BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- As Super Bowl LII progresses Sunday between New England and Philadelphia, don't be surprised if the third team on the field assumes an increasingly passive role in the proceedings.
As is the custom, the Super Bowl will be officiated by an all-star crew, headed by referee Gene Steratore. We object to this approach because the members of that crew do not work with each other during the regular season and do not have experience making decisions together in the heat of a game, or in any circumstance.
And that unfamiliarity will only increase the natural inclination that officials have in a postseason game when they tend to swallow their whistles.
In recent postseason games there have been several examples of officials not making a call when there was an obvious infraction -- albeit one not available for review by instant replay.
The result is that teams test the officials with muggings that would be illegal on the street. Although these are sometimes flagged, it is usually early in the game, but not late when such a call might appear to make the difference in a huge game.
Hall of Fame head coach John Madden has long noted this inequity and former NFL head of officials Mike Pereira does not deny that it happens.
"You take more liberties, especially after you had one called," said Madden, long known for loudly antagonizing officials when he was storming the sidelines as coach of the Oakland Raiders.
"People are right that the Patriots do this, but all coaches do it, so this is nothing new. The idea is, once the officials call one, they aren't going to call any more. So it is true that they swallow the whistle, but it is after they already called a few for the record."
Pereira did not totally disagree.
"Statistics bear out that there are fewer penalties called in the postseason, but I think it is less about officials swallowing the whistle, as you put it," he said. "It may feel that way, but I don't buy into the notion."
That said, Pereira admits a certain human inclination impacts the action.
"I think subconsciously anybody that officiates, that when it comes close to the end of the game, they want players to decide it. They don't want to read about themselves Monday being part of a big play because of a penalty.
"You also get to the point that when you get to the Super Bowl that you have the best officials there, not that I necessarily agree with the concept of all-star officiating crews in the postseason. If you look at the makeup of this crew, my god, the seniority is pretty much unlike anything I've ever seen."
The Eagles have indeed looked closely at this Super Bowl officiating crew. Philadelphia was penalized eight times in its two playoff wins this year and want to keep that number from growing too much Sunday. So the Eagles watched video of the penalties called by members of this crew.
"We kind of use that to understand what they like to call, know what they are looking for, and pretty much just help us play a cleaner game so we know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from us," Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said.
Philadelphia's expectations are fueled by the fact that Steratore's crew was fifth-highest in calling pass interference, defensive holding and illegal contact calls and that four of the other six officials were on crews that ranked in the top half of the league in those calls.
Two of the three officials who watch for pass interference - side judge Scott Edwards, field judge Tom Hill and back judge Perry Paganelli - were on crews that threw fewer flags for those infractions than the league average.
The Eagles surely note that the Patriots were called for one penalty against the Jaguars, the fewest penalties called on one team in a playoff game since the 2011 AFC Championship when the Patriots were flagged once in a win over the Ravens.
In addition, since the 2005 championship game when the Patriots played the Eagles, there has not been an illegal contact penalty in the Super Bowl. Linebacker Roman Phifer of the Patriots was flagged, and the penalty negated an interception by cornerback Asante Samuel. However, safety Rodney Harrison had an interception one play later.
Looking closer at the third team on the field, it will be the first Super Bowl for Steratore, who entered the league in 2003 as a field judge and was promoted to referee in 2006. The 54-year-old has officiated 11 playoff games, including two conference championships, and was the alternate referee for Super Bowl XLIV.
The other members of the Super Bowl LII officiating crew are Roy Ellison (umpire), Jerry Bergman (down judge), Byron Boston (line judge), Hill, Edwards and Paganelli.
Paul Weidner will serve as the replay official.
According to NFL data, the crew has 127 years of league officiating experience and 101 combined playoff game assignments.
Steratore caused a stir last month by using a folded index card to help measure a first down during a Week 15 game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders.
Steratore placed the card between the tip of the football and the end of the first-down marker before signaling that the Cowboys had converted a fourth down on their game-winning drive.
The NFL said there is no rule barring officials from using a card that way, but senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron later asked referees to refrain from using such objects when measuring ball placement.