Gene Steratore’s first game in the NFL was on September 8, 2003. He served as a field judge when the Eagles hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Eagles lost.
A decade and a half later, he’s the man refereeing Super Bowl LII.
Steratore was a field judge for three seasons in the NFL before being promoted to referee, a position he’s held for 12 years. This is his first Super Bowl, though he was chosen as the alternate for Super Bowl XLIV after the 2009 season.
He’s regarded as one of the top referees in the NFL and does a decent job of keeping the game moving. For those nervous about an Ed Hochuli-like performance by the referee — the musclebound referee who over-explains every call — Steratore isn’t a bad Super Bowl option. He’s not one to shy away from facetime with the crowd, but his explanations are usually brief, which will hopefully keep the game moving and not have NFL Twitter freaking out about how annoying he is the whole game.
Steratore, who will turn 55 the day after the Super Bowl, hails from Washington, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. He owns a sanitation supply business with his family, including brother Tony, who is also an NFL official. The company was founded in 1988, and sells everything from mops to industrial cleaning machinery to hand soaps and disinfectants.
Steratore is also a referee almost year round, as he officiates college basketball games, mostly for the Big Ten conference. He was profiled by Peter King’s MMQB in 2013, in case you ever wanted to see what the Western, PA kitchen of an NFL referee looks like. Also, there’s this:
The NFL likes Gene Steratore. You can tell by the assignments: He’s reffed the last three Peyton Manning-Tom Brady games. He’s self-assured, confident making the calls and even more confident when the microphone is turned on and he has to explain the penalty to America. His folksy Pittsburgh accent helps.
Steratore’s controversial moments
The NFL might like Steratore, but fans in many cities do not. We’re still debating if “Dez Bryant caught the ball” against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoff round of 2014. Eagles fans were quite pleased when the call came down that Bryant did not, by rule, maintain the catch through the ground, and was therefore ruled incomplete. The Dallas Cowboys were subsequently knocked out of the playoffs, and still no one in the NFL knows what a catch is because of it.
Steratore, if you hadn’t guessed by now, was the referee.
He was also the referee when Calvin Johnson caught what would have been a game-winning touchdown against the Chicago Bears in 2010, before it was deemed he did not “complete the catch.” The ruling is one of the three most controversial decisions in the modern history of the NFL — along with the Dez play and the Tuck Rule.
The Lions’ head coach in the Calvin Johnson Rule game? Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
This season, Steratore was part of a controversial play in a Week 15 Sunday Night Football game between the Cowboys and Raiders, in which he used a folded index card to measure for a first down.
It was an unorthodox decision, though not against the rules. That first down call kept possession with the Cowboys, who subsequently scored the winning field goal on that drive. Cowboys fans probably still haven’t forgiven him for the Dez play, though.
Eagles, Patriots and the Super Bowl zebras
This season, Steratore’s crews have called an average of 13.94 penalties per game, the most in any season he’s been a referee. Compared to other refs in the NFL, he is usually under the league average. The last two seasons before this year he called roughly two-and-a-half penalties less than the average, but this year he called nearly three-quarters of a penalty per game more.
Steratore has worked Eagles games 18 times in his career and the Eagles are 12-6 in those games. Since 2006, when Steratore became a referee, he’s been tasked with officiating the Eagles 13 times. The Birds are 10-3 in those games, but were penalized more times or for more yards in eight of the 13 contests.
Steratore was the referee for this season’s 51-23 rout over the Denver Broncos.
In his time with NFL, Steratore has worked Patriots games 23 times, with New England winning 18, losing five. As a referee, the Pats are 12-5 in games Steratore has called, but they’ve been penalized more times or for more yards in nine of those 17 games. He had two Patriots games this year, with the Pats winning both easily.
Just once in his career has Steratore worked a game between the Eagles and Patriots: on November 25, 2007. The Eagles lost to the Patriots 31-28 in Foxboro that day. The Birds were penalized just three times for 18 yards, while the Pats were flagged for seven penalties totalling 44 yards.
That loss dropped the Eagles to 5-6 on the season, while the Patriots improved to 11-0. The Patriots went undefeated that regular season, eventually losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. The Eagles that day were quarterbacked by AJ Feeley.
Yes, the only other time Steratore refereed a game between the Eagles and Patriots, New England was headed toward history and the Birds were led by a backup quarterback.
Steratore’s Super Bowl crew
This, from FootballZebras.com, is a rundown of the other members of the Super Bowl officiating crew:
The crew has five officials that have worked a Super Bowl before, which is the most since Super Bowl XXXVIII at the end of the 2003 season, when all seven had prior experience. Umpire Roy Ellison worked Super Bowl XLIII in the 2008 season; line judge Byron Boston was assigned to Super Bowls XXXIV (1999) and XLVII (2012); field judge Tom Hill officiated Super Bowls XL (2005) and XLIX (2014); side judge Scott Edwards officiated Super Bowl 50 two years ago; and back judge Perry Paganelli worked Super Bowl XLI (2006). The 7 combined prior Super Bowls is the most since, again, Super Bowl XXXVIII, which also totaled 7 (one each).
That’s an experienced group, but knowing Steratore’s history, let’s hope some of them know what is or isn’t a catch, in case it comes up again on the league’s biggest stage.