Phil Luckett is a retired official in the National Football League (NFL), having served from 1991–2005, and again in 2007. His officiating uniform number was 59. He entered the NFL as a field judge in 1991 and officiated Super Bowl XXXI, his last game at that position before he became a referee in 1997 after Red Cashion and Howard Roe announced their retirements. He also refereed in the WLAF/NFL Europe, including being assigned World Bowl '97. He returned to the NFL back judge position in 2001, three years after the NFL switched the titles of back judge and field judge. He took a leave of absence from the NFL for the 2006 season. In 2007, he returned to officiating as the back judge on Bill Carollo's crew and retired at the end of the season. After retiring, he was employed by the league as an officiating supervisor.
Luckett has been known for officiating several controversial games, including the following games:
The first was an overtime coin toss on November 26, 1998 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. The referee microphone only picked up Pittsburgh captain Jerome Bettis calling "tails" as Luckett tossed the coin. The toss was "tails", but Luckett said that Bettis had called "heads" and awarded the coin toss to the Lions. Bettis insisted that he had called "tails", and Luckett insisted that Bettis had called "heads-tails", meaning that Bettis said "heads" first. The Steelers argued the call to no avail and Bettis denied Luckett's claim. The Lions scored a field goal on their first possession of the overtime to win the game. Within a week, the game tape was enhanced, and Bettis is clearly heard saying "hea-tails." A sideline microphone enhancement also clearly had Bettis telling Coach Bill Cowher that (Bettis) had said "hea-tails." According to NFL rules, a team's first call is the one the referee will use, and Luckett noted in his game report to the NFL that Bettis was attempting to deceive. However, on November 25, 2015, the NFL's official YouTube.com channel posted the video of the coin toss with the title, "Phil Luckett Botches Jerome Bettis OT Coin Toss", with a description reading that Luckett "audibly mistakes [Bettis]' call of 'tails' on the overtime coin flip which would've been right".
Following this incident, the coin toss rules were changed. Now, instead of calling the toss while the coin is in the air, the team captain chooses heads or tails before the coin is flipped and the referee confirms the selection before he flips the coin.
This incident was parodied in the film Rat Race, where Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays the role of a referee who botches a coin flip, costing one team the game. The coin flip is also mimicked in a 2012 Papa John's pizza commercial, featuring current Papa John's CEO John Schnatter, Jerome Bettis and Peyton Manning as the referee.
The second was a late touchdown scored by Vinny Testaverde of the New York Jets against the Seattle Seahawks on December 6, 1998 at The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey, although Luckett did not actually make the call. With the Jets trailing 31-25, Testaverde attempted a quarterback sneak on 4th down in the final minute of the game and head linesman Earnie Frantz signaled that he had crossed the goal line for a touchdown. Although Testaverde's head broke the plane of the goal line, replays showed that the ball was out of the end zone and, as per the rules, the play should not have been called a touchdown. At the time, the NFL did not use instant replay to review officials' decisions. Luckett, as the head of the officiating crew that day, received bad publicity despite not actually making the erroneous ruling. The call would be cited as a major reason why the NFL reinstituted instant replay the following season. The Seahawks' loss helped cost them a chance at the playoffs that season and head coach Dennis Erickson was later fired.
The Music City Miracle
The third was the Music City Miracle play during the 1999 Playoffs between the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans on January 8, 2000 at Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville. A lateral pass (by rule, a backward pass or pass parallel to the line of yardage it was thrown from) thrown by Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson enabled Dyson to run 75 yards for a game-winning touchdown. The Bills claimed that the pass was actually a forward pass, and thus an illegal play that would have virtually clinched the game for the Bills. Luckett, after checking the replay, ruled the pass was thrown parallel to the 25-yard line, thus making it a legal lateral pass. The NFL stated the reason for the call was that replays showed no clear proof that the call on the field was bad. NFL Films, with computer assistance, later concluded that the pass was, once and for all, a lateral and that Luckett's call was correct.
Luckett was in the news again in 2001 when he failed to get out of the way and was run over by New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Horn as he streaked downfield for a pass, while not covered by any opposing player, from Aaron Brooks during the Saints' game against the Carolina Panthers.
On the controversial final play of the game, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone intended for wide receiver Golden Tate. Both Tate and Packers defender M. D. Jennings got their hands on the ball while attempting to gain possession. The two officials near the play initially gave separate rulings of touchdown and interception, before ruling the players had simultaneous possession, resulting in a Seahawks game-winning touchdown. Prior to the catch, Tate shoved Packers cornerback Sam Shields with both hands, which the NFL later acknowledged should have drawn an offensive pass interference penalty that would have negated the touchdown and resulted in a Packers victory.
Replay official Howard Slavin initiated a video review, as is required of all scoring plays. According to an NFL press release after the game, "The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable." Referee Wayne Elliott determined that there was not adequate evidence to overturn the call, so the ruling stood as a touchdown.
Talking to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, officiating consultant Jim Daopoulos stated that if it was a regular official making the call, he would have not needed advice from the replay official. But because of the replacements, Daopoulos believes that Slavin and Luckett should have advised Elliott that it was an interception. But whatever they said, it was not enough for Elliot to overturn the call.
- http://refereestats.tripod.com/crewArc.htm Behind the Football Stripes officiating crew archive
- Topp, Bill (May 1999). "Heads or Tails?". Referee. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-03-17.
- "'Heads'? 'Tails'? Referee Chooses, Then Steelers Lose". New York Times. 1998-11-27. Retrieved 2016-01-17.
Referee Phil Luckett told pool reporters after the game Bettis had called 'heads-tails' and Luckett went with the first thing he heard. 'I did not say heads-tails,' Bettis said
- "11/26/1998 - The Turkey Day coin flip". SB Nation. 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2016-01-17.
Pittsburgh television station KDKA enhanced the audio and found that Bettis had given two separate commands. Removing all ambiguity, a sideline conversation between Bettis and Cowher was also picked up, one where the Steelers back clearly defines that he said 'hea-tails.'
- "Luckett win coin-flip flap". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 27, 1999. Retrieved 2016-01-17.
- Phil Luckett Botches Jerome Bettis OT Coin Toss (1998): NFL on Thanksgiving. The official NFL channel on YouTube. 2015-11-25. Retrieved 2016-01-17. External link in
- Anderson, Dave (1999-03-18). "Sports of The Times; Just Thank Testaverde For Replay". New York Times.
- "Tennessee vs. Buffalo, 1/8/00". NFL Films Game of the Week. 2007-07-11. NFL Network.
- Los Angeles Times http://articles.latimes.com/keyword/phil-luckett. Missing or empty
- King, Peter (September 25, 2012). "Lack of communication ultimately led to embarrassing Monday gaffe". SI.com. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
Daopoulos pointed out that a veteran referee ... would go under the hood and not need advice from the replay official upstairs. But in this case, Daopoulos believes both the replay official, Howard Slavin, and the NFL officiating supervisor, former ref Phil Luckett, were speaking to Elliott ... Daopoulos believes they should have said to him, 'This is an interception.' ... The next question, obviously, is this: What were Slavin and Luckett telling Elliott? Obviously it wasn't enough to convince him to overturn the call.
- "Wilson: 'I gave him a shot and he came down with it'". Seahawks.com. 2012-09-24. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- Nevada Daily Mail. "Column: : NFL replacements: Train wreck or blessing in disguise?". Nevada Daily Mail. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- Oklahoman Derrick Rhone-Dunn plays key role in Monday Night Football debacle | NewsOK.com
- "NFL upholds Seahawks' disputed win over Packers". SI.com. Time Inc. Associated Press. 2012-09-25. Retrieved 2012-09-26.
- "NFL supports decision to not overturn Seahawks' touchdown" (Press release). National Football League. 2012-09-25. Retrieved 2012-09-25.