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Super Bowl XLIII was memorable not only for its riveting fourth quarter but also for a handful of critical officiating errors. One of the most egregious came immediately following Santonio Holmes's acrobatic, six-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds left that gave Pittsburgh a 27-23 victory.

We might as well start there since that play decided the outcome.

Holmes did a nice LeBron James imitation during his celebration, using the football as a mock shaker and throwing imaginary powder into the air. NFL rules specifically state, however, that using the ball as a prop is prohibited. Holmes should have been assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and that would have impacted Arizona's starting field position on its final possession.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, officials called Steelers linebacker James Harrison for unnecessary roughness when he made contact with punter Ben Graham. Officials said the contact took place after the change of possession, and Pittsburgh began inside its 1-yard line as a result.

Replays showed Harrison did much more than make illegal contact. Well after the punt, Harrison appeared to take a swing at Graham while holding him down. That ought to be cause for ejection, but perhaps officials figured the magnitude of the game precluded tossing the NFL's defensive player of the year.

In any case, it was an ugly sequence in one of the more memorable Super Bowls of all-time.

Another questionable call unfolded midway through the third quarter. On first and 10 at midfield, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger came under a heavy rush and tossed the ball toward the left sideline.

Officials called linebacker Karlos Dansby for roughing the passer on a borderline late hit in the back. A more appropriate call would have been intentional grounding, as Roethlisberger was not outside the tackle box and did not have a receiver near his pass.
The Steelers advanced 15 yards because of the penalty, and they got a 21-yard field goal out of the drive.

There was even some controversy on the Cardinals' final play when linebacker LaMarr Woodley sacked quarterback Kurt Warner, causing what officials ruled a fumble. Defensive end Brett Keisel recovered, and Roethlisberger knelt to run off the final five seconds.

Replays showed officials probably made the right call, but considering the stakes, shouldn't they have at least looked at it again to be unequivocally sure?

It was an appropriate ending to a Super Bowl with spotty at best officiating and to a season in which poor officiating was rampant.

By Gene Wang  |  February 2, 2009; 8:34 AM ET  | Category:  Refs Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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As long as the NFL continues to use "All Star" officiating crews for the playoffs and Super Bowl, we will continue to get very spotty officiating we saw throughout the playoffs and again yesterday. Anyone who has ever officated a sport where more than one referee, umpire or other offical is required knows how critical it is for the offcials to work as a team. Getting to know how your teammates position themselves, what they look for, what their interpreations of the rules are comes after working many games or matches together. The NFL , however, evaluates officials as individuals, not as full crews, hence many of crews in the playoffs may have never worked together and are unfamiliar with each other's styles or habits. Evalaute the CREWS during the regular season and reward the best CREWS with playoff assignments--you know, kind of like how they do with the TEAMS that make the playoffs !

Posted by: jmsbh | February 2, 2009 11:36 AM

Indeed, there were many spotty calls, but it might be a bit more balanced to at least include a few that hurt Pittsburgh, such as the holding call that caused the safety. That was almost a game changer. And even Michaels and Madden were like, 'huh? where?' when viewing the replay. As others have said, the officiating was crappy, but at least it went both ways.

Posted by: ChrisDC | February 2, 2009 11:44 AM

I noticed you only pointed out calls that went against Arizona. The safety was another controversial call. No other authority than Mike Golic said on his show this morning that when a lineman is being run over and pulls the defensive player down on top of themselves, it is hardly ever called.

Golic also disagreed on your assertion that Harrison should have been thrown out. He agreed (as even Steeler fans should) that it was clearly a 15-yard penalty, but he didn't think an ejection was warrented.

I'm not a fan of the Steelers or the Cardinals, but am just pointing out some of the "other side" of the ref story.

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | February 2, 2009 11:45 AM

Umm...Hate to burst your bubble there "blogger" but the Harrison penalty was called for his roughing on S Aaron Francisco..If you're going to do a blog about a bad call...at least get your facts straight. You have no credibility.

Posted by: wburn42167 | February 2, 2009 11:56 AM

What the NFL needs to do is put a halt to the myth that there is always a right / wrong judgment. Replays have never guaranteed the right call, they just give the illusion that this is a science and not someone's judgment.

They need to return to the days when an official's judgment of what he saw stands, and that's it.

And for the sake of all that is holy, can we return to the days of a QB fumbling is actually a fumble??? Throwing a pass my kiester...

Posted by: JkR- | February 2, 2009 12:51 PM

There were some calls that could have been questioned, but Wang's commentary is entirely one-sided. Roethlisberger was outside of the pocket when he threw the pass Wang disputes - that was shown to be the case on national tv. Warner's pass was much more questionable - if it was, indeed, an attempt at a forward pass, who was it to? There was no one in front of him, and he was "in the grasp." He was just trying to get rid of it, to avoid a sack. The call for roughing Roethlisberger was definitely a bad call, but so was the holding call in the endzone, which gave Arizona both points and good field position for their next possession.

Wang's rant smacks of sour grapes - that's all it is.

Posted by: garoth | February 2, 2009 12:52 PM

The officiating was horrible -- in BOTH directions. The refs swung from one extreme to the other, turning stalled drives into touchdowns and safeties. Harrison's attack on Graham was egregious and he should have been ejected immediately. The "ball as a prop rule" is applied rigorously during the season, and the penalty should have been automatic. Three fifteen-yard penalties on one drive? Doesn't the bar go up ajust a notch after the first two? The safety was a ticky-tack call which should never have been made -- perhaps a misguided attempt to balance the scales. Oh, and Harrison made a great interception and runback t the end of the first half. but his left arm CLEARLY touched the goal line before the ball went over. If the league had fixed goal-line cameras for replay like they should, this wouldn't even be in question.

But the crowning insult to the game of football, as much as it may not have changed the outcome, was the refusal to perform even a cursory review of the Kurt Warner "fumble" at the end of the game. There was a clear argument that, despite the ball being knocked loose, Warner retained control and threw a forward pass which was probably illegal grounding. I can understand if the call were upheld on review, but not reviewing this was an insult to the game of football. Now we know that the circus act is more important than the integrity of the game. It all flows down from the top -- today's NFL management is cowardly and inept...

Posted by: jerkhoff | February 2, 2009 2:55 PM

were any of the posters here watching the same game I did? The number and amount of holding calls (which, truth be told could be made on every passing play in an NFL game)made against Arizona vs. those made against Pittsburg) was staggering. I dare anyone to watch the replay of each and every time Big Ben evaded the Cardinal rush and look around him rather than at him; there were so many Steelers holding on each of these plays they should have been arrested for mugging. Not one call.

And, for Golic to rationalize that the holding call in the end zone "is almost never called when an offensive lineman is run over by a defender" simply misstates what happened: the center grabbed the Cardinal players jersey and wrested him to the ground and held him there to prevent him from getting to Big Ben. Good call but not enought to offset an obvious officiating bias against Arizona including two quesionable unsportsmanlike calls on one drive.

Still, the biggest blunder of the game was not made by the officials but by Warner in rushing a throw at the goal line with first and goal. Why try to shove a pass into the teeth of the defense when you have likely the best fade route runner in the league in Larry Fitzgerald? Bad call, bad execution and it was a 14 point play. The fact Arizona came back to lead this game made it a great game to watch and the officiating didn't help them but, in the end, the Arizona coaching staff and Warner bear the blame for the loss.

Posted by: bobfbell | February 2, 2009 3:55 PM

Arizona's offensive line was overmatched and had to resort to holding. This has been the case all season long, and when the refs choose to overlook those calls, the game is unfairly tilted in favor of the offense.

There was a blatant defensive holding against Holmes along the sideline which wasn't flagged.

The safety was a safety.

Also, Fitzgerald illegally ran down the sidelines out of bounds to tackle Harrison on the interception return. Didn't make a difference but could have and should have been called.

The roughing the QB was a fair call. The defender finished the hit/followed through even as he was looking down field to see where the pass went.

As long as I have been watching football, the calls have gone against my team and for the other guy. I wonder why that is ;)

Posted by: writinron | February 2, 2009 4:17 PM

"There was even some controversy on the Cardinals' final play when linebacker LaMarr Woodley sacked quarterback Kurt Warner, causing what officials ruled a fumble. Defensive end Brett Keisel recovered, and Roethlisberger knelt to run off the final five seconds.

Replays showed officials probably made the right call, but considering the stakes, shouldn't they have at least looked at it again to be unequivocally sure?"

It's even worse than that. Earlier in the game they ruled a similar play on Rothlesberger an incomplete pass. R-berger's arm was, to my eye, not going forward. In fact, it had not even gone back yet.

Posted by: RealCalGal | February 2, 2009 4:47 PM

Watch Harrison's 100-yard run-back again and note the flagrant holding at midfield as he goes by. Not that it affected the outcome of the game or anything :-0

Posted by: DrJ2 | February 2, 2009 5:37 PM

You were able to come up with four specific “critical officiating errors” and not one favored the Steelers. You’re probably a Cardinals fan, or maybe a Seahawks fan still harboring a grudge from SBXL.

If you’re going to begin your case by pointing out a touchdown celebration as a turning point in a game that had two 4th quarter lead changing drives, you are insane. Santonio’s celebration happened so long after the play it would be my guess that there were no longer any refs around. I for one don’t want the Super Bowl being decided by a lame celebration penalty!

However, if you are going to go by the letter of the rule book, let’s call an unsportsmanlike conduct on Warner. Did you wonder why you could read his lips so well when he explained to the ref that he was throwing the ball, on the reversed 3rd quarter fumble? It was because you didn’t have to look thru a facemask. He should have gotten the same penalty they assessed on the Steelers at the end of the game. And as long as your bringing up intentional grounding, if you agree that this was a pass and not a fumble which Cardinal receiver was that pass intended for? See Wang, not hard to find no calls on the Cardinals, I found two on one play!
Does anybody know the rule on running out of bounds and coming back in to make a tackle? Fitzgerald was out of bounds for a full thirty and did not come back in until he made contact with Harrison. This is definitely a penalty on kicks, and it should be on a play like this as well. Otherwise, how would a blocker know to look for pole to block, and if he did block the guy would it be unnecessarily roughness for hitting a guy out of bounds?
Scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for officiating miss cues in this Super Bowl, I should have spent my time reading a meaningful Blog.

Posted by: mijowe | February 2, 2009 10:42 PM

Nevermind that Big Ben's knee never touched the ground on that TD that was called back.

Posted by: narceleb | February 3, 2009 12:30 PM

If I hear that this was one of the greatest superbowls of all time again I'm going to puke. Way too many penalties and turnovers by two very average teams. Whoever mentioned all of the no-calls on Pittsburgh for offensive holding is right, except he forgot to mention all the no-calls on Arizona as well. I think the ref must have had dinner plans, because that game might still be going on if they had call all of the penalties. Overall I'd say the refs were bad but equally so.

Posted by: reddotbuilding | February 3, 2009 2:58 PM

Who is Gene Wang and what game did he watch?

Posted by: delusional1 | February 3, 2009 3:16 PM

Yes, "Fitzgerald illegally ran down the sidelines out of bounds to tackle Harrison on the interception return" (he actually did it twice), but he also clearly had Harrison's facemask!

Posted by: hrockiii | February 4, 2009 9:19 AM

I'm neither a Cards or Steelers fan, but I thought the refs were biased against the Cards. A call no one has mentioned was the chop-block call (against Edge James?). Bad call--he did cut the D lineman's legs in typical RB fashion, but the lineman had separated from the O lineman blocking him so he wasn't really already engaged. The call violated the spirit of the rule. That those two calls were made and not the blatant using ball as prop by Holmes...ugh.

Posted by: PsychProf | February 4, 2009 9:33 PM

Warner took his helmet off to protest the fumble call against him in the 3rd quarter. No penalty.

McFadden was blocked from behind on Boldin's long catch to the 5 yard line in 2nd quarter. No penalty.

Quit whining. No game is called perfectly.

Posted by: delusional1 | February 5, 2009 8:30 PM

Why didn't this author point out any questionable calls on the Arizona side of the ball? The holding call for a safety was certainly questionable as well as a few holding calls (not called) on the Arizona offensive line.
Even the holding of safety Troy Polumalu was obvious when Arizona receiver Fitzgerald had the long catch/run for a touchdown near the end of the game.
I've watched plenty of games this season and I've seen the refs screw up all over the league (causing other teams to maybe even miss the playoffs).
Call the 'screw ups' by the refs as a whole, not just a select few.
Pittsburgh got their fair share of bad calls throughout the season as did the rest of the league.

Posted by: ssanford00 | February 10, 2009 7:23 AM

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