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Sarah Thomas on "falling in love" with officiating football and being first woman to referee a Super Bowl

Sarah Thomas breaks barriers at Super Bowl LV
Sarah Thomas becomes first woman to referee a Super Bowl 05:22

As millions of people watched Super Bowl LV from their homes on Sunday, many couldn't help but notice Sarah Thomas' blonde ponytail sticking out of her NFL referee cap.

"You know at first, whenever Gerald Austin hired me, he told me that I needed to tuck my hair to blend in and wear little to no make-up, and I said 'Gerald, you're crossing the line. There's a lot of things I thank the good Lord for, and make-up is one of them," Thomas told "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King. "But I understand why he did that, so I wouldn't immediately be stereotyped that I shouldn't be out there because I'm a woman. But as things have progressed, it is not about my hair anymore."

Thomas made history Sunday when she became the first woman to referee a Super Bowl. She was part of a seven-person crew officiating at Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay. 

It's not the first time Thomas has gone out of the norm. Thomas was the only girl to play in her fifth-grade basketball team in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

"When I was in fifth grade, my aunt looked at me, and she goes 'Are you going to play basketball?' and I said, "They don't have a girl's team." She said 'Go out for the boy's team,' so I did," Thomas told "CBS This Morning" co-host Anthony Mason.

Super Bowl LV
Referee Sarah Thomas seen at Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday, February 7, 2021. Brian Snyder / Reuters

Thomas has spent her entire career since then breaking barriers in male-dominated sports. She was the first-ever female referee at an NFL playoff game in 2019. She was also the first full-time female referee in the NFL and the first woman to work a major college football game. Thomas never set out to be a football official, but she said she fell in love with the job.

"I couldn't say I ever set out to be a football official, but I ended up falling in love with it," Thomas said. "I often joke about I hated the officials when I was playing, and they hated me, but as you pursue this career and you fall in love with what you are doing and to be a part of such a strong fraternity and they let a little sister in, and I know there's going to be some more women following me."

Despite all her accomplishments and the mark she's left in history books, Thomas said Super Bowl Sunday felt like a normal work day for her.

"When you look at the NFL any give Sunday, and we treat it as if it is our Super Bowl, and so this game was no different," she said. "The crew that I had the opportunity to work with and Carl Cheffers leading this crew and Shawn Hochuli [leading] the crew I was on the entire season. We prepare all year for this game. We are given the opportunity to work it, so we were prepared and ready."

Before the big game, Thomas was overcome with emotion after remembering a special moment she shared with her mother.

"So Saturday night, my mother had pinned a little angel on me when I was a freshman in college, and she told me, she said 'I may not be there with you in person, but I'll be there with you in spirit as you go through this journey of college,' and so she found that angel. And she pinned it on a little note and said, 'We're not going to be there with you in person, but we're there with you in spirit. Will you pin this on your uniform somewhere?'" she recalled. "Then I listened to 'Rise Up,' that song...Every word from the start to the end is, I have chills now, and that got me emotional because I would do this 1,000 times again and rise up and do this over and over, and that song just has a lot of meaning to it."

After the big game, Thomas' children joined her on the field — reminding Thomas of what she considers her most important job.

"Both of my sons were there, Brady and Bridley... and of course Bailey [daughter] was there. Them being there, I think just gave me another sense of just calm. That they're there. They're safe," she said. "And I often say being the first in any of this is not what I set out to do, but being a mom first is what I am to do. So having them there and to share this with me, it was just unbelievable."

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