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Greatest call in Super Bowl history?
The Super Bowl MVP?
In my world, it has to be Laird Hayes.
But Hayes doesn’t play for either of those teams. He was a member of Sunday’s Super Bowl officiating crew — the side judge.
On our biggest stage, in front of what may turn out to be the largest audience of any television program in history, Hayes faced the biggest call of his career — and he nailed it. When you stop and analyze it, we get replay after replay to dissect every close play. Hayes had only 1/26 of a second to make the right call. And he did.
The Giants had the ball, first-and-10 from their 12-yard line with 3:46 left in the game. The Patriots led 17-15.
On the first play of what would be the game-winning drive, Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed a 38-yard pass down the left sideline to Mario Manningham with New England’s Sterling Moore and Patrick Chung defending. As he came down with the ball, Manningham was forced out of bounds. It was a bang-bang play, and the biggest question was whether Manningham was able to keep both feet in bounds while maintaining possession as he was going to the ground and falling out of bounds.
It was an obvious play for New England coach Bill Belichick to challenge. Heck, I would have challenged it, too.
There are a couple of key elements to discuss. Manningham instantly got control of the ball, with his right foot touching down first, followed by his left foot that was also in bounds. Additionally, he was able to maintain control of the ball throughout the entire process of the catch while going to the ground. It was an incredible catch that, in my opinion, rivals David Tyree’s catch in Super Bowl XLII. Referee John Parry, with input from replay official Larry Nemmers, correctly confirmed that Manningham got both feet down in bounds and that the call was correct.
I believe Hayes made the toughest call in a Super Bowl since edition XLIII, when field judge Greg Gautreaux correctly ruled that Pittsburgh’s Santonio Holmes got both toes down on the winning catch with 35 seconds to play as the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23. At the conclusion of that game, I hugged a teary-eyed Gautreaux, who realized he got it right on the biggest call of his career.
I only wish I was in Indianapolis so I could have gone into the locker room and given Hayes the same kind of embrace. This wasn’t Hayes’ first Super Bowl; in fact, it was his third (2002 and 2004). But this, without a doubt, was the biggest call of his career.
We are so quick to criticize when officials do something wrong, yet it seems we are very slow to give praise when they get the big calls right. Hayes made a very difficult call in real time.
Congratulations to Laird and to the entire crew on a well-officiated game.
Other interesting calls
The situation: The Patriots had the ball, first-and-10 from the New England 6-yard line with 9 minutes left in the first quarter. There was no score.
The play: New England quarterback Tom Brady’s attempted pass deep down the middle fell incomplete. Brady, who was getting pressured by the Giants’ Justin Tuck, was called for intentional grounding and, because he was in the end zone, a safety was awarded to the Giants.
My take: Who would have predicted the first flag of the game would have cost a team two points? Brady had time to throw in the pocket, but nobody was open. Just before he was going to be tackled, he threw the ball deep downfield into an area that wasn’t remotely close to an eligible offensive player. That’s classic intentional grounding. If Brady had been out of the pocket, it’s a legal play; however, because he was in the pocket and under pressure, it was a penalty. Because the spot of the foul was in the end zone, it’s a safety.
The flag was delayed because the referee stays with the quarterback and the official covering downfield (back judge) is responsible for going to the referee to tell him there was no receiver in the area. Then the flag gets thrown. It was an early challenge for this officiating crew, but handled perfectly.
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The situation: The Giants had the ball, third-and-3 from the New England 11-yard line with 4:23 left in the first quarter. The Giants led 2-0.
The play: Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed a 4-yard pass to Victor Cruz, who had the ball stripped out of his hands by New England’s Sterling Moore. It was recovered by the Patriots’ Brandon Spikes at the New England 9. But a penalty was called on the Patriots for 12 men on the field and the Giants maintained possession. The Giants scored a touchdown two plays later to make it 9-0.
My take: If there hadn’t been a penalty called on this play, we would have had the first controversy of the Super Bowl. Not only was there a question as to whether Cruz’ forward progress was stopped, but it also sounded like there was a quick tweet of the whistle while the ball was loose. Regardless of that, the officials on the field ruled a fumble with a recovery by New England.
Think back to the NFC Championship Game between the Giants and the 49ers, when the officials ruled that New York’s Ahmad Bradshaw had his forward progress stopped before the Niners’ Tramaine Brock stripped him of the ball at the Giants’ 15-yard line with just less than 2:30 left in the game and the score tied 17-17. It was a very close play — maybe even closer than Sunday’s play. If the play in San Francisco was an instance of forward progress stopping the runner before the fumble, then this should have been, as well.
In either case, a ruling (or a lack of a ruling) of forward progress is not reviewable. Without this penalty, fans would have been left wondering why the play in San Francisco was ruled forward progress and this one wasn’t. In my opinion, both plays should have been ruled forward progress and not fumbles. But it was a moot point because of the penalty.
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The situation: The Giants had the ball, third-and-10 at the New England 43-yard line with 9:35 left in the game. The Patriots led 17-15.
The play: Manning attempted a pass to Manningham, but it was broken up by Moore. Giants coach Tom Coughlin was visibly upset, as he thought pass interference should have been called.
My take: I think it was a great no call. Moore’s left hand is on Manningham’s shoulder, but it does not twist or turn the receiver. The right hand went around Manningham’s back and knocked the ball away. It’s too tight to call pass interference because the contact was not enough to “significantly hinder” Manningham’s ability to catch the ball. The officiating crew had been letting them play the entire game, so they wouldn’t have wanted to call anything ticky-tack at that point of the game.