By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The assignments of officials for the AFC and NFC championships have been made, and for the Patriots, a familiar name will be donning the white cap. That name is Clete Blakeman, who will be the referee for Sunday night’s AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.
Blakeman is well known in New England for his famed non-call at the end of a Patriots-Panthers Monday Night Football game back in 2013 — a comically bad decision to pick up a flag that had been thrown on an obvious infraction, which cost the Patriots a chance to take a snap at the 1-yard line with a chance to win the game. That game broadcast ended with an irate Tom Brady berating Blakeman as the two walked off the field.
Fourteen months later, Blakeman was in Foxboro as an alternate official for the AFC Championship Game between the Colts and Patriots. That was a game that came to be known for some accusations about deflated footballs, and Blakeman was front and center for that fiasco. Blakeman partook in the measuring of the PSI in 11 Patriots footballs and four Colts footballs. His measurements with his gauge on the Patriots’ footballs came up significantly lower than the measurements by fellow alternate official Dyrol Prioleau, by an average of 0.4 PSI per football. Blakeman’s measurements on the Colts’ footballs also came in noticeably higher than the measurements taken by Prioleau, by an average of 0.41 PSI per football. (Though that is only if we take Ted Wells and Exponent at their word that the “anomaly” on Colts ball No. 3 was a transcription error. It just as easily could have been user error.)
The discrepancy was most likely due to the two officials switching gauges, but the two officials apparently didn’t take note of such a switch. And as most people with cursory experience in the world of physics later explained, the testing procedure was fraught with major issues.
With temperatures expected to be in the single digits Sunday night in Kansas City, the world should hope that Blakeman stays far, far away from gauges and needles at halftime.
Blakeman was also responsible for giving Ted Wells the following characterization of referee Walt Anderson: “Blakeman recalls that although Anderson is usually
calm and composed leading up to a game, Anderson was visibly concerned and uncharacteristically used an expletive when the game balls could not be located.”
Blakeman’s lack of recollection of Jim McNally taking the bag of footballs to the field was also used by Wells to condemn the Patriots.
The Patriots have not had much success with Blakeman. As a referee, Blakeman has called eight Patriots games since 2010; New England is 3-5 in those games, good for a .375 winning percentage. The Patriots are 124-32 in all other games during that span, for a winning percentage of .795.
Outside of the Carolina loss, those results are merely coincidental. Those losses include one at Cleveland in 2010, at Seattle in 2012 (the “You Mad Bro?” game), at the Jets in 2015, and at Detroit earlier this year. Those weren’t particularly well-played games by the Patriots, with two of those losses coming in blowout fashion. (Update: There was, though, one peculiar, rare call made in that Seattle game, one that cost New England an easy field goal opportunity in a game they eventually lost by one point.)
And sports being sports, conspiracies can go both ways. Last year, when Blakeman served as the referee for the AFC title game in Foxboro, the internet exploded with rage when Blakeman patted Brady’s shoulder after the Patriots completed the victory. That was the same day when the internet accused members of the officiating crew of laughing and celebrating with the Patriots after a touchdown, when in fact that was merely an official chuckling that he had just broken up a “fight” between two celebrating teammates.
While Blakeman’s decision to pick up a flag in Carolina was without a doubt a bad call, his history and the Patriots’ record in his games shouldn’t necessarily cause controversy. The NFL, after all, only has so many referees, and the league tends to want to put its best officials in the biggest games. For Blakeman, two straight AFC championships is the mark of what the league considers to be strong work. He also was the referee for Super Bowl 50, at the end of the 2015 season. Clearly, his officiating is grading out well.
However, this question is more than fair: If Walt Coleman was never assigned to a Raiders game after he properly applied the Tuck Rule in the famed Snow Bowl, then how and why should any official who was involved in the farce that was the DeflateGate air pressure measurement process and whose testimony was instrumental in the NFL calling for significant punishment on the team and the quarterback ever be assigned to another Patriots game — let alone two consecutive conference championship games?