"You'll dress only in attire specially sanctioned by NFL special services. You'll conform to the identity we give you, eat where we tell you, live where we tell you. From now on you'll have no identifying marks of any kind. You'll not stand out in any way. Your entire image is crafted to leave no lasting memory with anyone you encounter. You're a rumor, recognizable only as deja vu and dismissed just as quickly. You don't exist; you were never even born. Anonymity is your name. Silence your native tongue. You're no longer part of the System. You're above the System. Over it. Beyond it. We're "them." We're "they." We are the Men in Stripes."
(with apologies to The Men in Black)
I once heard it said that the best referees are the ones that you don't realize are even there. They are the ones who quietly keep the game moving forward and the players respect them enough to know that they'll get called for flagrant misdeeds but will be allowed to play if they stick to the rules of the game.
Not sure I believe that . . . by the same token, however, I much prefer to see a game which is not slowed down by excessive flag-throwing, interrupted by extended discussions of the rules, or marred a failed call like the one that awarded the ball to Denver after San Diego had recovered a fumble.
So who are these Men in Stripes whose names we rarely hear, these phantom figures who receive our attention only when we believe they have failed in their job,
The first thing we should remember about NFL referees is that, for many, the NFL position is not their full-time, primary source of income. For example: Ed Hochuli (of the famous fumble call) is a partner in a law firm. Among the eight men who served as the referee in Denver's home games in 2010:
Walt Anderson (1996-present) dentist from 1974-2003; he retired from dentistry when he was promoted to Referee by the NFL.
Mike Carey (1990-present) founded and has owned and operated a company that manufactures ski and snowboarding gloves and other cold weather accessories since 1979.
Walt Coleman (1989-present) 6th-generation family operator of Coleman Dairy as well as serving on various community boards and associations, such as the Little Rock Boys and Girls Club.
Tony Corrente (1995-present) at one time during his officiating years, he taught social sciences at the high school level.
Bill Leavy (1995-present) has a degree in law enforcement and served as a police officer -- he was introduced to officiating by a fellow police officer.
Terry McAulay (1998-present) could not find information on his career prior to officiating
Alberto Riveron (2004-present) outside of the NFL sells storm panels in southern Florida.
Ron Winter (1995-present) was also a professor of Physical Education for 38 years at Western Michigan University. He retired from that position in 2008.
We might be worried over the fact that the Men in Stripes wear their stripes as a second career. It might help to note the requirements the NFL has for potential officials:
|1||must have prior football officiating experience|
|2||must have a minimum of 10 years officiating experience|
|3||at least 5 of those 10 years must have been at a varsity college level or another professional level|
|4||must be in excellent physical condition|
|5||must belong to an accredited football officials association, or have experience in football as a player or coach|
|6||must furnish the NFL with a detailed copy of the officiating schedule from his three most recent seasons, that copy must include: dates, schools, locations of games and positions worked|
The referee lines up approximately ten yards behind the quarterback prior to the snap. He has overall control of the game. It is his job to explain the penalties to the team captains and head coaches. He is responsible for monitoring illegal hits on the quarterback, illegal blocks near the quarterback, and to call for the chains when a measurement is needed to determine the first down. He is the only official to wear a white hat.
The umpire lines up approximately twelve yards behind the offensive line -- just beyond the deepest running back. He does however, return to an older position (ten yards behind the defensive line) during the final two minutes of the first half, the final five minutes of the game, and whenever the offense is at or inside the opposing team's five yard line. He is tasked with determining the legality of the players' equipment, checking the number of men on the field, monitoring the legality of play along the line of scrimmage, watching for offensive holding and for offensive linemen who have moved illegally down field. He is also responsible for assisting the referee in determining possession of the ball, recording all times outs, recording all scores, recording the winner of the coin toss and wiping the ball dry in between plays on rainy days.
The head linesman lines up straddling the line of scrimmage on a sideline designated by the referee. He is tasked with ruling on all plays that go out of bounds on his side, managing the chain crew, marking the chain to a yard marker on the field as a reference point when the referee has called for a measurement, marking the ball carrier's forward progress after a play has been whistled dead, tracking all eligible receivers. He is also required to watch for illegal motion, illegal shifts, illegal use of the hands and illegal men down field.
The line judge lines up on the opposite side of the field from the head linesman. It is his responsibility to assist the head linesman in watching for illegal motion, illegal shifts, illegal use of the hands and illegal men down field. He is also required to assist the umpire in watching for the illegal use of hands and holding calls. In addition, he is tasked with making sure the quarterback does not cross the line of scrimmage before throwing the ball, watching for offensive linemen releasing to go down field too early on punts, supervising the timing of the game and supervising the substitutions made by the team on his side of the field.
The field judge lines up twenty-five yards deep in the defensive backfield. He also places himself on the same side of the field as the offense's tight end. He is tasked with tracking the time left on the play clock and calling a delay of game penalty if it expires prior to the snap, as well as making sure the defensive team has no more than eleven players on the field. He is responsible for ruling on plays that cross the defensive team's goal line, on the legality of catches, on pass interference calls on the strong side of the field, marking the spot for plays that go out of bounds on his side of the field and for the illegal using of hands by the receivers and defensive backs.
The side judge lines up twenty yards deep in the defensive backfield. Like the field judge, he is responsible for counting the defensive players on the field, monitoring eligible receivers on his side of the field, watching the area between the umpire and the field judge, ruling on the legality of catches and pass interference penalties. He also rules on clipping violations on kick returns.
The back judge lines up twenty-five yards deep in the defensive backfield on the side with the most wide receivers. His primary responsibility is to monitor the tight end. He is also tasked with counting players on the field, watching all eligible players on his side of the field, helping the side judge monitor the area between the umpire and the field judge, ruling on the legality of catches and pass interference penalties and watching for clipping on kick returns. He is also required to stand under the goalposts on field goal attempts and rule on whether or not the kick is good.
We now have a slightly broader picture of the Men in Stripes -- men with a decade or more of officiating experience; men for most of whom, officiating is a second career; men who do their best to make sure each game is played within the rules; men, who at the end of the day, are just as human as you or I. So the next time they blow a call, cut them a moment of slack . . . then throw your TV remote at the wall.