Confusion reigned Monday night, as one official signaled “touchdown” and the other signaled, well, something else. (Stephen Brashear / AP)

Shortly after 8 o’clock tonight, Gene Steratore is going to be the most popular man in America.

That could change swiftly for the man who will lead a seven-man crew of the NFL’s regular referees onto the field for the game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, but the initial reception, at least, promises to be warm.

With the end of the NFL’s lockout of game officials, Steratore, who also works NCAA basketball games, will begin his 10th season in the NFL. The rest of the crew will consist of umpire Bill Schuster, head linesman Wayne Mackie, line judge Jeff Seeman, field judge Bob Waggoner, side judge Jimmy De Bell, and back judge Greg Steed. The replay official is Larry Nemmers and the replay assistant Ken Dollar.

This crew, with 63 combined years of NFL experience, hasn’t avoided controversy. For instance:

Two years ago, Steratore made a controversial call on a touchdown reception by Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions. The game-winner was disallowed because Johnson did not “maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process of the catch” and the Chicago Bears came away with a victory. Schuster was involved in an offsides call that gave the Ravens a victory in a 2001 game against the Tennessee Titans. In Super Bowl XLIV, Seeman ruled the New Orleans Saints’ two-point conversion in the fourth quarter was incomplete, a decision that was overturned on replay. In Super Bowl XL, Waggoner, the back back judge, called offensive interference against Seattle Seahawks receiver Darrell Jackson, negating a touchown that would have given Seattle a 7-0 lead. And Steed fell and tripped Seahawks receiver Bobby Engram on what could have been a game-winning catch against the St. Louis Rams. Although Steed was shown on TV saying, “my fault,” he was judged to have not been out of position on the play by Mike Pereira, then head of officiating for the league. 

None of those created anything like the firestorm that was generated by the Seahawks-Green Bay Packers result Monday night. As if anyone needed further proof, economists tell USA Today that the real officials are worth every penny they’re paid. There may be calls tonight that bring down more “manure” chants in Baltimore, but, after the first three weeks of the season, is there really any doubt of the real refs’ worth?

H/T Matt Bonesteel

Follow us: @CindyBoren | @MattBrooksWP


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After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.