Gene Steratore had no way of knowing in Week 1 of the 2010 NFL season that he was giving an unwitting boost to his future second career.
It was then that he ruled an apparent game-winning touchdown catch by the Lions’ Calvin Johnson not to have been a catch after all, igniting a controversy that Fox’s newly installed rules analyst, Mike Pereira had to explain to America.
Pereira soon was being credited with inventing a new sports television role – one that others have tried and failed to fill as well – that now includes Steratore himself.
Fresh off working Super Bowl LII in February, Steratore retired in June and joined CBS, which tried another retired referee, Mike Carey, unsuccessfully in that role in 2014 and ’15.
“Eventually you’re going to retire from some things that you do, and I did officiate for 35 years and I just loved what I did,” Steratore, 55, said on Tuesday at CBS’ annual pre-NFL media lunch. “This opportunity, with this network and that coverage, it may have turned up the wheel a few years ahead.
“But there are times when you look at something and you say that this is the best decision to make overall for my family, for myself and I hope I’m young enough that there’s enough years left in this second or third endeavor that it’s not like, oh, we’re just going to do this for a year or two and go off into the sunset. I’m very excited for that.”
Steratore, who doubled as an NCAA basketball official, also will analyze college basketball rules for CBS.
“He’s not shy to express his opinion,” CBS Sports chairman Sea McManus said. “He’s passionate about the NFL and both college basketball and NFL refereeing. He’s got a wealth of knowledge and experience, and having spent a lot of time talking to him, I think he’ll get his thoughts across in a very cogent, enthusiastic and passionate way.”
McManus said Steratore reached out several years ago and said that while he had no plans to retire in the near future, he had interest in pursuing a career in television when the time came.
There should be no shortage of chances for Steratore to weigh in, what with several major rules changes in play, none bigger or more controversial than the crackdown on leading with one’s helmet.
“It is a big change, without a question of a doubt,” he said. “It’ll change a little of the culture of maybe the way the game is played . . . I really do honestly believe the players will adjust and I want to think that’s going to happen almost in the same way that our hits on defenseless receivers evolved.
“Everyone was scared to death five or six years ago when that occurred, and it took about a year or two (for players to adjust).”
Steratore said in recent years the speed and athleticism of players who fly to the ball has made it more dangerous than ever for them, and more difficult to decipher helmet-oriented hits.
Steratore has had a knack for finding himself in the middle of arguments about what is or is not a catch, another rules refinement for this season.
Not only was he the referee for Johnson’s non-catch, he also was in charge in a playoff game after the 2014 season when the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant had a catch ruled incomplete. There were a couple of tricky catch calls in Super Bowl LII, too.
“All anybody wants, officials want this, players want this, fans want this, everybody involved in this game we love so much,” he said, “we just want a consistency that when we watch . . . maybe after one or two replays when we look, the hope is that you know what, 96, 97 percent of the country is looking and saying, ‘I think they’re probably going to go this way on it.’
“And I think that’s what we all strive for, that everything does get a little more settled in that."
Steratore said he is not concerned about his former colleagues being unable to take criticism if he has some.
“As an official I can say this in all honesty: I never was upset with someone who was announcing the game or analyzing my game and said that I was wrong for something I was wrong on,” he said. “As much as officials are critiqued you have to be the biggest critic of yourself.”
Steratore said he has spoken to Pereira about the job.
“I think because of Mike’s success he has opened up the door for these positions to be available, so I kind of thank him for probably being so good,” Steratore said. “I’ve already told him personally that I’m not going to give him any commissions yet or anything like that.
“What I think Mike is doing so well and what I hope to be able to do from this seat in CBS is it’s not about just coming out and telling everyone what you think is the result. The country is extremely knowledgeable about football. The rules of football are very, very intricate and very detailed and even sometimes for the professionals that do this there are elements in these rules that they just don’t happen frequently, and there’s a lot of digesting that takes place.
“I’m hoping that what I can provide for this role is maybe we can share the knowledge and the breaking down as to why are they doing this at this point, get it in a condensed 30-second snippet here and there…. I can assure you that the one thing that none of us understand unless you’re down there is truly how good the officials are in real time at that speed.”