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Exclusive interview: Dean Blandino reflects on picked up flag in Lions-Cowboys playoff game

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Dean Blandino explains what happened back during the 2014 Wild Card game.

Super Bowl XLIX Football Operations Press Conference Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Remember that one time the Detroit Lions had one of the best defense ever and won 11 games? Man, that was fun. Remember when they went to the playoffs and were dominating the Cowboys 17-7 at halftime, and it looked like the Lions were going to win their second playoff game in the Super Bowl era. But then...

Cobra Commander, Shredder and Skeletor knocked on the doors of each and every Lions fan and kicked them in the face with a steel toe Kodiak grip work boot.

That pain isn’t going to go away until the Lions just get that win already. So instead of trying to suppress the pain, I wanted to try to understand it. I wanted to understand why this keeps happening to the Lions. Someone needed to answer my questions. But who?

How about the guy that was the Vice President of Officiating for the NFL that very night? I’m talking about Dean Blandino. You may remember Dean from your nightmares. You may also remember him from the week that followed that game. He was the guy on TV telling Lions fans they never truly had to feel that way.

Dean is no longer with the NFL anymore. He now works for FOX as a rules analyst. He is also about the easiest guy I have ever scored an interview with in the four years that I’ve been covering the Lions. I literally just asked on twitter and he said yes.

So I did get in touch with Dean. We sat down over a Vernon’s and talked about the picked up flag and some other stuff. Here’s our talk.

POD: Tell me about what you’re seeing that day

DB: “The play happens. There’s a flag down and like we normally do, we try to find out what the penalty is for, we’re waiting for the referee’s announcement. When he makes the announcement, we have a pass interference against the defense. And then waiting for the replay. And you know, my initial reaction to the play was that it’s a foul.

Whether it was pass interference or holding, I thought it was holding. But at the very minimum, there was a foul against the defense on the play. Then there’s a discussion that takes place on the field and we’re obviously not involved in that discussion and we’re trying to figure out what’s being said. Then there’s a second announcement that the flag is picked up and there’s no foul. And obviously the rest is history. “

POD: So you’re in New York at that time? Correct?

DB: “Correct. Yes.”

POD: There was no way to communicate with the refs about what you’re seeing?

DB: “No. Not at that time. We did not have communication. The only way that we could communicate was through the replay booth. During a replay review is when the referee would come over and put on a headset. That was the only way we could communicate. “

POD: Going forward from that game, what was the discussion the next day? At what point did the NFL know it made a mistake?

DB: “So you determine that right away if you have the video available. So there’s a couple of sources. There’s obviously the network broadcast which showed enough to us that it was a penalty. Sometimes you have to wait for the coaches copy. Which is what the team shoots on the sideline and the end zones. And we didn’t have to wait for that.

So we had made that decision right away and, you know, I have a conversation, when it’s something that controversial, the commissioner will come down and you’ll have a conversation with him and give him your input.

Then we make a decision and get with the PR staff and make a decision if we’re going to put something out publicly or we’re just going to handle it internally. At that point obviously it was a playoff game it was such a significant play and a controversial moment, we made the decision to come out and explain the call. The flag should not have been picked up. “

POD: How much did this get talked about in the offseason at league meetings and such?

DB: “You know, really, the breakdown on the play was communication. This wasn’t something that we felt was a rule that needed to fixed or anything like that. It was just a breakdown in communication.”

POD: Okay, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but there are theories that the NFL wanted an Ice Bowl rematch and did what they had to do to get it. They did mention that game multiple times during the Lions vs. Cowboys game and the broadcast team did remind viewers way more times than usual that this officiating team had never worked together. What do you say to those fans?

DB: “Look I’ve been involved with the NFL for a long time and I haven’t been in, maybe there’s some secret meetings that go on somewhere. But I was in charge of officiating and no one ever came to me and said, “Hey look, we really wanna, you know that Ice Bowl is still sticking with us. We want a rematch of that.”

It’s just one of those things. I get it when some things are said and especially when you have a fan base like the Lions. A fan base that is passionate and feel like they’ve been on the wrong end of some of these calls. But again, I think you’re giving, and I joke about this. I think you’re giving the officials and me in the officiating department too much credit to think that we would be that good to fix a football game. We’re just trying to get it right and things happen so quickly.

I’m 99 percent sure that there was no conspiracy to try to get the Packers and Cowboys to have an Ice Bowl rematch. because the very next week we had a controversial call with Dez Bryant that I was a part of. The Cowboys are very popular team. Why wouldn’t they want them to go to the Super Bowl? You can really take that down a rabbit hole.”

POD: I’ve always said that if the NFL was rigged, the Lions would win the Super Bowl because everyone loves the underdog story.

DB: “Sure.”

POD: After the game, TMZ put out this video of you on Jerry Jones bus. That’s another thing that’s caused a lot of conspiracy theories. What do you tell Lions fans about that?

DB: “That happened during training camp. And when you’re in position like I was and you’re in charge of the officiating department, you’re not just running the officiating department. But you’re dealing with club personnel all the time and you’re building relationships. You’re dealing with coaches, owners and general managers.

Most of your dealings, especially during the season, they’re not positive. You’re trying to explain calls where people are upset. So you’re trying to foster good relationships because if you have good relationships, they’ll respect you more and they’ll be more willing to listen to what you have to say.

That was something where having dinner with club personnel, which I’ve done on many occasions, we just happen to be rolling up to a nightclub where TMZ happens to be there. I can say that I’ve been on that bus before and have had really good football conversations with a lot of good NFL people and that was just one of those things. And again, Dallas fans were not very happy with me the next week. It went both ways.”


Dean gave me a lot of good info on the picked up flag game, but I was curious about what Dean thought of the current NFL rules that are dominating the headlines every season.

POD: Do you know what a catch is?

DB: “Personally I don’t think it’s any simpler than it once was. The old rule wasn’t perfect, but I felt there was a bright line that, look if you went to the ground, you have to hold on to it. For years and years and years, there was an old thing. You know, show me the ball. Show the official that you have the ball at the end of play. There’s still such activity to it. I think what the league did was try make the rule more in line with what some of these plays like the Calvin, Dez or Jesse James play, make those catches.

There’s still so much subjectivity to it that causes debate. I know what a catch is. I know the old rule and i have a pretty good grasp on the new rule. There’s always going to be those plays where it’s subjective. “

What are your thoughts on the new roughing the passer rule and which week do you think it will cost the Lions a game?

DB: “So it’s an interesting subject. I get why it’s a point of emphasis. We have seen injuries when a player lands on a quarterbacks with all or most of their body weight. They’re trying to protect the quarterbacks just like they’re trying to protect all players from unnecessary risk.

I think where we are today with this, and it is a new standard. In the past it had to be something that was violent or unnecessary. Like if I picked the quarterback up and drove him to the ground. Now it could be a normal tackle. But if part of that normal tackle you land on the QB with all your weight, it’s a foul.

I think that’s the frustrating part for defensive players and everybody that watches the game. It’s about protecting those players.

I hope it doesn’t affect any games negatively. But if I had to bet, it’ll probably be about Week 10 before that happens to the Lions.”


I want to thank Dean Blandino for taking time out of his day to help with this. He truly is a nice guy and I think Lions fans should lay off of him. He’s genuinely on your side. Even if he doesn't know what Vernors is.