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Baynes with his wife Holly and son Will after the game

Baynes talks about Super Bowl experience

By Michael Butler

Rusty Baynes was back in the spotlight. Baynes was on the biggest stage on Super Bowl Sunday as an official. It was his second time as part of a Super Bowl crew.

Baynes, who lives in Mountain Brook and was raised in Tallassee, served as line judge for Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Fla. He also worked in the same capacity five years earlier in 2016 for the NFL's golden anniversary of the championship game in San Francisco.

This time, like this past season, was much different.

The Baynes family made the trip south, including his father Ronnie - who has called two Super Bowls himself. But with COVID protocols, Rusty was in isolation upon arrival up until gametime.

"We stayed in downtown Tampa," he said. "It was just unfortunate that we had some restrictions this time. This year we couldn't go down until Friday. They canceled all our dinners. Holly, Will, mom and dad stayed in a completely different hotel. They stayed in the Westin. I stayed in the JW Marriott. I didn't see them until after the game on Sunday.

"Since I got the call two weeks ago that I had the game, I COVID tested every day. I did like 17 tests in a row. During the year we did it twice a week. It was a good thing to make sure everybody was safe."

The game, won by Tampa Bay in its own stadium over Kansas City 31-9, had more cardboard cutouts in the stands than fans. Stadiums with partial capacities and some with no fans at all became a common theme for the 2020-21 season.

"The weirdest game I had all year was in New York, a Thursday night game. I think the Meadowlands is the biggest stadium in the league and seats about 100,000. The only people in there were a couple of security guards. It was empty."

Super Bowl LV will be remembered for Tom Brady's seventh championship but also for Sarah Thomas who broke ground as the first female official in a Super Bowl. Rusty and his brother Mark worked with Thomas in the college ranks prior to her NFL work.

"It is historical," Rusty said. "I've know Sarah for ten or twelve years now. We were in the same college conference together - me and Mark. We broke her in. She's from Mississippi. I consider her a friend of mine. She did a great job. It's good for the game."

Thomas grabbed the CBS telecast's spotlight on a first-half goal line stand. She and Baynes had the mark of the ball just short of a touchdown.

"I guess it was more towards my side. I kind of made the initial ruling. She had the same thing. I watched the replay of the game. That was a good segue for them to mention her."

Replay confirmed that the crew got it right.

"Those plays are tough. These guys are 6-5, 350 pounds. They take up a lot of space and get in your way. Sometimes it's a gut feeling. Sometimes you can just see it. On that one I had a pretty decent look at it."

The television camera immediately turned away when a streaker made his way onto the field. Baynes had a bird's eye view.

"When he started running by, I actually took about two or three steps toward him. I guess that was the Tallassee coming out of me. We have microphones in our ear to talk to each other. One of the guys on the field asked the referee, 'Why didn't you tackle that guy?' He goes, 'I made a pact to myself a long time ago not to touch any man that has a pink thong on.'"

Baynes hopes there will be more Super Bowls for him. He has no plans of retirement in the immediate future.

"I ain't quitting anytime soon. I'd like to do it 15 more years. I'll be 65 then. That's what I'm hoping for."

*WTLS Interview