Laird Hayes '71, center, receives an earful from Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith during a 2009 game. Hayes has been an NFL official since 1995. (Photo: © Erik Lesser/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Even on the slow-motion replay, the black-and-red cleats seemed to tap the turf in a split-second blur. Did he keep both feet inbounds? Did he control the catch? The answers would go a long way toward deciding the winner of Super Bowl XLVI.

Side judge Laird Hayes ’71 immediately said “yes” to both, ruling a completed catch by New York Giants receiver Mario Manningham late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s big game. The official video review confirmed his call, and the Giants went on to beat the New England Patriots, 21-17. (Good news for another alumnus, Giants college scouting director Marc Ross ’95, who drafted Manningham and many other New York standouts.)

Hayes’ call was an MVP performance, according to Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice president of officiating who now serves as an expert “rules analyst” for Fox Sports.

“On our biggest stage, in front of what may turn out to be the largest audience of any television program in history, Hayes faced the biggest call of his career — and he nailed it,” Pereira wrote. “When you stop and analyze it, we get replay after replay to dissect every close play. Hayes had only 1/26 of a second to make the right call. And he did.”

Hayes, a retired instructor and coach at Orange Coast College in California, has now officiated three Super Bowls in an NFL career that spans 17 seasons. In 2007, he spoke to PAW about his officiating work — and the unique pressure of being part of the nation’s largest sporting event.

“I wish I could say it’s just another game,” he said, recalling his first Super Bowl, in 2002. “Right until the ball was kicked off, that was just another game, and then all of a sudden, I don’t know what on earth happened, but it just wasn’t another game. It was pretty intense. The players aren’t any more intense, the coaches aren’t any more intense, but you just kind of realize the enormity of the whole deal and how lucky you are to be there. You just hope you don’t screw it up.”

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