Who Is Gene Steratore? The Super Bowl Referee Has Made "Unusual" Calls
Last month, the NFL announced that Gene Steratore had been chosen to referee the Super Bowl. Steratore be at the head of a seven-person officiating crew, consisting of top-tier officials who have had at least five years of NFL experience and previous playoff assignments. Steratore made headlines in December when he used an index card to measure and confirm a controversial first down during a Cowboys-Raiders game. But aside from being known as the "referee of index card fame," who is Gene Steratore, the 2018 Super Bowl referee?
This will be Steratore's first time refereeing the Super Bowl, but he has plenty of officiating experience. According to ESPN, Steratore has been an NFL official for 15 years; he joined as a field judge in 2003 before become a referee in 2006. The now-infamous index card moment wasn't his only high-profile moment as a referee. The Washington Post reported that in 2010 and 2015, Steratore made two noteworthy call reversals by invoking a catch rule.
However, the index card moment was widely discussed for a reason, and not just because it was amusing. The NFL described the use of an index card to measure a first down, which Steratore insisted was just to confirm a call he had already planned on making, as "very unusual." Shortly thereafter, Al Riveron — the NFL's senior vice president of officiating — asked referees to avoid resorting to foreign objects when making such measurements.
Football isn't the only sport that Steratore referees. He is also a NCAA Division I college basketball official. According to The News & Observer, Steratore is one of only two referees in the NFL who also officiate college men's basketball games. He primarily officiates for the Big Ten conference, but he also refereed the first round of the 2014 NCAA conference, as well as the more recent matchup between UNC and Indiana in November. In fact, Steratore has been serving as a basketball officiating official since almost a decade before he joined the NFL; he has refereed NCAA men's basketball games since 1997.
In an interview with The New York Times back in 2012, Steratore explained that the two jobs — refereeing football and basketball — are actually quite different. During football season, Steratore spends all week preparing for Sunday's game by scouting the teams who will be playing, watching video clips, conferencing with league officials, and attending a series of meetings with his officiating crew and the TV production team. But during basketball season, he usually works at least three games a week, spends a lot of time booking his own transportation and lodgings, and commiserates with other referees.
“Working basketball is — different,” Steratore told The New York Times in 2012. “Put it this way: I have a rule that if there’s an N.F.L. game within four hours of my house, I’ll drive it as a way to warm up for basketball season.”
It should come as no surprise that Steratore started out as a basketball referee; when he was just 11 years old, he worked YMCA basketball games, according to the Times. Then in high school and college, he played football before going on to start his career.
Officiating runs in Steratore's family. His father — with whom he shares his first name — officiated college basketball and football for more than three decades. His older brother Tony also works for the NFL, as a back judge, and has worked two Super Bowls during his career. His younger brother Michael officiates lower-division college basketball games. This may be Steratore's first time refereeing the Super Bowl, but given all of his experience — and the fact that he was an alternate for the 2010 Super Bowl — it seems that this is the natural next step in Steratore's career.