The San Francisco 49ers came up just short in their comeback bid in against the Baltimore Ravens, falling 34-31 after trailing by 22 points following the opening kickoff of the second half. Many Niners fans were left unhappy with the result, many feeling they were robbed by officials more than being bested by the Ravens. If anybody is upset with the work of the referees in the Super Bowl, they have only the NFL to blame.
Jerome Boger was selected as the head referee for the Super Bowl by the league, but he didn’t really deserve to be there. The Super Bowl is often where the NFL rewards its best officials, giving them the biggest game of the year to ensure the highest quality officiating. The best game deserves the best refs, right? Well, not this time.
Boger had pretty unspectacular grades for his in-season work in 2012. According to Football Zebras, a site that is devoted solely to NFL officiating, those grades were mysteriously changed after the fact to pump up Boger’s resume. On top of that, Boger didn’t have enough playoff experience, according to the NFL’s own guidelines, to even be eligible for Super Bowl duty. Those guidelines, however, were also changed to make him qualified.
The league denies any and all of this, but current and former officials have confirmed to both Yahoo and the New York Times that there was a concerted effort by the NFL to “rig” the system to get Boger assigned to the Super Bowl. But why bend over backwards for one referee?
There are two prevailing theories. The first is the NFL’s desire to show some diversity. Boger was hired by the NFL under a recruiting program that was specifically designed to find minority referees and became just the second African-American referee to work a Super Bowl (Mike Carey was the first in 2008). With the heat the league has taken for the failures of the Rooney Rule in hiring minority coaches, the NFL may have wanted to show diversity in its officiating on its biggest stage and inflating Boger’s qualifications was a way of achieving that.
The second theory is that the NFL is punishing its higher profile, more experienced referees for the fallout from the referee lockout that extended into the regular season. When the labor dispute between the refs and NFL ended, some of the more respected officials took public “victory laps” that rubbed the league the wrong way. Gene Steratore tipped his cap to a cheering crowd as he soaked up their adulation and Ed Hochuli appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has a track record of holding a grudge and getting his way, and he continued the trend by freezing both Steratore and Hochuli out of the playoffs as neither worked a single postseason game.
The league was set on getting Boger into the big game, even if it meant changing their own rules and cleaning up the referee’s grades to do so. Several former officials told Yahoo and the NYT that the requirements for officiating a Super Bowl included experience in a conference championship game. Boger has never worked a conference championship, but he has refereed three playoff games, all in the divisional round. The league denied that conference championship experience was ever a requirement, though it’s been widely known to be for years.
Then there is the grades. Officials after every game are graded on their performance and receive “downgrades” for blown calls or blatantly missed calls. This season, Boger received eight downgrades, which is an average number but enough to disqualify an official from working the playoffs. Refs are given the opportunity to appeal, and Boger did, winning all eight of his appeals, a record that one former referee said was “unheard of.”
Jerome Boger is far from the worst referee in football, but he’s just as equally far from being the best. The Super Bowl is supposed to be the showcase of the best of the best the NFL has to offer, which includes the officiating. Through careful machinations, however, it appears the NFL decided to push “their” guy rather than the “best” guy, and the game suffers for it.