MIKE PEREIRA knows the pressure Carl Cheffers and his officiating crew will be under during Super Bowl 57 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.
That’s because he either hired or promoted most of them.
As the National Football League’s vice president of officiating in 2008, Pereira promoted Cheffers from side judge to referee. After 14 years with the league, Pereira retired and joined Fox in 2010 as a rules analyst.
Pereira’s move to television paved the way for officials to continue to lend their expertise once they left the field. It has also increased scrutiny on officials with each replay decision or close call analyzed.
Pereira, who will be in the booth for his fifth Super Bowl with Fox, knows that a call in the biggest game of the season is the last thing an official wants to be known for.
“I have always felt you are remembered by your performance in the Super Bowl,” Pereira said. “There’s no doubt that each of those guys on the field feels the pressure. I think every official likes a challenge.”
Fox went into uncharted waters by hiring Pereira, so much so that neither party knew his role during the week. The original plan was for Pereira to write a column and create a video rulebook online so fans could learn the rules. It was a last-minute decision by then-Fox Sports president David Hill before the 2010 openers to have Pereira in the studio in Los Angeles in case there was a play that needed a rules interpretation.
Thanks to Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson, Pereira made an immediate impact.
During the fourth quarter of the Detroit Lions game against the Chicago Bears, Johnson appeared to catch what would have been the game-winning touchdown. Johnson came down with the ball as his back and knee hit the ground, which most considered a touchdown.
However, under the NFL’s process of completing the catch rules at the time, Johnson lost control of the ball after his hand hit the ground, which made it incomplete.
“It looked like the winning touchdown pass to everyone except the people in New York and me. I went on air and described why I thought they would leave it as an incomplete pass,” Pereira said. “I think that one play defined how this position would work, whether it was Fox or any other network.
“I don’t think anybody necessarily thought at that time that it would expand to all the other networks, but it went from an internet to on-air presence.”
Pereira’s role has expanded to most weeks in the booth with Fox’s top broadcast team of Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen.
Dean Blandino, who worked under Pereira in the league office and eventually became VP of officiating, said there was a little trepidation when Pereira moved to Fox because of the unknown.
“I think ultimately it became a positive and allowed someone with that expertise to explain things rather than have fans sit at home wondering what just happened,” said Blandino, who joined Fox in 2017. “They might disagree with the call or the rule, but at least they understand the basic concept.”
John Parry, who has been with ESPN since 2019, said the opinion of officials at the time Pereira started at Fox was good because it gave viewers a window into the decision-making process.
Opinions about rules analysts have also, at times, become polarizing, depending on the officials’ performances. During the conference championship games, the hashtag #NFLRigged was trending on social media because of what many deemed to be poor calls.
In the case of Pereira, Parry, CBS’ Gene Steratore, and NBC’s Terry McAulay, sometimes the less they are on the air, the better because it means there isn’t an officiating controversy.
Both Pereira and Parry said the attention on Cheffers and his crew has ramped up because of what happened with calls in both conference championship games.
Parry compared it to when he was the referee for Super Bowl 53. The main topic leading into that game was the blown pass interference call between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game.
“That’s all anyone talked about—how bad officiating was, the wrong team went, and how can they not fix that? So you walk into Atlanta, and you know, every eye is on us. So the pressure for that one was huge,” said Parry, who will be part of ESPN’s Super Bowl feed to Australia.
Pereira said that Cheffers calling his second Super Bowl in three years is a positive, even if others point out what his crew did during the regular season and playoffs.
Super Bowl assignments, though, are awarded to the top officials at each position.
“You’re already hearing stuff about people saying, ‘Well, Carl’s crew called the most penalties this year,’ They did, but this is not a crew assignment, so it’s not a way to judge,” Pereira said. “I’ve got an ultimate comfort level when it comes to how Carl will do.
“As difficult as it was in the (conference) championship games, if you have a nice solid performance, and nobody says anything about you on social media or in the newspapers afterward. It soothes a lot of nerves.”
Image credits: AP