The NFL took the unusual step this week of assigning an "all-star" officiating crew to the most highly anticipated game of the season, adding to the playofflike frenzy for Monday night's matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams.
Referee Clete Blakeman will work the game with only two members of his regular crew, umpire Ramon George and down judge Dana McKenzie. The other five officials -- including Jim Lapetina, who will handle replay -- were plucked from three other crews.
The approach is similar to how the NFL assigns officials to playoff games, a process that is based on performance and seniority rather than crew. But it is rarely, if ever, employed before the postseason. Officials typically work on the same eight-person crews throughout the regular season to maximize continuity and familiarity among members.
Individual crew members are occasionally juggled for health or scheduling reasons. But a series of actions this season have indicated the league is moving away from the consistent crew concept, in favor of a more aggressive administration of officiating. Earlier this season, the league bounced down judge Hugo Cruz among four crews before ultimately making him its first-ever official to be fired for performance during the season.
NFL spokesman Michael Signora confirmed Sunday that "there is a rotation amongst the crews throughout the season." Signora did not provide details on the decision to overhaul Blakeman's crew for Monday night's game.
An officiating source said Sunday that the five officials added to Monday night's crew are all highly respected and have performed well this season.
The Chiefs-Rams game, originally scheduled to be played in Mexico City before it was relocated to Los Angeles, is a rare matchup. Since 1970, there have been only four other games pitting teams with one or fewer losses this late in the season. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the latest matchup ever between two teams averaging at least 33 points per game.
The following is the full crew for Monday night's game, as listed on the official flip card published by the NFL, with the officials' permanent referee in parentheses.
Two of the officials are normally part of referee Jerome Boger's crew. Boger was originally scheduled to work the game before Blakeman was called in, as first reported by NFL reporter Ed Werder and confirmed by ESPN.
Referee: Clete Blakeman
Umpire: Ramon George (Blakeman)
Down judge: Dana McKenzie (Blakeman)
Line judge: Rusty Baynes (Jerome Boger)
Field judge: Dale Shaw (Boger)
Side judge: Brad Freeman (Clay Martin)
Back judge: Tony Steratore (Boger)
Replay: Jim Lapetina (Brad Allen)