The Super Bowl is still more than two weeks away, but the NFL has its head official picked out.
Football Zebras' Ben Austro was the first to report that 6-year referee Clete Blakeman will be the head official of Super Bowl 50.
The scoop is noteworthy, as Blakeman has a history of some questionable calls on the field, and it has Patriots fans flipping out.
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Most recently, Blakeman botched the initial overtime coin-flip in the Packers-Cardinals divisional playoff game Saturday night. As Blakeman went to flip for first possession, the coin didn't actually flip, and Blakeman had to flip the coin again amidst upset players. It was obviously a big moment, as on the next flip, the Cardinals won, got possession, scored, and ended the game.
It wasn't Blakeman's first coin-flip incident. In Week 15, during an overtime coin-flip between the Jets and the Patriots, Blakeman was involved in a bizarre scenario in which the Patriots chose to kick the ball instead of receive in overtime. Though Bill Belichick reportedly told Patriots captain Matthew Slater to choose a kickoff, many people felt Blakeman perhaps jumped the gun by immediately asking Slater, "Do you want to kick off?" perhaps catching Slater off-guard.
But Blakeman has a further history with the Patriots. Blakeman also officiated the 2014 AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Colts — aka, the Deflategate game. Blakeman's name was mentioned extensively in the Ted Wells report as the official who took the air pressure of the balls. Many people felt Blakeman's tests were inaccurate, as only four of the Colts balls were tested, compared to all of the Patriots balls.
Additionally, Blakeman officiated a game between the Patriots and Panthers in 2013, when Tom Brady threw a game-ending interception, only to have a flag thrown. Instead, the refs gathered and decided to take away the flag, thus ending the game as the Panthers won. Brady notoriously freaked out on Blakeman over the play.
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Though the Patriots still have to beat the Broncos in the AFC Championship game, fans are already worried about Blakeman's potential impact on the Super Bowl.
A WEEI story on the report got posted to Reddit, with one user saying, "This is the same guy from the carolina game a few years back. NFL and goodell not even trying to hide it anymore." Another user added, "Why is it so insane to think the NFL front office is sitting down picking and choosing officials they think will call the game a certain way. The NFL DOES NOT want the patriots and Brady to win this SB."
The Boston Herald's Jeff Howe tweeted a stat about Blakeman-officiated Patriots games, and users had similar thoughts:
Patriots are 2-4 with Blakeman as the ref, including that Monday night loss to the Panthers in 2013. https://t.co/xAeVuO8pZf
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) January 20, 2016
Another user pointed out that Ed Hochuli will be reffing the Patriots-Broncos game.
Other users are upset with the decision:
@cpriceNFL so this is their plan B? If the Pats put up too many points and get past Houchli, they'll stop them at the SB. #FireGoodell
— BostonChic'2017 🌸🌺 (@Bostonchick2014) January 20, 2016
Given past incidents, Patriots fans seem to have a long-running disdain for Blakeman. A Patriots fan forum called Pats Fans published a post in August 2015 titled, "Clete Blakeman is Bad News for the Patriots," expressing concern over Blakeman reffing a Patriots game... during the preseason.
It's worth noting, however, that according to Austro, officials in the Super Bowl are chosen by their ranks, as determined by Dean Blandino, vice president of officiating. Austro says accuracy on calls is a big factor here, and the NFL recently backed Blakeman's work after the Cardinals-Packers coin-flip controversy.
Others have come to the defense of Blakeman like SI's Peter King.
Nice scoop, Ben Austro. I think Blakeman’s a good ref. Good presence. Good control of game. https://t.co/6tf3O5jiNH
— Peter King (@peter_king) January 20, 2016
— Sean P. O'Connor (@ImSeanO) January 20, 2016
It's silly, of course, to think that this is a move by the NFL to lessen the Patriots chances of winning the Super Bowl, if they even get there.
But given the history between Blakeman and the Patriots, there won't be a shortage of storylines should they make it back.