Zebra Hunt: Gene Steratore

Posted Dec 10, 2006

Anyone up for a loooooong game? Are you ready to see flags flying at a breakneck pace? If the officiating averages of this crew prove true when the Seahawks take the field to face the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, we could have a truly goofy number of stops and starts.

A rookie referee has been chosen to officiate the Seahawks-Cardinals game. His name is Gene Steratore, and he's one of two first-year referees in 2006. Jerome Boger is the other, and Steratore and Boger replaced the retired Bernie Kukar and Tom White. Through eleven games, Steratore's crew is tied with Ron Winter's for most penalties called per game, according to Football Outsiders' officiating records, with 16.2. Boger's crew has called 15.9 penalties per game through 12 games, which ranks second.

So, we know that despite Roger Goodell's desire for penalties to decrease overall in the interest of speeding up the games (and despite the fact that penalties are down about 20% from the 2005 season), the new kids are flagging at old-school rates.

Steratore's crew has called 20 or more penalties in a game three times this season: The New York Jets at Tennessee in Week One, (20) Washington at Houston in Week Three (22) and Cleveland at San Diego in Week Nine (20). The league average per game for crews through 13 weeks is 14.0 (2,662 penalties through 192 games).

This will be first time he's officiated a Seahawks game, but Steratore saw the Cardinals in Week Four, when they lost 32-10, to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. In that October 1st contest, only ten penalties were called – five for each team. The other game with Steratore as the head man that involved NFC West teams was the Week Two game between the Rams and 49ers at San Francisco's Monster Park – a game the 49ers won, 20-13. In that game, only nine penalties were called – three for St. Louis and six for San Francisco. Of Steratore's 178 penalties, 86 have been charged to the road team and 92 for the host. The Seahawks, as the visitors, may find a bit of encouragement there.

Where the Seahawks really need to be careful is in the false start department – Steratore has called more false starts than any other penalty (44 times – only Ron Winter's 45 ranks higher), and the Seahawks have the fourth-highest number of false starts (22, tied with the New York Giants and behind only Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis). Here's the breakdown of the penalties Steratore has called:

False Start


Offensive Holding


Defensive Pass Interference


Defensive Holding


Illegal Block Above the Waist


Delay of Game


Illegal Contact


Roughing the Passer


Offensive Pass Interference


Defensive Offside


Unnecessary Roughness


Face Mask (15 Yards)


Intentional Grounding


Personal Foul


Unsportsmanlike Conduct


Illegal Use of Hands


Illegal Shift


Chop Block


Illegal Substitution


Neutral Zone Infraction






Face Mask (5 Yards)


Illegal Motion


Ineligible Downfield Kick


Illegal Touch Pass


Ineligible Downfield Pass


Roughing the Kicker


Illegal Forward Pass


Illegal Procedure


Invalid Fair Catch Signal


Center Chris Spencer leads the Seahawks with five false starts, and backup guard/tackle Tom Ashworth is second with four. The Cards have 19 false starts this season.

Holding could be a problem as well – Seattle's 18 offensive holding penalties is the fourth-most in the league, behind only Minnesota, Washington and Oakland. Steratore is on the high side with this penalty as well – his 31 is the fifth-most in the NFL. This would appear to be a situation where Seattle's disciplinary liabilities match up disturbingly well with the zebra in question. The Cardinals have only 13 holding penalties, a surprisingly low number when you consider how poor their line has been.

Steratore was a field judge in the NFL from 2003-2005 before his promotion. Before that, he officiated in the Big East conference. His brother Tony is his back judge. His full crew consists of: Line Judge Tom Barnes, Field Judge Doug Rosenbaum, Umpire Carl Paganelli, Side Judge Tom Hill, Replay Official Al Hynes, Head Linesman Paul Weidner, Back Judge Tony Steratore and Video Operator Louis Nazzaro.

One other note: When the Seahawks and Cardinals last faced off on September 17th, Arizona cornerback Antrel Rolle got away with a very obvious horse-collar tackle on Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander. Though he wasn’t flagged by Larry Nemmers' crew, Rolle was later fined $5,000 by the league. It's quite possible that this tackle led to the cracked metatarsal bone in Alexander's left foot, an injury which caused him to miss six games. On October 13, Rolle was fined $12,500 by the league for a tackle on Kansas City running back Larry Johnson, in which he grabbed Johnson's face mask from behind and pulled Johnson back. Johnson suffered a neck injury on the play. One can only hope that the Seahawks have reminded the NFL of Rolle's methods of "corralling" enemy running backs he doesn't seem to have the talent to tackle using only legitimate means. One can also imagine that the Seahawks players will be on the alert for any shenanigans of this nature.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He also writes the weekly "Manic Monday" feature for FoxSports.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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