MIAMI – Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will be calling the Super Bowl for Fox on Sunday. But when it comes to some of the most dramatic parts of the game, they’ll be handing control of the broadcast over to someone else.
He’s the network’s on-air rules analyst and the NFL's former head of officiating. So when Sunday's game pauses to determine if it was a catch or not, if the spot was correct, or — for the first time since a new rule was adopted this season — if pass interference should be called or negated upon review, it will be Pereira whose interpretations inform and influence millions of viewers.
And after 10 years on the job, in a vocation that was created specifically for him but has become omnipresent on just about every broadcast in every sport, Pereira is grappling with one of the toughest calls of his career.
Does his presence do more harm or more good for the sport?
“Certainly what it does is it brings more attention to officiating,” Pereira said on Tuesday at an event for Fox broadcasters. “That’s not the league’s goal. For a long time, even before I got there, they didn’t want any conversation about officiating. No matter what officials did or called or missed, it was just like sweep it under the rug. Let’s not talk about it.”
Then along came Pereira.
“I had decided to retire [from the NFL] and move back to California and they announced it [during the NFC Championship Game] at the end of the 2008 season when I wasn’t retiring for a year,” Pereira said. “I sat in the command center in New York and I listened to the announcement of my retirement a year in advance of when I was retiring. Then the championship game started and out of the clear blue sky my phone rang. It was a 310 area code. I knew it was Fox, but they always called me. ‘What was that call? What was that rule?’
“It was David Hill,” Pereira said of the former Fox executive. “He said, 'Pereira, you’re not retiring. We’re going to do something with you that is going to be so dynamic. Nobody's ever done it before.' ”
He was right. Pereira’s presence revolutionized the way fans watch football.
“In his mind he felt like they hired ex-coaches and they hired ex-players as analysts, they’d never hired an ex-official, somebody who has to explain the rules,” Pereira said.
Now, a decade later, Pereira still doesn’t know if it was the right thing to do. He notes that almost every rule in the NFL has unintended consequences, and his addition to the broadcast booth certainly has had a few as well. Officiating is now as scrutinized as plays and coaching decisions. Sometimes, as happened in last year’s NFC Championship, they have even more impact. Accountability is always good, but there are complaints that broadcasts get too bogged down with delays and deliberations over calls on the field. And when they don’t always go the way logic and common sense would seem to dictate, it can create controversy.
It’s a far different world than the one that Pereira was in when he left the league offices.
“That was before the days that fans got so invested in the game,” he said. “They’re so invested. And with fantasy football, you’ve got your team and you’re a fan of a hometown team or it’s your bet as that becomes more and more legal. I think there is more demand to know what’s going on.”
So yes, Pereira does believe he is doing more good than harm to the sport – and the way we ingest it.
“I think a content football fan is one who knows the rules, who understands the rules,” Pereira said. “Fox was the first one to see that.”
Pereira was the first one to show it to the rest of us.