(WAFB) - In the latest development to what many around the football world are calling the most high-profile blown call in NFL history, there is some concern in league circles about the judgment call that allowed four officials - all with ties to southern California - to work the NFC championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints, according to a report by ESPN senior writer Adam Schefter.
Those four officials were the ones most responsible for the non-call on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman’s helmet-to-helmet, blatant pass interference hit on Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis.
Referee Bill Vinovich, who led the game’s officiating crew, lives in Newport Beach, California. Down judge Patrick Turner, whose primary responsibility was to follow Lewis on the blown call from start to finish, lives in Lakewood, California, in Los Angeles County.
Side judge Gary Cavaletto, whose job was to initially watch outside receiver Dan Arnold before shifting his focus once the ball was thrown to Lewis, lives in Santa Barbara, California. Back judge Todd Prukop, who was stationed in the end zone as an extra set of eyes on the controversial play, lives in Mission Viejo, California, according to ESPN.
The league admitted to Saints head coach Sean Payton immediately after the game “they blew the call.”
“They said not only was it interference, it was helmet to helmet,” Payton said in a press conference just minutes after the Saints' heartbreaking, season-ending loss.
Sources told Schefter the Saints and other officials not involved in the game do not believe the officials' geographical ties influenced their non-call, and there were no complaints from either team when the officiating assignments were communicated the Monday prior.
A league spokesperson said Sunday that “officiating assignments are based on performance and not geographic location.”
However, some sources are wondering why those officials weren’t assigned to the Patriots-Chiefs game in Kansas City to prevent any perception of impropriety.
According to ESPN, the league used to routinely ensure that certain referees would not officiate games in which the host was playing in the hometown of that referee. No such action was taken in this case. In 2012, the NFL replaced an official assigned to a Saints-Panthers game after he admitted he was a Saints fan on his Facebook page.
“The NFL put [itself] in a bad situation,” one officiating source told ESPN. “This is stuff that has to be taken care of prior to game. It’s just guys not thinking of what’s going on, nobody doing their checks and balances. The league is usually pretty much on top of it. This is one that slipped through the cracks.”
And a Super Bowl appearance slipped through the fingers of the Saints as a result. Was it ignored, or just an oversight?
For Super Bowl LIII Sunday Feb. 3 between the Rams and Patriots, there are no officials with any ties to southern California or Massachusetts, sources told ESPN.