climb the officiating ladder.

Just before our highway exit, I ask Steratore about being invisible.

“If you’re in this for recognition, you picked the wrong second job or first job or hobby,” he says. “We are a necessary part of the game. We’re not a necessary evil of the game. We have a role to play, and our role is truly to not be recognized. How many times do you go to a Broadway play and say, ‘Wow, that play was directed so beautifully.’ The people who know the theater appreciate the directors. The true, true fans of theater know who wrote the show, who produced it, who directed it. Really in-depth football people know every once in a while, ‘This is so-and-so’s crew today. I like the way they officiate the game. We get the sense the game is in control when so-and-so is here.’

“For the other 99 percent, we’re just the bad guys.”

* * *

Part 1—agonizing with the boss, Gene Steratore, over a missed call and, potentially, a missed Super Bowl assignment

Part II—Three days with crew members who moonlight, respectively, as an officiating supervisor, a high school AP History teacher and a New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development executive.

Tomorrow: Part III—a Saturday meeting in advance of Ravens-Bears, the crew’s weekly dinner, and, finally, Game Day.

 

Game150_v1

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70 comments
blackcatcrosses
blackcatcrosses

Steratore is about the only head ref in the game that I actually trust and hope to be working our games.

DonaldCase
DonaldCase

Wow, those poor refs from the Eagles/Cardinals games are going to spend a full week looking at their bad calls.

Really interesting article though. That crew made two unreal calls in that AZ Houston game...one of which the amazing catch by Johnson after Peterson tipped the ball...happened right in front of me, and I thought he was out, but they called it correct on the field, stuck with it and review confirmed it...AJ just nailed his feet after an insane grab.

That was a pretty good crew, as refs go.  The one in Philly on Sunday? Not so much. 

BTB117
BTB117

Peter, this is a wonderful read. As a coach (Not football) and an umpire I respect Gene. I admit though he is right now my least favorite official. Still haven't gotten over the Stevie Johnson no catch replay call in Cincy in 2011 when the BILLS started the year 5-2 and skidded to 6-10. They ruled it incomplete on the field which is fine but he goes under the hood and Stevie Wonder knew it was a catch and he missed it and that as well as a few other things cost the BILLS the game. Since then I have been against the referee going under the hood because they are too afraid or prideful to change a call especially on one of their teammates. I have been in support of implementing the NHL "War-Room" where it is one crew at central office who handles all replays and makes all decisions on replays and challenges taking it out of the officials hands and making a more impartial call. Not saying that Gene or the officials are biased against a team (Although I would be lying if I said I never felt like it was 18-11 on the BILLS. It gets to be overkill when your team sucks and they get hosed) but that from the beginning they are taught that once they make a call they need to stick with it. Replay has completely changed that.

This article was fantastic and it really opened up a lot on Gene and what the officials are going through. Overall they are judged unfairly because they are making calls in real time and more often then not they have it right. Looking forward to part 2. Great read!!!

PaulParsons
PaulParsons

I really find the negative comments in regards to the officials in the NFL amusing. It's pretty obvious that they hire the absolute best candidates that are available and hold them to very rigorous standards. I would challenge any of you haters to go start officiating peewee or Jr high football and start working your way up so that you can replace these substandard refs. Clearly one of the most difficult and stressful jobs around and also pretty apparent that they do an amazing job almost all the time. One last statement, holding isn't holding unless the official calls it holding. They are seeing every snap and every block, they are continually talking to the players and warning them if they are starting to trend toward holding and not blocking. Every football ref knows that you could potentially call holding every play, just like you could call carrying(traveling) on every nba play, but the real skill comes in knowing when those holds allow a back to break free or a WR to get the corner as opposed to a hold that doesnt affect the play.

gary7
gary7

Great reading Pete but it sounds like the NFL is making a BIG mistake letting these officials know what they were rated on each and every week,  seems to me that could open the door to severe hesitation on certain calls as the season goes on and the games become more important.  Unless say the league office has notice a certain ref is calling one play consistently that they have a problem with then confront the ref, keep the grades to a mid-season and ending grade, just don't like the idea of refs doing games at the end of the season knowing they have no chance for a upgrade to the playoffs

blorjr
blorjr

Great article . Gene is one of the best.

boonie
boonie

Thanks Peter.  Steratore is my favorite R.  I will be looking forward to the rest of the series.

Django
Django

Another great MMQB article. This is the kind of quality and unique perspective that has me becoming a fan.

I had read about the way baseball umpires are being evaluated on every ball and strike call, but didn't know if football refs had the same kind of scrutiny. I'm glad they do, it makes me more confident in NFL officials.

Seems like a very stressful job and I'm grateful they do it so well.

ballinlikeai
ballinlikeai

Gene Steratore uses Internet Explorer.  I now question his judgement.

frankelee
frankelee

The NFL has excellent officiating, but I'm surprised how neurotic the entire process is.

jockitch77
jockitch77

I just stopped laughing when I read about grades and Super Bowl assignments.  I dare someone from the NFL or Peter King to tell me with straight face that Jerome Boger was the highest graded NFL referee last year.  I watch lots of NFL games every week and it is quite apparent that Jerome Boger is one of the worst referees in the league.  Only the immortal Jeff Triplett is worse.  Gene has nothing to worry about.  He is one the three best refs in the league - the players know it, the coaches know it, the broadcast teams know it and knowledgeable fans know it, too.  I'm pushing the BS button that one.

shoedog14
shoedog14

I thought this was a great article and very interesting. I've watched football my whole life and had no idea that the officials were scrutinized on every single play by their own bosses. Every single play. There really is a lot of pressure to get it right. There have been many times that I thought Tom Brady and Peyton got calls that some other QB's don't get...and I wonder that about the Keenum hit.  If it were Brady would he have made the call? That's something I think the tapes could show us. I don't know for sure, but it seems that way. In any case, great article. I've always thought he was a great ref. 

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

Officiating is a very difficult job. And your point is?  Other professions are very difficult as well. I don't mind that the refs don't call every ticky-tack thing, but they do need to be consistent. Stop favoring the 'golden boys' at the expense of the lesser known players.  And missing plays like Tomlin on the field, or the first/third down screw up is simply NOT acceptable. Stop pretending that the multitude of failures of the officials is to be tolerated because it's a 'difficult job'. This is a suck up piece to quell the anger of the fans for the failure of the refs to do a competent job. But I suppose, it's the price of 'insider information' and locker room access.

DrewS
DrewS

Don't understand the hate here by some posters. Officiating is an extremely difficult job. I wonder how many of those criticizing can imagine what it's like to be on the field with 22 men moving at lightning speed trying to make a call in a split second. It looks so easy on TV in slow motion with the play being replayed a dozen times. These guys try to be perfect agonizing over every mistake. Though they are paid well I don't think NFL refs are seeking the job because of the money. It's not a three hour a week job. The hours spent learning the tendencies of every player and watching the games over and over to learn how to make the correct call is tedious and takes up much of their life. The officials for the most part are dedicated to their craft and in some ways care more than many of the players who take the field. 

satwild26
satwild26

Good article and very informative!

Certainly do remember him from the controversial call at the end of a Dolphins-Steelers game three years ago - the bad call caused the Dolphins to miss the playoffs that year. I firmly believe that a referee should not be assigned to a game that he has personal ties to - as when a call is close it is much more likely to go to your own personal ties.

Hopefully the league learned from that game.


Navycross
Navycross

What people fail to realize it seems, based on comments below is that there is "technically" a penalty that could be called on every single play in the NFL. Holding on linemen, illegal contact on defensive backs, hands to the face, you name it and it could be called.  Stop whining and complaining that the rules should not be subjective; unless you want a penalty called on every down and the game to turn into a beer league touch football match. Officials are charged with not only enforcing the rules but making certain the game doesn't become bogged down with penalties. Not everything should be called and there should be variables taken into account when making the call or non-call. I wonder how many people reading this article bet on the games and expect only those calls that help their team win to be called vs those that "cost them money".

Mark20
Mark20

I didn't read the article. Why? This kind of article is one way to make the officials part of the entertainment. They are not. If SI and PK think we need to hear about refs lives, we don't. I don't care. They make a very good living unlike lots of Americans. The more we make them part of the show, the more calls they make to glorify their role in the game and the slower the game gets. Sorry, I could give a crap about this guy's life.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

This manner of officiating explained by this piece shows how disgusting the NFL's officiating is.  Unbelievable that his view of each penalty is allowed to be so subjective.  It is either a penalty or it is not.  This is EXACTLY why so many fans can't stand officiating.  This is EXACTLY why there are so many infractions committed each and every play.  The official is subjectively deciding whether to call it or not.  

His explanation for the no call on the UNR is pathetic. If that QB on the ground was Tom Brady would it have been called?  It is beyond disgusting that everyone knows it would have but he subjectively decided Keenum (a nobody in the NFL) needed to man up because it is a man's game.  What a joke.  Then the crown of the helmet hit too.  Are you kidding me?  The bias just screams in his explanations.

Holding is holding, whether it seems to affect the play or not.  That shouldn't matter.  The player held.  Holding is not allowed.  F"ING CALL IT.  

This subjective nature of making calls and even doing the reviews can create an opportunity for an official to allow his own personal bias to affect how he officiates a game because he knows and is fully aware of the subjective way he can explain himself.  It makes it practically impossible to unearth a dirty official with this manner of doing business. 

In tennis, they have laser machines that determine if a ball is out, and the human element has been removed.  You NEVER see them deciding to NOT rule it out because well the other player never would have gotten to it anyway.  OUT IS OUT.  A rule is a freaking rule.

NO FANS want this subjective bull*(%$. 

I hope Greg Bedard understands that what you wrote here, Peter, perfectly explains the inconsistency Greg was just complaining about in his piece.  Greg, like most fans of the sport, was objectively reviewing plays and wondering why they weren't called, all the while those officials are going through their review process and subjectively explaining their position on why things weren't called.  

If the NFL doesn't change things, I am really really going to be disheartened and probably quit watching like I have the NBA.  I quit on the NBA because the NBA proved to me over time that their officials are perfectly allowed to be subjectively biased and officiate that way.  Of course all my complaints about how that protects a dirty official over the years, and people saying that is just whiny conspiracy theory BS, was proven to be 100% correct as the FBI unearthed a dirty official.  The NBA quickly swept it under the rug, not changing anything about their allowance of subjectivity, and went on about their business pretending there are no other dirty officials.  Has the NBA ever unearthed a dirty official?  Nope.  Has the NFL?  Nope.  Would they want to?  Nope.  

Money is far more important than fair play.  That is evident.  




ken.raining
ken.raining

Am I the only one that hates having to watch Gene Steratore games?  I just think he's awful.

vimrich
vimrich

GREAT series. Big question: are all "downgrades" of equal weight? That would be horrible. Football is situational - not all plays are equal. End of game, Red Zone, turnovers, etc. A missed call there should be far more concern to the league grading than some other missed calls. That miscommunication at the end of the Redskins game for example. No way that should count the same as one missed pass interference in the middle of a game.

Octavio
Octavio

Okay, I am TOTALLY digging this!!!  Cannot wait until tomorrow!

el80ne
el80ne

@gary7 Officials NEED the accountability of being graded on a week-to-week basis. They NEED to know whether they screwed up a call in a game THAT WEEK so proper reflection and accountability as to why they got the call wrong can go on so they can improve their performance. As a fan, I want to know that when an official gets a call wrong that goes against my team that there will be immediate accountability as to their lousy performance. I want to know that they're losing sleep over it. Knowing that this happens goes some way in reassuring me that they're doing their jobs. What you're suggesting would remove that game to game accountability that would make self assessment and improvement happen at a far more gradual pace once a year instead of 16 times. Look, a ref should still have plenty of motivation to get the call right even if they've got no shot at reffing a playoff game ... the motivation of wanting to KEEP HIS JOB. If his bad calls start to snowball because he's not treating his job as seriously, then that official should find himself first in line to be replaced next season. The article mentions something about that when they are downgraded repeatedly.

Django
Django

@ballinlikeai One of my first thoughts while reading this: "So that's where all the Surface tablets went that noone bought."

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@shoedog14 Are you kidding me?  You wonder about the Keenum hit?  You really think for two seconds he would have looked at Brady or Peyton and said, this is a man's game?  Of course Keenum looked at him like "what the hell" because Keenum damn well knows that would have been called for those two qb's.  It is biased favoritism and it is explained right here like it is not a big deal when it is a HUGE deal.  It is disturbing and has been for a long time. 

liquidyogi
liquidyogi

@Rickapolis The difference is you have never done this particular difficult job at this level. So whatever your opinion is it's worthless.

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@DrewS  

It is a prestigious job, and that brings scrutiny.  

Instant replay has been around for decades, allowing an accurate assessment of referee performance.  The verdict is in:  the quality of officiating has gone seriously downhill.   

"It's hard work and I'm doing my best," to explain shortcomings ends with grade school and grades for "effort."  In the real world, it's the results that matter.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@DrewS It is WAY more difficult with all this subjectivity that is allowed.  It wouldn't be as difficult if you see a hold you call it.  Duh.  FANS see this stuff all the time in REAL TIME.  FULL SPEED.  NO REPLAY NEEDED.  From a far away camera angle.  This stuff happens right in front of the official and they ignore penalties right in their face.  IT should not be tolerated and allowed and explained away.  

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@satwild26 Yeah, and I am sure he didn't mind being downgraded on that ONE play.  Sure didn't hurt his overall grade for the year that much.  

How about him deciding for himself that the Texans didn't deserve a free set of downs when there was a late hit on their nobody QB?  That explanation reeks of dirty.  It reeks of bias.  He SCREWED the Texans and just plainly talked about it like it was no big deal, just part of the job and part of his quick on the spot analysis. 

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@Navycross Only a fool believes players would continue to commit penalties if they were all called.  Linemen can block without holding, they are not two year olds.  If holding was called every time, linemen would rarely hold.  Get it?  

If you allow it to be subjectively enforced then fans of teams that get routinely screwed have a legit complaint.  The door is left wide open to subjective interpretation of the job the officials are doing and it can be viewed as very dirty and biased. 

jnelso1922
jnelso1922

@Mark20 Well thank goodness for you Mark20, so you posted a comment on an article you didn't read. "Good living unlike lots of Americans" This sound more like you are a high-school drop out who will be striking at Burger King tomorrow because being unintelligent doesn't guarantee you a $15/hour job.

Why don't you read the article and learn something? Staratore, runs his own business and works 4 jobs and has been trained to be a basketball ref and a football ref, I think he has earned his money. By the way Mark, I don't want fries with that!

hburgref
hburgref

@randomdeletion YOU ARE CLUELESS!!! I have officiated football at different levels for 20 years and if we were to do it your way games would last for days!!! It has to be subjective and you have to make a split second decision as to whether or not someone GAINED AN ADVANTAGE!!! On a sweep to the right the tight end on the left holds, WHO CARES, it had NO EFFECT on the play and no one GAINED AN ADVANTAGE!!!

Your statements ore RIDICULOUS!!!! 

DCotoz
DCotoz

@randomdeletion Last night I had the strangest dream, I sailed the way to China in a little row boat to find ya

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@randomdeletion @shoedog14  

I have to agree with you.  This reads like NFL propaganda to prop up bad officiating.

But then, that's the kind of thing Peter "Lap Dog" King does best.

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@liquidyogi @Rickapolis  

Class-y.  Wow, you told HIM.  

By your twisted logic, there are only four men alive who are qualified to hold an opinion about the President's performance, and fewer than 1,000 or so people on Earth allowed to criticize Congress or high-ranking political appointees.

Good thinking.

el80ne
el80ne

@randomdeletion @Rickapolis I totally understand your point about the subjectivity of calls, but if this piece is to be believed then Steratore wasn't "allowed" by the league to be subjective since he was downgraded for making the wrong call.

bic
bic

@randomdeletion @DrewS RD, please send me your email so we can get you to be signed up as an official.  Sounds like you have many good ideas we could put into practice right away!

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@hburgref @randomdeletion Really?  Gained an advantage?  That is subjective and NO ONE needs subjectivity in officiating.  There are NO FANS that don't see the obvious subjectivity in favoring star players over a Keenum.  That hurts the game.  Call it the same regardless.  

 Your response proves how correct I am.  If the TE holds on the left and it is a sweep to the right there is NO WAY to know whether that defender on the left would break to the right and be the one to tackle the runner 5 yards down field instead of him gaining 10.  You have NO CLUE what impact that hold would or would not have on the play and your subjectivity gives you the right to call the hold against a team you don't like to favor a team you don't like and to NOT call the hold against a team you like when they are holding a team you don't like.  

Your disgusting assumption that players would not adjust to tightening it up by making the calls when they happen is a joke.  It is a pathetic joke.  It is mind boggling you don't realize that players would not hold if they didn't get away with it.  The reason infractions happen on every play is because they are ALLOWED to happen.  Then the official gets to subjectively call it when they feel like it and argue that THIS time it gave someone an advantage.  

Now an unbiased, clean, professional, competent, fair, balanced official certainly can do it subjectively and all is good.  The PROBLEM is that in this environment of officiating a dirty official can fit right in and not be exposed.  Case in point the NBA ref that was busted by the FBI, not the NBA, the FBI.  

Your insistence that this is the only way furthers the environment that will protect a dirty official and sour fans that want fouls to be called.  

Do you gain an advantage when the play clock runs out and you get a delay of game penalty?  No, but that is called regardless.  It is not over looked by some notion of "no advantage was gained".  It is a rule.  The rule was broken.  It is a penalty.  It is called and it is enforced.  Same with false starts, illegal motion, and so on.  You're argument and explanation has zero credibility.  

el80ne
el80ne

@randomdeletion @MidwestGolfFan @shoedog14 I didn't see the play in question, but if you felt that he made the wrong call about Keenum then you should be thrilled about this piece since it revealed that his boss determined (correctly in your opinion) that he got the call wrong and was downgraded for it. His poor call likely cost him a shot to the super bowl ref team he so covets, and he'll no doubt spend much time reflecting and second guessing himself which will hopefully improve his judgement in future games. The system appears to be working the way it should to try and correct bad calls and call out officials that do them. Since there's no going back to change the call and course of a game now, as a fan I'm not sure what more you could possibly hope to expect.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@MidwestGolfFan @randomdeletion @shoedog14 Yeah "riveting journalism" isn't it?  Oh I am SURE that if the bias and favoritism of current officiating was clearly going toward teams in the midwest/west and the Pats were getting screwed on a consistent basis you would see this "journalist" scrutinizing why this is allowed to happen and would have handled this inside look a lot differently.  It didn't even phase him that the unknown QB that plays in Texas got screwed and Steratore goes about explaining it in a manner suggesting the Texans didn't deserve the fresh set of downs the correct call would have gave them. 

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@jnelso1922 @randomdeletion @hburgref  

According to your posting history (click on someone's screen name to see it) you only have two posts, both on this article.

Said posts aggressively defend both NFL, officiating, and the subject of the article.

Are you a plant?

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@MidwestGolfFan @randomdeletion @hburgref Exactly.  I get sooooo sick and tired of the pathetic excuse that games would last forever if they called every penalty that happens.  As if grown f'ing men can't play the game without committing infractions on every play.  As if they can't block without holding.  Cornerbacks can't cover without putting their hands on receivers constantly.  

What is so disturbing about the hburgref's response above is he blindly goes along with being a part of the problem.  He thinks he can ascertain at all times when advantage was gained and when it was not and no human bias would ever affect this subjectivity.  

This after reading up above how Steratore's bias affected his subjectivity.  He went into length explaining all he was thinking about not calling the late hit on Keenum and in this explanation makes it clear he ascertained the Texans didn't deserve the fresh set of downs.  He even justifies this subjectivity saying that this is officiating "for the game" and not "for the grade".  So in his assessment even if it is technically correct that it was a late hit, the idiot QB for the Texans blew the play and didn't deserve to be bailed out by the flag.  

This kind of subjectivity can lead an official to decide to throw a flag because in his mind one team does not deserve to be beating another.  The other team is clearly the better team and this bad team does not deserve to win.  Of course no one would know he is thinking this stuff, but the way the game is allowed to be officiated today, this can be done and no one would ever know the difference inside the structure of the league.  


jnelso1922
jnelso1922

@randomdeletion @hburgref Please remember your above statement when you drive 56 in a 55 mph zone and get a ticket. Or 36 in a 35mph zone.

The world is not Black and White, decisions are not Black and White they are subjective. If you got pulled over every time your car went 1-2 mph's over the Speed Limit, especially if you were trying downhill, you'd think that was ridiculous. After 10th ticket maybe you'd get the message, maybe you wouldn't, but even if you got the message it still doesn't mean you don't cross that line sometimes.

Staratore is 100% right in that he's 97/98% right in his job and you are quarreling over 1-2% that is magnified because it's on National TV and replayed over and over again. 

Regarding the NBA, a lone wolf can get away with a lot before getting caught, see steroids, point shaving, etc....you didn't know that ref was on the take, he didn't get caught because of the call he made, he got caught because of the money and getting sold out by the bad people, how would the NBA or anyone else know that?

I don't root for officials and some think they are better than the game, but I do know when Staratore is doing a game it will try to be officiated correctly and that is all you can ask.


MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@randomdeletion @hburgref  

Reminds me of running a dorm.  "Yeah, I know we have rules but don't be so striiiiict," said the 30- and 40-something juveniles who ran the "Residence Life Experience" to people who actually, you know, enforced rules. Enforcing rules about order and noise...what an ogre!

I'll tell you one thing, though:  the so-called "ogres" wound up having few problems.  The subjective people wound up having everything from out-of-control keg parties to cherry bombs.

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