While serving as NFL vice president of officiating, Mike Pereira answered the phone one day and heard the indignant voice of his father, a former official in the Stockton area.

"He told me, 'Your officials are terrible. We were better when I was doing college football,' " Pereira said.

No small number of 49ers fans would agree, and nothing, not even the weather in New Jersey on Sunday, scares the NFL more than a bad call deciding the Super Bowl.

Criticizing officials is much a part of the weekly routine as fantasy football. It always has been part of the game, and it always will be. Still, the calls for reform are growing in volume and in frequency. It isn't just Joe Fan doing the complaining.

Former Raiders coach and NFL analyst John Madden, speaking of the officiating in the aftermath of the conference championship games, said: "It wasn't good and it hasn't been good all year."

The 49ers' game against Seattle, otherwise a classic, was marked by two bad calls. The worst was the goal line fumble recovery awarded to Seattle despite 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman having undeniable possession of the ball. The other was a roughing-the-kicker penalty that was instead ruled as running into the kicker, an incorrect application of a clearly written rule that denied the 49ers an automatic first down.

Mistakes such as those, says Dean Blandino, the current V.P. of officiating for the NFL, obscure the overall performance of his crews.


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"We analyze some 40,000 plays during the season and our accuracy percentage is actually higher than last season," Blandino said. "Whenever you have high-profile situations where we got some mistakes, it creates more controversy, more interest, and I think that's kind of where we've been this year. The media has jumped on those situations but I think overall the officiating has been good."

Jim Tunney, an NFL official from 1960-91 who works as an observer for the league, cited the accuracy rate at "between 96 and 97 percent." He said officiating is better because of technology -- a knife that, incidentally, cuts both ways.

"We watched our film on a Bell and Howell projector, sometimes using a bed sheet on a wall," Tunney said. "Now every Tuesday, every official in the league can call up a file that has every holding penalty from every game on Sunday."

Pereira, who left the NFL in 2009 and went to Fox Sports as an analyst of officiating, remembers telling his father to pull out his old film, see the number of officials out of position and take into account the ease with which a mistake is exposed in the current set-up.

"There are upwards of 30 cameras in a game. Everything is in super slow motion," Pereira said. "Everything is so difficult. If you were to take the chronic complainer and put him at field level and make him watch plays at real time, life would be a blur. There are mistakes, but there also some amazing calls."

The technological advances aren't limited to cameras. There is social media, giving voice to fans everywhere. And there are TV analysts, Pereira foremost among them, whose knowledge of the rule book often will confirm Joe Fan's angry suspicion.

For instance, most fans didn't know why roughing the kicker should have been called when a Seattle player ran into 49ers punter Andy Lee; they just wanted it called. But Pereira, through slow-motion replays and his rule-book knowledge, detailed that Seattle's Chris Maragos had made contact with Lee's "plant leg." Making contact with the kicker's plant leg, as opposed to his kicking leg, constitutes a 15-yard penalty rather than the 5-yard infraction that was called.

Neither that play, nor the fumble recovery involving Bowman, was reviewable under the current replay rules.

That could change when the Competition Committee convenes at the owners' meeting in March. The committee, comprised of coaches or executives from eight NFL teams (neither the 49ers nor the Raiders is currently included), reviews suggestions for rule changes and takes a vote. Changes recommended by the committee are almost always approved by the owners.

It seems likely that the use of replay will increase, and one possibility is removing on-field officials from the review process. Instead, replays would be reviewed by an official in the press box with final say coming from the league offices in New York.

"I think we're headed that way," said ESPN analyst Andrew Brandt, a former front office executive with the Green Bay Packers. "There seems to be a groundswell. The reason replay came in to begin with was to get it right, the game-changing call. Now we've got game-changing calls we can't get right because replay doesn't allow it. ... I think we're going to be hearing more about centralized replay, like hockey has and baseball is talking about."

Pereira agrees that centralized replay is a possibility but warns that replay, instituted in 1999, will never eliminate mistakes.

Neither will making NFL officials full time, although the league plans on phasing in some. Unlike the NBA or Major League Baseball, most NFL officials have other jobs. There is currently only one full-time official.

The referee who headed the crew for 49ers-Seahawks, Gene Steratore, had worked two college basketball games in the days preceding the NFC Championship game. Neither Blandino nor Pereira see that as a problem, although Periera favors a system in which all 17 crew chiefs (aka referees) are made full-time employees of the NFL.

"We're going to see what makes the most sense," Blandino said. "Is it a specific position? Should it be the referee? Can we have multiple full-time officials across all positions? Any time you can spend more time honing your craft, certainly there's value there."

Whatever the league decides, Amy Trask, the former Raiders' executive and current analyst for CBS, isn't sure it will make a discernible difference.

"The rule book has become so thick and complex," Trask said. "This is a game that is played at a very, very high speed and the rule book keeps getting thicker, thicker and thicker. I suppose full-time officials would have more time to study it, but it's hard to correctly apply all those rules at high speed with bang-bang plays."

Fans and media may shriek, but judging from TV ratings and league revenues, the problem with NFL officiating isn't that big of a problem.

"Every club in history has that horrible call that incenses the fan base," said Trask, who can cite the Tuck Rule game among her own history. "I do believe fans get very upset. But I have yet to meet the fan, myself included, that will say, 'That call is so bad I'm going to stop watching.' "

Follow Jerry McDonald on Twitter at twitter.com/Jerrymcd.


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