February 6, 2024 –San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York was asked the other day what comes to mind when he thinks back to his team’s Super Bowl loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs four years ago, and he quipped: “I mean, I remember Nick Bosa getting held on third-and-long — and that not getting called.”
So perhaps it would be understandable if York wasn’t thrilled to learn the referee in charge back then, Bill Vinovich, will be wearing the white cap in Las Vegas for the Niners vs. Chiefs championship rematch on Sunday, too. One of the biggest fears when it comes to the biggest sport’s biggest games might just be that a high-profile bad call or no-call will play a role in the result.
“The reality is, if something happens in the Super Bowl, that is going to stay with you the entire offseason. That is going to really direct and control the narrative around the finish. You can have a great year and you can have smooth sailing — and then something goes wrong in the Super Bowl, and that’s all people are going to remember,” said Dean Blandino, who was a replay official for two Super Bowls before a stint as the NFL’s head of officiating. “There’s no doubt that is a major, major concern.”
Team owners, front-office executives, coaches and players don’t want that.
Neither do fans — or gamblers (who, aside from a vested interest in the final score, can wager on the total number of penalty yards or which coach will challenge a call first in the Super Bowl).
Neither does the league. And neither do those wearing the black-and-white uniforms.
“No official wants to be part of the story,” said Mike Pereira, who worked on the field for NFL games and later oversaw all of the league’s officiating. “None of them.”
It’s bad enough when an error comes in the regular season, dominating next-day conversation, as seemed to happen repeatedly in 2023-24. It’s worse when it comes in the postseason. Worst of all is when it appears to directly affect a key game’s outcome, such as when a crew run by Vinovich — yes, there’s that name again — completely missed an obvious penalty (or two) late in the NFC championship game in January 2019, when the Los Angeles Rams beat the New Orleans Saints to reach the Super Bowl.