Sacramento’s Mike Pereira, a former NFL referee and head of referees, is a rules analyst for Fox Sports. He’s writing a weekly column for The Sacramento Bee throughout the postseason.
Instead of flying back to Sacramento from Green Bay following wild-card weekend, I spent a few days in New York City before heading to Atlanta for the first of our two NFC divisional playoff games last weekend on Fox.
I moved from Sacramento to Manhattan in March 1998 to work for the NFL as a supervisor of officials and lived in the city that never sleeps for 12 years. I grew to love New York – the energy, culture, food, plays and, yes, even the subways.
My wife, Gail, joined me in New York last Monday, and we spent three days visiting friends, most of whom had worked – and some still do – for the NFL. After we saw a couple of plays and enjoyed great food, it was time for Gail to head home and for me to head to Georgia and get to work.
Which is pretty hard to call work.
This was the first time I worked in the broadcast booth with Fox play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt and game analyst John Lynch. I joined them at a production meeting Friday, when both were doing research – along with producer Pete Macheska and director Artie Kempner – for the Falcons-Seattle Seahawks game Saturday. It really is amazing how much preparation goes into a broadcast.
As for the game, it was fun being in the booth with Kevin and John. Both do a great job. I was called onto the air four times, once regarding a missed offensive pass-interference penalty that would have negated a touchdown and three times during replay stoppages. All three of the replay reviews resulted in reversals. I agreed with all three decisions made by referee Gene Steratore with input from the NFL office. Officiating was not a factor in Atlanta’s 36-20 victory. The Falcons dominated. Quarterback Matt Ryan should be the league’s MVP and Dan Quinn the Coach of the Year. They’ve got it rolling in Atlanta.
Immediately after the game, I hurried to the airport to catch a fight to Big D for Sunday’s Packers-Cowboys game, an NFC showdown that lived up to the hype.
It was a clear hold, but from an officiating standpoint, it is always a tougher call to make when so much is at stake in the playoffs and the game is on the line. Officials must block that realization from their mind and make the correct call, whether the play is in the second quarter of a regulation game or the final two minutes of a divisional playoff.
Actually, both games Sunday were gut wrenchers that were partly decided by huge late-game officiating calls. At Dallas, the call had Sacramento ties all over it. With the score 31-31 and the game seemingly headed for overtime after Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers was sackedat Green Bay’s 32-yard line with 12 seconds left, I was preparing to go on the air to discuss postseason overtime rules. It was not to be.
On third and 20, Rodgers rolled left and completed a 32-yard strike to Jared Cook at the Dallas 32. Cook got both feet on the ground inbound as he was falling out of bounds. It was really a tough call for the officials. The head linesman initially signaled the pass incomplete, but side judge Rob Vernatchi, a Sacramento resident, raced downfield and overruled the initial call and signaled catch. It was a great throw, a great catch and a great call. I went on air while the play was in review and, before it was confirmed, I complimented my fellow Sacramento resident about his call.
Mason Crosby then made a 51-yard field goal as time expired to give the Packers a 34-31 win and a trip to Atlanta for Sunday’s NFC championship game.
In Kansas City on Sunday night, it was referee Carl Cheffers’ turn to step up. Spencer Ware’s 1-yard touchdown run pulled the Chiefs within two points of the Pittsburgh Steelers with 2:43 to play. The Chiefs went for a two-point conversion and appeared to get it when Alex Smith found Demetrius Harris in the back of the end zone.
Cheffers, however, called Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher for holding Steelers defensive end James Harrison on the play. The 10-yard penalty nullified the conversion, and the retry from the 12-yard line resulted in an incomplete pass. The Steelers then converted a first down and won 18-16. It was a clear hold, but from an officiating standpoint, it is always a tougher call to make when so much is at stake in the playoffs and the game is on the line. Officials must block that realization from their mind and make the correct call, whether the play is in the second quarter of a regulation game or the final two minutes of a divisional playoff.
After the game, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce ripped Cheffers for that call, saying it wasn’t holding. He said Cheffers doesn’t deserve to wear a “zebra” shirt in a Foot Locker store much less on a football field. Well, he is half right. Cheffers won’t be wearing his officiating shirt in a Foot Locker, but he will be wearing it in Houston on Feb. 5, when he is scheduled to be the referee in the Super Bowl. Kelce, on the other hand, will be at home watching on TV. Funny how Kelce forgot to mention his key dropped pass or his 15-yard penalty for inexplicably shoving Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell to the ground. Blame someone else. It is easier that way.
My playoff weekend ended in a hotel tornado shelter. A ferocious storm blew through Dallas on Sunday night and guests were told to get away from all windows. It was kind of harrowing, I must say.
I love living in Sacramento.