TUNNEYSIDE of SPORTS – Playoff Assignments
Written by Dr Jim Tunney on January 15, 2018
On the TUNNEYSIDE of SPORTS January 15, 2018, #675 – Playoff Assignments
After further review…As we work our way through the National Football League playoffs toward Super Bowl LII, to be played indoors in the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota on February 4, 2018, it brings up a personal memory. Forty years ago, today – January 15, 1978 – I officiated Super Bowl XII in the Superdome in New Orleans. Louisiana. It we the first Super Bowl to be played indoors.
That 1978 playoff assignment was unexpected and came via a phone call on the Tuesday before the game. In those days game officials received only one playoff game each season. I hadn’t received a playoff assignment, and thought I might not get one that year. Moreover, I was honored to have officiated Super Bowl XI the year before in the Rose Bowl, and the NFL had never assigned back-to-back Super Bowls in the referee position. It hasn’t happened since. Officials in other on-field positions have had back-to-back assignments, but not in the referee position. Indeed, I was honored and grateful.
Art McNally, Supervisor of Officials for the NFL, was adamant that those receiving playoff assignments not reveal them, except to one’s own family. So it was a total surprise when Los Angeles Times sportswriter Bob Oates called to congratulate me and said he wanted to do a story about the “only referee to be assigned back-to-back Super Bowls.” I told Oates that he had to get permission from McNally, which he did, on the condition that he didn’t publish his story until the day of the game. It was a promise-kept. “Dean of NFL Officials” was the headline for the L.A. Times sports article written by Oates and published on Sunday January 15, 1978.
The game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Denver Broncos was not a memorable Super Bowl game, unless you are a ‘Boys fan (Dallas won 27-10). However, there were two plays in the game that in today’s game would have been reviewed by replay. One was a rollout pass by Dallas Quarterback Roger Staubach that was intercepted by Denver in their end zone, but I ruled Staubach had stepped out of bounds before he threw the ball. Video replay had not yet been instituted in 1978, so the call stood. It was confirmed by a photo later that week.
The other questionable call came on a pass caught by Cowboys receiver Butch Johnson for a touchdown, but as Johnson hit the ground and rolled over, the ball came out. What defines a catch in today’s game was not in place in 1978, so it was ruled a catch and touchdown. My two sons Mike and Mark, who were in the Superdome that day, agreed with both calls. Denver fans might remember differently.
Will you recall that game? Was it memorable?