By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — One might reasonably assume that any officials involved in any way with arguably the biggest blown call in NFL history would not be put in a position to officiate the highest-profile sporting event in the world for at least a year or two.
One would be wrong.
The NFL has tabbed referee Bill Vinovich to be the referee for Super Bowl LIV. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, then you’re probably not a fan of the New Orleans Saints.
Vinovich was the referee at the Superdome last January when the officiating crew missed a clear and obvious case of pass interference committed by the Rams against the Saints.
It was significant, too; instead of being able to drain the clock under 30 seconds to kick a chip shot field goal to take a lead, the Saints had to kick that field goal with 1:45 left in regulation. The Rams ended up getting a 48-yard field goal on the ensuing drive to tie the game, before kicking a 57-yard field goal in overtime to win the game. The Rams went on to the Super Bowl, while the Saints’ season ended in brutal fashion, thanks in large part to that missed call.
Of course, the referee does not have the responsibility to call pass interference penalties. Stationed in the offensive backfield, the referee — Vinovich in this case — watches for holding on the line of scrimmage and for roughing the passer. Though his eyes may move up the field once the throw has been released and the quarterback has not been contacted, he’s not really in the best position to throw flags for penalties that take place some 15-20 yards away from him.
In this controversial game, the nearest officials were head linesman Patrick Turner and side judge Gary Cavaletto. It was Cavaletto who had the best view of the play. He opted to not throw a flag and then stepped toward a charging Sean Payton, seemingly indicating with his hands that it was a “bang-bang” play.
It was not a bang-bang play.
And it was botched so badly that the NFL hastily added a process for challenging and reviewing pass interference in 2019. It was a disastrous experiment.
Vinovich, though, remains unscathed. While he did not have the specific responsibility for that penalty, the NFL’s operations website lists the referee as the “leader of officiating crew” who “oversees everything related to the officials.” That responsibility surely would allow for him to have helped out his crew members if they missed a call — especially one of great import at a critical moment in the game.
Vinovich also didn’t help matters when he kind of fibbed while trying to explain himself to a pool reporter after that controversial ending.
“It’s a judgment call by the officials. I personally have not seen the play,” Vinovich said.
In a follow-up question, the reporter made sure to get Vinovich on the record.
Question: You said you didn’t see the play, correct?
Footage from the play, though, showed Vinovich staring right at it.
This league, man.
Vinovich: “I personally have not seen the play.”
Real life footage: pic.twitter.com/43QgKAlZyH
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) January 21, 2019
Despite that comment appearing to have been an out-and-out lie, Vinovich faced no known discipline.
He’s now getting a Super Bowl.
Vinovich has been a referee for numerous big games in recent years, including Super Bowl XLIX between the Patriots and Seahawks. He was also the ref for the 2015 NFC Championship Game between the Panthers and Cardinals, and the 2016 NFC title between the Falcons and Packers. This postseason, he was the ref for Tennessee’s stunning upset in Baltimore.
While the awarding of a Super Bowl to a referee is based on performance, and while — again — Vinovich was not responsible for throwing a flag on this particular play, there’s still the unwelcome image for the NFL to take the referee from one of the most controversial missed calls in league history and reward him a year later with the highest honor and opportunity that the profession offers.
At least Saints fans won’t have to worry about being overly invested in the game. After what they endured a year ago, that would have been a cruel, cruel fate.