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Pete Morelli

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Pete Morelli
Pete Morelli, 2013 AFC Divisional 011114.jpg
Morelli in 2014
Born Peter Danie Morelli
(1951-11-18) November 18, 1951 (age 64)
San Joaquin County, California
Nationality  United States
Occupation NFL official (1997–present)
President (Saint Mary's High School)

Peter Danie "Pete" Morelli (born November 18, 1951)[1] is the president of Saint Mary's High School in Stockton, California and better known as an American football official in the National Football League (NFL) since the 1997 NFL season. He wears uniform number 135.[2][3]

As an official in the NFL, Morelli is known for working Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 as a field judge[4] and later as a referee.


Pete Morelli is married to Cindy and has two sons, Matt and Dan.[5] Morelli currently lives in Stockton, California.[5]

Officiating career[edit]

Early years[edit]

In 1971, aged 19, Morelli began officiating with his father and two uncles, Joe and Tony Morelli.[5] He started with the California Interscholastic Federation, working high school football games.[5] For his performance, he was assigned playoff and championship games.[5] He later progressed to the college level, officiating in the Big West Conference and Western Athletic Conference.[5] He was selected to work eleven playoff games, including the 1996 Liberty Bowl.[5]

NFL career[edit]

Pete Morelli conducts a coin toss with back judge Rob Vernatchi and field judge Jon Lucivansky

Morelli was hired by the NFL in 1997 as a back judge, then switched to field judge after the league swapped position titles in 1998, and was promoted to referee with the start of the 2003 NFL season following the retirements of Dick Hantak and Bob McElwee.

Morelli's 2015 NFL officiating crew consists of umpire Ruben Fowler, head linesman Ed Camp, line judge Sarah Thomas, field judge Rick Patterson, side judge Rob Vernatchi, and back judge Dale Shaw.[6]

2005 AFC Divisional playoff: Troy Polamalu interception[edit]

Morelli was involved in a controversial call during an AFC divisional playoff game on January 15, 2006 between the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. In the fourth quarter, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu appeared to intercept a Peyton Manning pass with 5:26 left in regulation.[7] Polamalu made a diving catch and tumbled to the ground with the ball in his hands and got up to run.[7] As he did, he fumbled the ball, then recovered.[7] Colts head coach Tony Dungy challenged the call, and upon review on instant replay, Morelli overturned the ruling on the field of a completed catch and interception.[7] After the reversal of the interception, Indianapolis drove down the field and scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to reduce the eleven-point deficit down to three, making the score 21–18.[7] This would end up being the final score of the game.[7] Following the game, Morelli explained his ruling, saying, "I had the defender catching the ball. Before he got up, he hit it with his leg with his other leg still on the ground. He never had possession with his leg up off the ground, doing an act common to the game of football. He was losing it while his other leg was still on the ground. Therefore, he did not complete the catch. And then he lost the ball. It came out, and so we made the play an incomplete pass."[7] Steelers linebacker Joey Porter claimed that the referees were conspiring against his team, hoping to give the Colts the victory.[8] In an interview with The New York Times, Porter said, "I felt they were cheating us. When the interception happened, everybody in the world knew that was an interception. Don't cheat us that bad. When they did that, they really want Peyton Manning and these guys to win the Super Bowl. They are just going to straight take it for them. I felt that they were like 'We don't even care if you know we're cheating. We're cheating for them.'"[8]

A day after the game, the NFL released a statement confirming that Polamalu made the interception, refuting the overturn call of Morelli.[7] Mike Pereira, then-the league's vice president of officiating, said, "[Polamalu] maintained possession long enough to establish a catch. Therefore, the replay review should have upheld the call on the field that it was a catch and fumble."[7] The NFL also opted not to fine Porter for his remarks towards the officials.[9] No further explanation was given by the league on their decision not to punish Porter.[9]

2007 Phil Dawson field goal[edit]

On November 18, 2007 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Morelli was the referee of a game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. Towards the end of regulation, Browns placekicker Phil Dawson attempted a 51-yard field goal to tie the game and force an overtime period.[10] As Dawson kicked the ball, it ricocheted off the left upright, broke the vertical plane of the crossbar, and bounced off the stanchion, which holds the crossbar and supports the goalposts.[11] Upon contacting the stanchion, the ball bounced back over the crossbar and onto the field.[11] Initially, field judge Jim Saracino looked at back judge Keith Ferguson, then signaled the kick was no good as time expired.[11]

As the Ravens headed for the locker room believing the game was over, officials began to discuss the call. After a five-minute discussion among the officials,[11] referee Pete Morelli announced over the public address system that he would "take a look at this play".[12] However, by rule, field goals are not reviewable on instant replay.[11] Upon arriving at the instant review booth, Morelli was informed by replay assistant Howard Slavin through headphones that field goals are not reviewable.[12] While there is some controversy on whether Morelli used video review, Mike Pereira said, "[Morelli] was talking to Howard Slavin, and he was told it was not a reviewable play. He wanted to make sure."[13] WMAR-TV in Baltimore filmed Morelli and Jim Saracino at the replay booth, but not "under the hood" reviewing video.[10]

Morelli proceeded to further discuss the kick with his crew.[12] In the discussion that ensued, Keith Ferguson "felt more strongly" that the ball had crossed through the goal posts.[12] Based on Ferguson's opinion of the kick, Morelli declared that the field goal was good.[12] Following the game, Morelli described the sequence of events to a pool reporter. "It was a ruling by one of the officials, not by me," Morelli said. "One of the officials signaled incomplete, no good. The other official informed me the ball hit the back of the extension of the goal post, which is the backside of it, which is an object beyond the goal post. And, in discussion with the three of us, we had to figure what the ruling was. Whether the ball hit the bar beyond the extension or not."[13]

The correct call was made according to NFL rules as Rule No. 11, Section 5-c, states that the entire ball must pass through the goal in case wind or other forces cause it to return through the goal. It must have struck the ground or some object.[11]

As a result of this incident, a rule change was passed during the ensuing offseason, making field goal attempts that bounce off the goal post reviewable under instant replay.[14] League executives, however, coincided that there are not enough cameras to provide irrefutable video evidence to review all types of field goal attempts, such as when the ball passes directly over one of the goal posts.[15]

2009 NFC Championship Game[edit]

Morelli was the referee of the NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on January 24, 2010. One questionable call was the Saints' Bobby McCray's low blindside hit on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre; it appeared to have violated the "Tom Brady Rule" in which defenders can't hit quarterbacks below the knees, but no penalty was called (which would have negated a New Orleans interception).[16] Mike Pereira, the then-NFL's Supervisor of Officials, would later discuss the play on his weekly "Official Review" segment on NFL Network's NFL Total Access, and admit that it was in fact a missed call and a penalty flag should have been thrown.[17]

This, along with two other hits on Favre that did draw penalty flags from Morelli's crew,[18] later became one of the many examples cited in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, in which the Saints were accused of operating a slush fund that paid out bonuses for in-game performance in violation of NFL rules.[19]

2014 NFC Wild Card Game[edit]

Morelli was the referee of the NFC Wild Card playoff game between the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on January 4, 2015. With Detroit leading 20-17 with 8:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Lions faced a third down and 1 at the Dallas 46 yard-line. On the play, Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens was initially called for pass interference trying to defend Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew, which would have given Detroit an automatic first down. Morelli announced the penalty, but moments later announced that the call was changed to no foul without any further explanation. The Lions ended up punting the ball and Dallas then scored the game-winning touchdown on their ensuing drive to eventually win, 24-20.[20]

Both Mike Pereira, now a Fox Sports analyst, and Michael David Smith of stated that the penalty should have stood.[21][22]

In a pool report after the game, Morelli stated the head linesman later came in to say that he had a better angle and that he thought "the contact was minimal and didn't warrant pass interference. He thought it was face guarding ... Face Guarding is not a foul ... in professional football".[20][23] Morelli however admitted that he should have waited to announce the call before the head linesman had a chance to explain his reasons for overturning the penalty.[20] NFL Vice President of Officiating, Dean Blandino stated that the non-call on pass interference was debatable, but holding definitely should have been called on the play.[24]


Morelli was inducted into the St. Mary's High School Hall of Fame in November 2007, where he is president.[25] Morelli also received the Art McNally Award in 2015.[26]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Message from Mr. Morelli". St. Mary's High School (Stockton). Retrieved 2007-11-24. 
  3. ^ "2007 NFL Officials Roster". Referee. September 2007. 
  4. ^ "NFL SCOREBOARD: Box Score: St. Louis at New England". CNN Sports Illustrated. 2002-02-03. Retrieved 2007-11-24. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Pete Morelli". Football Officials Camps, LLC. Retrieved 2007-11-24. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i "NFL: Polamalu overturned interception the wrong call". Associated Press. 2006-01-17. Retrieved 2006-09-09. 
  8. ^ a b "Porter on refs: 'I felt they were cheating us'". 2006-01-17. Retrieved 2006-09-09. 
  9. ^ a b "Porter won't be fined for comments on refs". 2006-01-17. Retrieved 2006-09-09. 
  10. ^ a b Powell, Camille (2007-11-19). "Officially, Ravens Lose Again". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Porter, Todd (2007-11-19). "Stanchion gets spot in Browns infamy". Canton Repository. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Clayton, John (2007-11-12). "'Crazy' win keeps Cleveland in running". Retrieved 2007-11-24. 
  13. ^ a b Judge, Clark (2007-11-18). "Upon further review, replay wasn't used on Dawson's kick". Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  14. ^ "Proposal to reseed playoff teams withdrawn by owners". April 2, 2008. Retrieved April 2, 2008. 
  15. ^ Sando, Mike (2007-11-20). "Replay on all field goals probably a long shot". Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  16. ^ Judge, Clark (2010-01-25). "Low moment: Missed call on Favre hit inexcusable". CBS Retrieved 2010-01-27. 
  17. ^ Official Review: Mike Pereira takes a look at some close calls from conference championship weekend. Retrieved 2010-01-28. 
  18. ^ Judge, Clark (2012-03-02). "Saints, team officials involved in bounty program should pay dearly". Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  19. ^ "Resolution needed in Saints scandal". ESPN. 2012-09-12. Retrieved 2013-12-24.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  20. ^ a b c Archer, Todd (2015-01-04). "Pete Morelli: Penalty not warranted". Retrieved 2015-01-05. 
  21. ^ Wilson, Ryan (2015-01-04). "Officials pick up flag for pass interference, Cowboys benefit". Retrieved 2015-01-05. 
  22. ^ Smith, Michael David (2015-01-04). "Refs give Cowboys a gift with pass interference no-call". Retrieved 2015-01-05. 
  23. ^ Florio, Mike (2015-01-04). "Referee Pete Morelli explains controversial non-call in Lions-Cowboys". Retrieved 2015-01-05. 
  24. ^ Watkins, Calvin (5 January 2015). "Blandino: Crew missed holding call". ESPN. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  25. ^ "Class Notes". Saint Mary's High School. Retrieved 2015-01-24. 
  26. ^ "Pete Morelli to receive Art McNally Award". 2015-01-24. Retrieved 2015-01-24.