Gene Steratore will work two Super Bowls in 365 days. His 15-year career officiating NFL games came to a close when the clock struck triple-zeroes in the Eagles’ victory last February. He’ll be back on the biggest stage in sports Sunday night in a different, but increasingly vital role. Steratore, in his first year with CBS, is the rules analyst alongside Jim Nantz and Tony Romo.
He couldn’t have envisioned such a scenario playing out even a few years ago.
“This is beyond anything I would have dreamed in my whole life,” Steratore told The Big Lead. “It’s humbling, I’ve very honored for both opportunities and the nerves are about equal for different reasons. You understand the magnitude. I think rather than hide from that or deny it, you embrace that. What I found once I received the phone call for this game it put you in a reflective moment very quickly because you realized you’ve basically reached the pinnacle of this passion you started so many years before. It immediately put me in a reflective mode to love and appreciate all of those people who were such a huge part of that whole journey up to that phone call.”
Steratore began working NCAA basketball games in 1997 and NFL contests in 2003. His was a ubiquitous presence on Big Ten hardwoods. He rose through the ranks to become a football referee after three seasons. His most viral moment came in 2017, when he used an index card to help measure for a first down.
That footage will never cease to be electric. One of the best moments in recent football history. The wry smile will live forever.
The breakneck schedule put him on the road up to 160 days a year. He opted to hang up his whistle to spend more time with his family this summer. Then CBS came calling in June, with the offer to work in the No. 1 booth.
“It’s exciting, challenging and very refreshing,” Steratore said. “I don’t know if it’s sunk in completely and that’s a credit to Jim and Tony [and the producers]. Tony and Jim are just so naturally comfortable with each other and the way they interface in that press box is such a comforting feeling.
Much ink has been spilled over Romo’s ascension, thanks in large part to his clairvoyance. And while the former quarterback has shined in his second year behind the microphone, it’s Steratore who will enjoy an ever more rapid rise to the top. While still learning on the fly, decades wearing stripes laid the groundwork for what he must do when called upon.
“When you’re announcing a penalty for pass interference for a play down the field, if you have done your job right throughout that play, you have absolutely no idea what occurred down there,” Steratore said. “So that challenge to convey confidence, to convey calmness, that trust factor with your crew that they’re setting the table for you when you turn the microphone on and address the audience in-house and in people’s living rooms is a dynamic of officiating that is very unique. I do think that portion of what I did in football gave me at least a little platform to start this new venture.
“And then the back-and-forth of basketball in the close proximity and those conversations that take place between officials and coaches if you’re good enough to kind of disguise them a little. Having that banter in that close environment was good practice for me to apply, just that relationship in that booth of being able to have a back-and-forth really quick.”
It has been a particular tough stretch for officials. A blown call in the NFC Championship Game has thrown Louisiana into a deep tailspin and bred distrust. It’s always been a thankless job, but now the scrutiny is heightened. Especially with so many replays from so many angles.
The bright side — for viewers and the rules analysts industrial complex — is that having a guy in the booth who knows what he’s talking about is incredibly important. Mark these words: there will be a controversial call in the Super Bowl. Steratore will be put on the spot to bring some clarity.
He’ll be looking at two things. First, what his eyes see. Second, what others might. Steratore knows he may reach a different conclusion than the booth.
“As we parse all of these plays down frame by frame and what the ruling on the field was, and do you think that was conclusive or inconclusive or clear and obvious, there’s a percentage of that dissection that you’re looking at and thinking, ‘you know there’s a little window there where we may differ on what the final outcome is,'” he said. “But you know with anything in life and especially in this position, it’s important to be authentic, to give your side of the play, and describe it as close to perfection as can be in your description. The good part is the people that work in the command center and our analyst have all been in this family for so long that I think we see almost all these plays in the same way.”
If this year’s Super Bowl is anything like the last, the most pivotal moment of the broadcast may belong to Steratore, the other guy in the CBS booth jumping into a second career with both feet.
He appears ready, willing, and able.