Mike Pereira, Dean Blandino break down what it's like being a TV rules analyst
Every football fan remembers where they were for this moment.
It’s Week 1 of the 2010 season. The first wave of games are about to come to a close as the NFL kicks off another year and the Detroit Lions are driving down the field, trying to finish off a last-second comeback win over the Chicago Bears. On a second down, with about 30 seconds left in the game, Lions quarterback Shaun Hill heaved a pass to Calvin Johnson in the end zone.
Johnson soared over a Bears defensive back, snatched the ball out of the sky, and landed for a game-winning touchdown. Or so he — and the rest of the NFL watching world — thought.
As Johnson landed on the ground and began his celebration for the first win of the season, the ground knocked the ball out of his right hand. The ruling on the field was an incompletion. Lions lose.
For Lions fans, this is a painful memory. A controversial play burned into the DNA of their fandom. For Mike Pereira, Dean Blandino and NFL broadcasts, though, this was a moment that would change the landscape of how football is viewed and consumed.
Pereira, a former referee in the NFL, was ready to walk into the sunset and retire after the 2009 season when an executive at FOX told him that he would not be retiring and that he had an idea for a job for him.
“He said, ‘We’ll have something for you.’ And then he said goodbye,” Pereira said with a laugh. “That was really the first inclination I had that I would be doing anything in relationship to the networks.”
In Week 1 of the 2010 season, just hours before that fateful play, Pereira didn’t know that he was going to be featured in a broadcast that day.
“Week 1, I was down there and they said, ‘Let’s put you in the studio just in case something happens,’” Pereira said. “We’ll set it up to where the television crews can go to you. Lo and behold, Calvin Johnson caught a pass, didn’t catch a pass, Detroit wins, didn’t win.”
Periera said that when Brian Billick and the rest of the FOX crew called on him to explain the rule, he told them it wasn’t a catch because Johnson did not complete the process of holding onto the ball. At the time, Pereira didn’t realize that he was talking NFL viewers through a moment in NFL history that would never be forgotten.
“I just know that I was nervous,” Pereira said. “It was my first time on and I look back and I go, ‘God I looked so terrible.’ I didn’t realize it at the time, but when Steratore said that the ruling on the field stands so I was right in what I said. There was just such a relief, but then Jay Glazer came running into the studio and said, ‘You just hit an F-ing grand slam!’”
Before this, rules analysts weren’t really on television. Pereira was the first. Prior to him, broadcasts would mainly lean on the knowledge of the play-by-play announcers and analysts, many of them former NFL players without a strong handle on the rule book. This was the first time someone’s main job within an NFL broadcast was to break down what was happening from the perspective of a ref.
Pereira got the job in 2010 but his training for the gig started even earlier than that when Pereira spent time as the Director of Officiating for the NFL and the Vice President of Officiating.
At first, Pereira was the only rules analyst that FOX had. In June of 2017, FOX hired Dean Blandino to go with Pereira on the broadcasts. Prior to his work with FOX, Blandino spent time as the Vice President of Officiating for the NFL, but he was never actually a referee like Pereira. He spent time organizing instant replay when it was brought to the NFL in 1999 and served as a replay official for two Super Bowls.
“The opportunity with FOX Sports to branch out and see a different side of the game was very appealing to me,” Blandino said. “The ability really just to have more time. I love the NFL but it was all-encompassing, it was a 24/7 job. While I loved it, I thought that there were some other things out there.”
Blandino gets on television and explains the call to the viewing audience, but also does some behind the scenes work, as well. Blandino will explain the rules to the on-air talent so that they can convey what’s happening on any given play to the people watching the game.
Blandino says the hardest part of his transition to doing on-air work was how concise and brief he had to be with his statements. There are really only a few seconds to get a point across about what should or should not happen on the field.
“I just realized, I’m not going to have five minutes to go through this,” Blandino said. “I have a short window and I’ve got to get my points across clearly.”
Blandino said one of the first games he did was a college game and Pereira was on the air with him. His first NFL game was a preseason game in Nashville with Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis.
Other people like Gene Steratore and Mike Carey have been able to follow in the footsteps that Pereira set, but he was the first to ever do it – and it couldn’t have started on a more memorable play.
Younger NFL fans don’t even remember a time when broadcasts featured a rules expert. Even older fans might have a hard time remembering the pre-rules expert era. But that Johnson ruling, and all of its complexities, proved that bringing on Pereira to explain what the refs were thinking through was more than just a television gimmick. It was a necessity, even if we all didn’t realize it at the time.