Despite ties to a messy, confusing, and minor coin flip fiasco earlier this postseason, as well as the picking up of a flag with little explanation back in 2012, and his role in the “Deflategate” scandal, the NFL chose Clete Blakeman to serve as head referee for Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers.
Blakeman’s certainly been part of his fair share of controversies since he became a full-time referee in 2010, yet NFL fans tuning into the Super Bowl might relish in his tendency to move games along quickly and his propensity to keep penalty flags in his back pocket.
It was Blakeman who decided to “do-over” the overtime coin flip between the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional round almost a month ago, and he also picked up a pass interference flag that ultimately resulted in a Panthers victory over New England during the 2012 regular season. That win moved the Panthers to 2-2 in games called by Blakeman, and the Broncos are 5-0 in his games.
And in last year’s AFC title game Blakeman and fellow alternate referee Dyrol Prioleau were the ones tasked with testing the inflation level of the footballs used by the Patriots and Colts after some complaints were registered. Every ball Blakeman tested showed lower than regulated ball pressure, and he ultimately ended up being interviewed for the NFL’s Wells Report, stating he saw a Patriots locker room assistant take the balls into a bathroom.
All those ties to some of the more bizarre moments in NFL history aside, Blakeman will work his very first Super Bowl and his stats suggest a smooth competition. According to ESPN, Blakeman’s crews ranked No. 12 out of 17 in the NFL for penalties called, and his games have moved along quicker than the league average in four of his six seasons.
Considering all the lengthy commercial breaks and the halftime show acts, the expected 100 million to 115 million television viewers at home and the 75,000 spectators in Levi’s Stadium will appreciate a steady flowing game.
Blakeman will be joined by Jeff Rice, Boris Cheek, and Keith Ferguson, a group that’s worked four combined Super Bowls. Rice, who usually serves as an umpire, and his usual crews on average call 13.8 penalties for 111.2 yards per game between this postseason and regular season, according to Pro-FootballReference.com.
Cheek’s a field and side judge, and his crews averaged 13.38 penalties for 113.1 yards per game this season, while Ferguson works as a back judge and averages 13.8 penalties for 120.8 yards per game.
That main group will work beside head linesman Wayne Mackie, line and side judge Rusty Baynes, and field and side judge Scott Edwards. This season Mackie and Edwards’ crews each averaged fewer penalties per game than the league average, while Baynes’ groups were .82 higher than the league average at 14.56 per game.