Kevin SeifertNFL NationClose
- ESPN.com national NFL writer
- ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
- Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008
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The NFL announced that veteran official Gene Steratore will serve as referee for Super Bowl LII. But before we get there, we have two championship games to play.
What follows is the pertinent information on Clete Blakeman and Ed Hochuli, the referees who have been assigned to handle this weekend's AFC and NFC Championship Games, respectively. Both will work with all-star playoff crews, designed in part to mitigate any tendencies that might arise from the regular season. But the referee always sets the tone for any crew.
Note: All data is culled from research by either ESPN Stats & Information or Pro Football Reference. Historical references begin in 1999.
No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1 New England Patriots
Sunday: 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS | Game HQ
Referee: Clete Blakeman | Jaguars' record in his games: 3-4 | Patriots' record in his games: 2-4
Patriots fans probably remember Blakeman from a 2013 decision to pick up a flag for pass interference in the end zone on the final play of a 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Quarterback Tom Brady chased Blakeman off the field, seeking an explanation. (Blakeman later said that he deemed the ball uncatchable.) Since then, Blakeman has been one of the NFL's highest-rated referees, having worked Super Bowl 50 and, two years later, earning a spot in the championship round.
If his postseason crew conducts itself similarly to the one he used in the regular season, there won't be many silly flags. Blakeman's crew called one taunting foul and threw one flag for unsportsmanlike conduct all season -- the fewest flags in either category among all crews. His crew also called five offensive pass-interference fouls, the second fewest in the NFL. (The Patriots were called for a total of eight such fouls during the regular season, tied for the most in the league.)
Blakeman did finish on the high end in frequency for roughing the passer, a foul called exclusively by the referee. He threw 10 flags for it, the third most in the NFL.
No. 2 Minnesota Vikings at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday: 6:40 p.m. ET, Fox | Game HQ
Referee: Ed Hochuli | Vikings' record in his games: 11-12 |Eagles' record in his games: 11-7
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Hochuli has worked three Eagles playoff games since 1999: a 2000 divisional-round loss to the Giants, a 2003 divisional-round victory over the Packers and a 2009 wild-card loss to the Cowboys. In 2017, his regular-season crew was much friendlier to defensive backs and less helpful to wide receivers than most of the league's officials. It called the league's highest total of offensive pass-interference calls (18) and the second-lowest total of defensive pass-interference, defensive holding and illegal-contact penalties combined (29). During the regular season, the Eagles (23) and Vikings (21) ranked in the middle of the NFL in such penalties.
This will be Hochuli's second appearance in the 2017 playoffs. He also worked the wild-card game between the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams. That crew called a total of 11 penalties in that game, which the Falcons won 26-13.
Football Zebras has confirmed that Clete Blakeman will lead the crew for the AFC Championship game and Ed Hochuli will be the referee in the NFC Championship.
In an interesting development, several officials have received their second on-field playoff assignment for this season. Traditionally, those officials who receive two playoff assignments are the Super Bowl officials, who also work a Divisional playoff. However, in this case, these assignments are the first doubles in a single season, without a Super Bowl assignment, since 2004. There was some indication that the procedures were going to be altered slightly this year, as more than 20 officials will not get any assignment this postseason.
Officials are eligible for the Conference Championships in their third NFL season, provided that they also have an assignment in a playoff game in a previous year. Two officials, Aaron Santi and Shawn Smith, are in their third season, with two more in their fourth season.
Three alternates are assigned to each game: generally, one is designated for the offensive backfield (a referee or umpire), one is on the line of scrimmage (down judge or line judge), and one is a deep position (side judge, field judge, or back judge). When alternates are listed, their position during the regular season is also given. The prior playoff experience that is listed for the crew chief includes his service as an NFL official, including as referee and any other crew position (excluding alternate assignments).
All times are Eastern.
Sunday, January 21
AFC Championship Game, Jaguars at Patriots, 3:05 p.m. CBS
Embed from Getty Images
Clete Blakeman is the referee, who is in his 10th season and 8th as referee. This is Blakeman’s 7th postseason assignment and his first conference championship; he also has worked 3 Wild Card Playoffs, 2 Divisional Playoffs, and Super Bowl 50, his most recent playoff assignment.
Before becoming an official, Blakeman was a second-string quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers from 1984 to 1987. He started a handful of games, most notably a 70-0 shutout of the Kansas Jayhawks in 1986.
Blakeman, 53, came to the NFL from the Big 12 Conference in 2008. After a couple of seasons at field judge, he was promoted to referee in 2010. His career has been relatively clean of controversy, although Patriots fans will be quick to point to his crew’s role in 2013 as a pass interference flag in the end zone was picked up. The umpire and the back judge determined in a conference that there was no foul, prior to Blakeman joining the huddle, although his position on the field would not have given him any perspective to influence the decision.
Blakeman is a personal-injury attorney in Omaha, where he lives with his wife and two children.
|U||11||Fred Bryan||9||Allen||Northern Iowa||superintendent, juvenile correctional facility|
|DJ||28||Mark Hittner||21||Wrolstad||Pittsburg State||investment broker|
|LJ||79||Kent Payne||14||Cheffers||Nebraska Wesleyan||teacher|
|FJ||50||Aaron Santi||3||Torbert||Southern Oregon||middle school principal|
|SJ||109||Dyrol Prioleau||11||Blakeman||Johnson C Smith||manager, law firm|
|BJ||112||Tony Steratore||18||Boger||California (Pa.)||co-owner, supply company|
- Replay: Carl Madsen
- Alternates: John Parry (R), Patrick Turner (DJ), Greg Gautreaux (FJ)
NFC Championship Game, Vikings at Eagles, 6:40 p.m. FOX
Embed from Getty Images
Ed Hochuli is the referee, who is in his 27th season and 25th as referee. This is Hochuli’s 26th postseason assignment, the most of any active official, which include 11 Wild Card Playoffs, 5 Divisional Playoffs, 9 Conference Championships, and Super Bowls XXXII and XXXVIII.
Hochuli, 67, worked his last playoff assignment in the Wild Card Playoff between the Falcons and Rams on Jan. 6. Along with other officials this year, he is working more than one game, and he is the first referee since Walt Anderson and Bill Carollo in 2004 to have multiple non-Super Bowl assignments in a postseason.
He ties Terry McAulay and Mark Hittner (working in the Jaguars-Patriots game) with 11 assignments to title games, combining conference championships and Super Bowls, as the most among active officials.
Hochuli lives in San Diego and is a founding partner of the Arizona-based law firm Jones, Skelton & Hochuli.
|R||85||Ed Hochuli||28||Texas-El Paso||attorney|
|U||14||Shawn Smith||3||Hochuli||Ferris State||internal auditor|
|DJ||48||Jim Mello||14||Allen||Northeastern||facilities manager|
|LJ||59||Rusty Baynes||8||Hochuli||Auburn-Montgomery||general manager, safety services*|
|FJ||103||Eugene Hall||4||Boger||North Texas||federal agent|
|SJ||88||Brad Freeman||4||Cheffers||Mississippi State||sports park director|
|BJ||30||Todd Prukop||9||Corrente||Cal State-Fullerton||medical sales representative|
*indicates full-time official
- Replay: Tom Sifferman
- Alternates: Carl Cheffers (R), Carl Johnson (LJ), James Coleman (SJ)