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Mar. 26—Join the conversation
I can always tell when the NFL Network is replaying the Steelers' Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
My text messages start to ding. I get a random bump in Twitter interactions.
"Is that you right behind Santonio Holmes in the end zone during the game-winning catch?!"
Yup. That's me. Look over Mewelde Moore's left shoulder 24 seconds into this clip and follow it through the end of the catch.
I'm the guy manically pointing that Holmes got his toes down in the end zone at the 34-second mark.
I was credentialed to do on-field postgame interviews for the Steelers Radio Network if the Steelers won. If they didn't, I was supposed to make my way to the losing team's interview area with everyone else.
In that split second during the catch, you could accuse me of losing some journalistic objectivity by pointing like that. But, if it pleases the court, allow me to argue that I was "technically" being objective.
I was objectively saying, "Look! He was in bounds!"
I didn't know anyone standing next to me. I wasn't exclaiming to anyone in particular. It was just a reflex to say, "Wow! He got his feet down."
OK, I concede that maybe the fan in me came out a little bit. Can you blame me? At least I got the call right. And so did field judge, hmm, what the heck was his name anyway?
The play started to gain traction again on Twitter earlier this month. Holmes' birthday is March 3. So the "Sunday Night Football on NBC" account sent out that clip to honor him.
When my phone started to buzz again with people sharing the tweet with me, I answered the way I always do.
"The field judge never woulda made the right call without me."
Then it hit me. Who was that field judge? Should I know that? Do other people know that?
Try it yourself. Win a bar bet. Offer $100 to the first guy who can come up with the name of the field judge who may have made the most important call in Steelers Super Bowl history.
We remember the guys who made calls that went against the Steelers. Pete Morelli's 2005 AFC playoff game mistake in Indianapolis on Troy Polamalu's interception. Al Riveron and Tony Corrente were the replay czar and in-game ref during the fateful Jesse James play against the New England Patriots in 2017. And Gordon McCarter was forever known as "that ref who got the picture shoved in his shirt pocket by Bill Cowher."
We never remember the guys who got the calls right, though, do we? Especially if they aren't even the head official. I mean, come up with the list of the top five NFL field judges.
Is your list longer than zero yet? Don't worry, mine wouldn't have been either.
Which is why I couldn't call this guy just "the field judge" forever. So I busted out the archives to find out who official "FJ 80" was for that Super Bowl.
If he was wrong, he wouldn't have ended up being comfortably anonymous. If you watch the entire game, NBC play-by-play man Al Michaels name-dropped him during the slew of camera angles as the review of Holmes' catch was happening.
"The field judge coming in right there. He's the closest man to it to signal the touchdown. An amazing play. Greg Gautreaux (is) the field judge," Michaels said before a cutaway shot of linebacker James Harrison celebrating.
Now everybody was going to know. What if Gautreaux was wrong and got overturned upon replay?
Worse yet, what if he was wrong but there wasn't enough evidence to overturn it and a controversial call hung over this Super Bowl result forever?
When he was younger, Gautreaux thought he was going to be a baseball umpire. Surely, he knows the name Don Denkinger. He was an umpire who worked in Major League Baseball for 29 years but is only known for one costly blown call in the 1985 World Series.
Was Gautreaux going to be the new Denkinger, 23 years later?
For two minutes and 39 seconds, hearts were racing for Steelers fans all over America as Holmes' catch was being reviewed by referee Terry McAulay and the replay judges.
Would the touchdown count?
Gautreaux's wife and three kids were in attendance at Raymond James Stadium. They were asking themseleves the same question. But in a slightly different way.
Would dad's call stand?
"They just jumped up with excitement, not because they were Pittsburgh fans but just because they were Greg Gautreaux fans," Gautreaux said of their reaction when the call was upheld. "Fortunately, I got it right on that play."
Yes. Fortunate for Pittsburgh, too. Because even if instant replay was there to bail out Gautreaux if he called the pass incomplete, it's harder to overturn a call than to let it stand (unless you're officiating the aforementioned Jesse James play, of course).
Gautreaux said he was sold on the signal of a touchdown from the moment both arms went up in the air.
"I felt strongly about the call," Gautreaux insisted. "If you look, I didn't hesitate. I took my time. Saw the play. Catch. Processed it. Came up with the signal. And felt confident about it."
Gautreaux's Louisiana accent is classically calming, laid back and thick. After three minutes of our phone conversation, I suddenly started craving Cajun food and sweet tea.
So maybe it's the relaxed drawl. Or perhaps it's knowing he has been right for more than 12 years. Either way, Gautreaux makes it sound like he never had a doubt.
However, during those two and a half minutes of review, eventually a little concern has to creep into your head, right? Did I blow it? Am I going to look bad on national television?
"I (was) a little nervous about it," Gautreaux admitted. "Then one of the alternate officials on the sideline — Ruben Fowler — had the headset on while they were looking at it. He was a little ways away from me, and (before it was announced) he gave me the thumbs up."
After the game, as the Steelers were celebrating and the Cardinals were commiserating, Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira, who eventually became a rules analyst for Fox, made his way down to the officials' locker room to embrace Gautreaux for calling the play correctly. As he would later write for FoxSports.com, Gautreaux had tears in his eyes knowing he had made the right call.
"To get to a Super Bowl is one thing," Gautreaux said. "But to get a game-deciding call and to get it correct, it's like an official winning the big game. Like going to the free-throw line and sinking the two to win it. Even as an official, you get an emotional feeling from it. If you can say that you have tears of happiness, that's probably what I would say for myself. I was so excited."
McAulay, who now serves in an analyst role for NBC, referred to Gautreaux's call as the best big-game call he has ever seen.
"I don't think anything else is even close," McAulay said. "How tight it was. The impact it had. The way it was made. I can't think of one that was any tighter or more clutch.
"It's not just that he got it right. It's how he got it right that was so critical about that play. Any flinch, any indecisiveness, would've put a major dark cloud over how that play was officiated and the final result."
Washington, Pa., product Gene Steratore was an NFL referee and was once on a crew with Gautreaux (or "Gumbo" as he called him). Now a rules analyst for CBS, Steratore said Gautreaux shows perfect officiating fundamentals for a field judge on a play of that nature.
"If you watch Greg's actions — from looking at the feet, working himself back to full possession of the football, following it all the way through like he did on that play — he wasn't guessing at all," Steratore said. "He was in perfect position. He 'dotted the I' and finished it."
Steratore and McAuley complimented Gautreaux's technique on that play, specifically how he was smart about not rushing to get too close to Holmes while he was going up for the ball. That's a mistake McAulay says young officials sometimes make.
"He had a terrific amount of depth from where he was to see the entire play," McAuley said. "If he had been any closer, it would've been a much more difficult call. From where he was, he could see all of Santonio Holmes from toes to the ball to hands. Had he been a lot closer, he could have only seen one or the other.
"Greg handled it perfectly."
In the years since that Super Bowl, Gautreaux says an occasional reference to the play has been brought up by Steelers players or personnel, mainly when he worked their training camp in Latrobe.
Last year, Gautreaux, now 66 years old, opted out of officiating because of concerns about the coronavirus. But he plans to be back for his 20th NFL season in 2021.
He understands that some in Arizona will never be convinced that Holmes got both feet in before tumbling out of bounds. But he said he's "never received any hate mail from any fans." The only blowback he's received from out west is from some personal friends he has in the Phoenix area.
"They say, 'Man, you still missed that call,'" Gautreaux laughed. "I don't know if they are joking with me or not. I just take it with a grain of salt. All in a day's work."
In Gautreaux's household, that touchdown is affectionately referred to as "Dad's play in the Super Bowl." Not "Holmes' catch" or "Ben Roethlisberger's throw." By his estimation, Gautreaux says he has probably seen the play about 25 times since it happened.
Twenty-five? That's it? Jeez! I must've watched it 30 times before the flight back to Pittsburgh. But, most importantly, how much did my pointing to the catch help convince Gautreaux to make that call?
"That can be your story," Gautreaux replied.
Oh, it will be.
It will be.
Listen: Hear Benz's full interview with Greg Gautreaux as we talk about Santonio Holmes' catch, NFL officiating fundamentals and running 100 yards with James Harrison.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at email@example.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.