Super Bowl 2021 referee, officials: Who is assigned to Chiefs vs. Buccaneers?
History will be made during Super Bowl 55 no matter what happens between the Buccaneers and Chiefs.
Sarah Thomas, in her sixth year as an NFL official, will become the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. She’s part of a seven-person crew of on-field officials that will be led by Carl Cheffers.
Cheffers is in his 21st year officiating in the NFL, and he’s already worked one Super Bowl (Super Bowl 51 in 2017, when the Patriots and Tom Brady came back from down 28-3). He’s joined by four others on the crew who have already worked one Super Bowl. Thomas, James Coleman and replay official Mike Wimmer will be working in their first Super Bowl.
Referees have come under heavy scrutiny during the 2021 playoffs for controversial call/no-calls on pass interference and hits to the head. The NFL will certainly be hoping that no one is talking about the officials beyond Thomas’ history-making come Super Bowl Sunday — if no one is talking about the folks in stripes, that’s a good thing for the league.
The other major officiating narrative for the 2020 season was the alteration on how holding is called. Holding penalties were greatly reduced this season as officials let more things go, but that would just create even more anger if the officials in the Super Bowl get holding-happy.
Below, you’ll find more about the officiating crew assigned to the final game of the NFL season along with what each of their roles will be on the field.
Super Bowl 2021 referee, officials
Below are the officials the NFL assigned to Super Bowl 55 between the Chiefs and Buccaneers, including their NFL experience and the Super Bowls on their resume.
The first seven officials listed will be on the field during Super Bowl 55. Wimmer will be in the replay booth, which has been his role in all but two games of his NFL officiating career. Wimmer, Coleman and Thomas have never officiated in a Super Bowl, while five of the on-field officials have been in one prior Super Bowl.
The NFL chooses its Super Bowl officials based on a combination of experience along with performance throughout the season. According to Football Zebras, in order to be considered for the Super Bowl, a referee “must have at least five years of seniority, worked three years at the referee position and worked a playoff game as a referee in the previous postseason.” All other officials must have at least five years of experience with a conference championship game (or on-field assignments in three of the last five postseasons) on his or her resume.
“Their body of work over the course of a 17-game season has earned them the honor of officiating the biggest game on the world’s biggest stage,” said NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Troy Vincent, Sr., in a release. “They are the best of the best.”
Who is Sarah Thomas?
Thomas becomes the first woman to officiate in a Super Bowl. She spent her first two seasons (2015-2016) as a line judge before working as a down judge for the past four years.
A rise through the officiating ranks led Thomas to the NFL. She began working youth and high school football games in her home state of Mississippi after graduating from the University of Mobile. Then she was hired by Conference USA in 2007 and worked in the collegiate ranks before making the jump to the NFL in 2015.
Shortly after Thomas entered the NFL, Gerry Austin (who hired her for Conference USA) praised Thomas’ application of the rules and communication skills.
“Coaches have confidence in Sarah’s ability to officiate in our conference,” Austin told ESPN, “and I think that’s what’s helped her and carried her over to where she’s in the NFL.”
Thomas told CBS News in 2019 that it’s always been about the work for her.
“I’ve always said that if you do something because you love it and not try to prove somebody wrong or get recognition for it, the recognition probably just is going to happen,” Thomas said.
Now, Thomas’ work has led her to an officiating role in the biggest football game of all.
“Sarah Thomas has made history again as the first female Super Bowl official,” Vincent said. “Her elite performance and commitment to excellence has earned her the right to officiate the Super Bowl. Congratulations to Sarah on this well-deserved honor.”
NFL officials assignments, responsibilities
Each of the on-field officials during an NFL game have different responsibilities. That includes looking at different parts of each play both pre- and post-snap to watch for specific penalties and other actions of the game.
Below are the responsibilities of each on-field official, via NFL Operations.
Lining up 10-12 yards behind the line of scrimmage in the offensive backfield, the referee is the white-hat wearing leader of the crew who signals all penalties and is the final authority on all rulings. Below are the referee’s assignments on run plays, pass plays and special-teams plays.
Lining up next to the referee 10-12 yards behind the line of scrimmage in the offensive backfield, the umpire primarily watches for holding and blocking fouls. He or she also reviews player equipment, counts offensive players on the field and marks off penalty yardage. Below are the umpire’s assignments on run plays, pass plays and special teams-plays.
Lining up on the sideline and looking directly down the line of scrimmage, the down judge directs the chain crew, informs the ref of the down and rules on sideline plays on the nearest half of the field. Below are the down judge’s assignments on run plays, pass plays and special-teams plays.
Lining up on the sideline opposite the down judge and looking directly down the line of scrimmage, the line judge has similar duties without the chain crew direction. Below are the line judge’s assignments on run plays, pass plays and special-teams plays.
Lining up on the same sideline as the line judge but 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage in the defensive backfield, the field judge counts defensive players and watches wide receivers/defensive backs on the nearest side of the field. Below are the field judge’s assignments on run plays, pass plays and special-teams plays.
Lining up on the same sideline as the down judge but 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage in the defensive backfield, the side judge backs up the clock operator, signals to the ref when time expires for each quarter and counts defensive players. Below are the side judge’s assignments on run plays, pass plays and special-teams plays.
Usually lining up on the tight end’s side, the back judge is positioned 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage in the defensive backfield. The back judge keeps track of the play clock and all TV breaks, counts defensive players and focuses on tight ends and all the players on the end of the lines. Below are the back judge’s assignments on run plays, pass plays and special-teams plays.
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