The NFL has confirmed that referee Clete Blakeman made his own decision to repeat the coin toss before overtime in Saturday night's divisional playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals. Although there is no rule requiring the coin to flip in the air during a legal coin toss, the league said Blakeman acted out of "basic fairness" rather than a misinterpretation of protocol.
"There is nothing in the rulebook that specifies [a required flip]," NFL spokesman Michael Signora said in a statement. "But the referee used his judgment to determine that basic fairness dictated that the coin should flip for the toss to be valid. That is why he retossed the coin."
The event occurred with captains from both teams gathered at midfield at University of Phoenix Stadium. Packers quarterback and captain Aaron Rodgers called tails, and Blakeman tossed the coin in the air. It did not flip in the air and landed on heads, presumably making the Cardinals the winner.
Blakeman, however, called off the toss, telling both teams that the coin hadn't flipped. He did not give Rodgers the opportunity to change his call. This time, the coin did flip and landed on heads again. The Cardinals won, chose to receive the kickoff and promptly won the game on a 5-yard touchdown reception by receiver Larry Fitzgerald on the third play of overtime. In the process, the NFL avoided a larger controversy had the coin landed on tails the second time.
Rodgers was dismayed after the game because he said he makes his calls based on which way the referee is holding the coin.
"Clete had it on heads," Rodgers said. "He was showing heads, so I called tails, and it didn't flip. It just tossed up in the air and did not turn over at all. It landed in the ground. So we obviously thought that was not right.
"He picked the coin up and flipped it to tails, and then he flipped it without giving me a chance to make a recall there. It was confusing."
Rodgers indicated he would have called "heads" on the second toss if given the chance.
"I think he was trying to avoid the embarrassment of what just happened," Rodgers said. "He flipped it quickly."
Packers linebacker Clay Matthews theorized that "there was a little protective case that might have been weighted in the heads' favor."
Added Matthews: "The first one, it didn't turn. It just sat there like a saucer. They still won the second one. I'm sure that would have been a little bit of controversy if we had won."
This was not Blakeman's first brush with a coin-toss controversy. In Week 16, he presided over an overtime coin toss in which the New England Patriots tried to kick off and declare which goal they wanted to defend.
After some discussion, Blakeman adjudicated that toss accurately, allowing the Patriots to kick off and the Jets to choose which goal to defend.