Brian Allee-Walsh

We take a close look at the Saints-Rams starting lineup — for the officiating crew

Normally, with a game of this magnitude, I would concentrate solely on the coaches and players. But I can’t.

I just can’t.

Make no mistake: Sunday’s long-awaited rematch of last year’s NFC Championship is extremely important for the New Orleans Saints and Rams. Even though it’s only Week 2, this game has serious playoff implications since both teams see themselves as a potential conference representative in Super Bowl LIV.

Normally, I would say that the contest will be settled fair and square, by the teams, between the lines, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (3:25 p.m., Fox)

But I can’t say that without equivocation.

I just can’t.

Not based on what’s happened to the Saints inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in their last two games, first on January 20th in a 26-23 overtime loss to the Rams with a berth in Super Bowl LIII on the line and again Monday night in a 30-28 win against the Houston Texans.

Instead of playing a complementary role and taking a backseat to the teams, the officiating crews under the stewardship of Bill Vinovich and John Hussey, respectively, wielded a heavy, invasive hand and unnecessarily became a major part of the story.

In the Rams-Saints game, Vinovich’s crew inexplicably pocketed their flags when confronted with obvious infractions at crunch time. In the Saints-Texans’ game, Hussey’s crew mismanaged the game clock. On both occasions, the officiating blunders worked to the detriment of the Black and Gold.

That’s not an excuse. Just the facts.

Consequently, I am compelled to introduce Sunday’s starting lineup — not the players but the officiating crew, including their name, jersey number, years of NFL officiating experience, college and occupation.

REFEREE — Walt Anderson (No. 66), 24, Texas, former college officiating coordinator, retired dentist.

UMPIRE — Ruben Fowler (No. 71), 14, Huston-Tillotson, retired fire fighter.

DOWN JUDGE — Tom Stephan (No. 68), 21, Pittsburg State, president and CEO.

LINE JUDGE — Byron Boston (No. 18), 25, Austin, tax consultant, Southland Conference officiating coordinator.

FIELD JUDGE — Lee Dyer (No. 27), 17, Tennessee-Chattanooga, sales manager.

SIDE JUDGE — Rick Patterson (No. 15), 24, Wofford, banker.

BACK JUDGE — Keith Ferguson (No. 61), 20, San Jose State, sales.

REPLAY OFFICIAL — Brian Matoren (no information available).

By the way, none of the aforementioned officials were part of the Vinovich and Hussey crews.

Let’s hope Anderson and his officiating crew bring their A game Sunday, do their jobs discreetly and make their profession proud.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Is that too much to ask?

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at