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Old 10-12-2007, 03:29 PM   #1
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Default For NFL Officials, Scrutiny Begins Long Before Kickoff

This is a very long article, so I'm only posting part of it and a link to the whole thing. This USA Today writer was granted unprecedented, weekend-long access to Ed Hochuli's crew for the story, and I found it to be a thorough and interesting behind the scenes look at officiating in the NFL.
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For NFL officials, scrutiny begins long before kickoff
By Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY

NFL referee Ed Hochuli's final preparations for Sunday's game between the Detroit Lions and the Washington Redskins began with three rubber ducks, three stuffed bears and a plunger.

It was Saturday in a hotel conference room, and the nine-man officiating crew Hochuli leads had gathered from across the USA to become the law amid the mayhem of 22 athletes repeatedly smashing into each other. A crowd of 90,000 would be at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.; millions would watch on TV.

Other than Hochuli ? who has something of a cult following on the Internet because of an upper body that's as imposing as his explanations of football rules (he is an attorney) ? those on Hochuli's crew are mostly anonymous. Unless they make a mistake. Which is why they're here ? with Hochuli's props ? reviewing their previous game, between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings.

USA TODAY was given weekend-long access to the crew, which under NFL policy normally comments only to a pool reporter after a game in which there was an unusual or controversial call. What emerges is a view of how Hochuli's group and the NFL's 16 other officiating crews manage the intricacies of America's most popular televised sport ? from overseeing the choreography of warm-ups, to dealing with players in the heat of a game, to working together to meet the league's strict standards for interpreting rules.

Theirs is a part-time workforce; they are men who, in the case of Hochuli's crew, range in age from 44 to 62 and are retired or have jobs during the week. They typically spend 25 to 35 hours a week officiating games or traveling and preparing to do so; the NFL pays them $44,000 to $130,000 a season.

Hochuli's crew consists of umpire Chad Brown, a former NFL player; head linesman Mark Hittner; line judge Thomas Symonette; side judge Don Carlsen; field judge Tom Sifferman; and back judge Scott Helverson. In the press box, the crew also has a replay official, Bill Vinovich, and a video operator, Roger Ruth. When home, they are scattered from Bend, Ore., to Chandler, Ariz., to Windermere, Fla.

The officials' work in each of their games is graded by the NFL's officiating staff, but Hochuli has his own grading system for his guys. "You have to have thick skin to be part of this crew," he says.

At each session reviewing the previous game, Hochuli, 56, awards the rubber ducks to those in the group who had the easiest calls to make (former ref Jerry Seeman calls such penalties "duck soup"). Saturday, Hochuli tosses one to Helverson, who had thrown a penalty flag for an obvious pass-interference infraction in the Green Bay-Minnesota game.

"It's nice not to miss the easy calls, at least," Hochuli says.

The bears go to the luckiest crewmembers, because, Hochuli says, "Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. Sometimes you're just unlucky, and sometimes you're not. Sometimes you miss a call and you don't get downgraded for it (by the NFL's supervisors of officials). You got lucky. You got the bear." Hochuli awards the bears privately.

The plunger is saved for the member of the crew who had the lousiest ? Hochuli uses a profane term ? call of the game. Hochuli gives it to himself for what he says was a bad game in general.

"You notice how sometimes you're in the zone? Last week, the zone wasn't even in my ZIP code," says Hochuli, who was upset about missing a false-start infraction that was clear on video. He also thought he'd been unsure about other calls he had ? or hadn't ? made.

Hochuli says his game days are like "having a mainline of adrenaline running through my veins for three hours. I'm a trial lawyer by trade. A trial is nothing, pressure-wise, compared to the NFL. ? I have that long (he snaps his fingers) to make a decision with a million people watching and second-guessing (by video) in slow-motion. You've got to be right or wrong. I love the satisfaction when you are right ? and the agony when you are wrong."

Remainder of the story is here:

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