Few stories regarding the Raiders last season were more strange and ridiculous than when game official Gene Steratore used a folded piece of paper to try to make a ruling on whether the Cowboys had first down yardage.
It was a crucial first down call. The two teams were tied 17-17 late in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys were driving. Dallas went for it on fourth and one and the spot was very close. As close as you’ll ever see a mark, actually.
Had the Cowboys not made it, they would have turned the ball over on downs. But after Steratore oddly whipped out the paper, folded it, and ran it between the ball and the stick, it was ruled a first down.
To be completely fair, the paper going between the ball and the stick is not proof it shouldn’t have been a first down. The stick was beside the ball and all camera shots of the paper technique were from an angle, not perfectly to the side, so we don’t get to see if the nose of the ball passed the stick.
Where the problem lied was in the use of the paper in the first place. After the game, Steratore was asked several times why he used it and his explanations only made the situation worse.
“Didn’t use the card to make the final decision,” said Steratore. “The final decision was made visually. The card was used nothing more than a reaffirmation of what was visually done. My decision was visually done based on the look from the pole.”
So, if the decision was made, why go through the unprecedented use of a prop? Head coach Jack Del Rio was also put off by what he perceived as Steratore smirking after the measurement. Several Raiders players were pretty confused and upset with how it went down as well.
NFL Senior VP of Officiating, Al Riveron, said at the time that only one other time had he ever seen the piece of paper technique used, adding that he had advised Steratore not to do it again.
“When he did bring out the piece of paper, that was very, very unusual,” Riveron said. “The last time I saw it done was about four or five years ago, and it was also in an NFL game. That’s not the norm.”
It was Riveron who made the announcement today that Steratore would be retiring. One has to wonder if that paper incident was the catalyst that ushered Steratore out the door. Especially considering just a few months ago, Steratore’s crew officiated the Super Bowl (to which Bruce Irvin had some choice words). To go from calling a Super Bowl to calling it quits is a long fall.