For the biggest game in their sport, The NFL is bringing in its best officiating crews from around the country. One of those crew members reviewing -- and possibly overturning -- some of the key calls during Sunday’s game calls the Houston area home.
Marvin LeBlanc, a resident of League City, will be the replay assistant for Houston’s Super Bowl. For the last year, he’s been working as part of a four-person crew in the instant replay booth at NRG Stadium. His job: deciding which of the 15 to 30 camera angles the referee will see when he goes under the hood into the instant replay booth.
“If you would have told me 18 years ago that I was doing this, I would have said you’re crazy,” LeBlanc said.
That’s when the Southeast Texas native started officiating games on the field, working his way up from pee wee to college. He was following in the footsteps of his father, who spent 35 years as a high school official in Texas.
“When I was 10 years old, I would run chains with my father at high school games,” LeBlanc said. “I want to do that one day.”
LeBlanc says he also spent 34 years at Johnson Space Center.
“I worked 50 missions in mission control as a space shuttle flight controller,” LeBlanc said.
Good training for the pressure of having just 60 seconds to decide whether to keep or reverse a call with millions of fans waiting.
“We review every play whether it’s reviewable or not,” LeBlanc said. “So when a real replay comes up, we’re not overcome by anxiety.”
NRG’s replay center is one of 32 connected and monitored for consistency in the command center in New York.
“They want to ensure that there’s not a referee and a replay official in one game that might be making a different decision on an identical play from a replay official, referee in another game,” said Russell Yurk, an NFL Replay Official from Phoenix.
Yurk and LeBlanc were at the “You Make the Call” exhibit at the NFL Experience at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Fans could watch controversial plays from the 2016 season from three different angles then decide for themselves whether to uphold the call on the field or reverse it.
“A lot of fun,” said Hamimdd Parvizian, after stepping inside the replay booth during an interactive presentation Friday. “Opened up my lights to see different ways that the review everything.”
“The refs are under a lot of pressure and it’s a bang bang call,” said Dave Skoletsky, who also took part in the event.
Both LeBlanc and Yurk say the speed of professional players makes officiating the NFL especially challenging.
“That decision might be as little as five or 10 seconds if they’re rushing to the line where we decide whether we have to stop a game,” Yurk said.
Yurk said once the play is stopped, “if there’s not clear and obvious evidence to reverse a call on the field after 60 seconds, then we’re gonna stay with the call no matter what it is.”
LeBlanc says not only do most NFL officials have outside full-time jobs, they typically spend at least 40 hours during game week prepping for the match ahead: going over the rules, studying video, and having conference calls with other crew members and league officials.