Football Zebras
CommentaryFootball officials in danger every time debris flies

Football officials in danger every time debris flies

A photo this past week from the Dallas Morning News (cover photo) illustrates the dangers of being an official. In Washington, a fan threw a full drink can on the field and it barely missed field judge Eugene Hall.

There have been many stories and accounts of fans throwing debris on the field at major sporting events, either because of general unruliness or because the fans disagreed with a call on the field.

What people may or may not realize, is that these projectiles can be dangerous or fatal. Thrown out of an upper deck, cans, bottles, coins, batteries and even snowballs can injure.

Major League Baseball umpire, Ed Montague, was cut on the face when a fan threw a coin at him. If that coin had hit him in the eye he could have lost that eye and lost his career.

There have been notable incidents of fans throwing things on the field during NFL games with officials as the target. During snowy football games, especially in Philadelphia and New York, fans have thrown snowballs at the officials. In 1995, a game between the New York Giants and the San Diego Chargers was almost halted due to unruly fans throwing snowballs — one knocked a Chargers’ staffer unconscious (video). While running off the field after the game, the fans barraged referee Ron Blum’s crew. Field judge Al Jury was so angry at the crowd, he extended his arm and gave the fans a parting gesture – and drew a league fine.

The most recent infamous act of fans targeting the officials happened in 2001 in Cleveland where Browns devotees littered the field with plastic beer bottles after a delayed replay review by referee Terry McAulay (video). The officials had to duck for cover while running off the field.

Armen Terzain knocked out after being hit by a bottle thrown from the stands.
Armen Terzain knocked out after being hit by a bottle thrown from the stands.

Fortunately McAulay’s crew didn’t report any injuries.

Fine, you tell me. No one has been hurt. Why are you making such a big deal out of this?

Flash back to 1975. The Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings were playing in the divisional playoffs. The Cowboys completed what was later to be dubbed the Hail Mary touchdown pass to Drew Pearson to take the lead late in the game. After the ensuing kickoff, the Minnesota fans started throwing debris on the field as Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkington berated the officials. Field judge Armen Terzain was struck in the head by a whiskey bottle and knocked unconscious. Physicians treated Terzain and he walked off the field under his own power with his head heavily bandaged. He later required 11 stitches treat his wound. That incident prompted the NFL to ban glass bottles from being sold in its stadiums.

While glass bottles are mostly gone (unless fans sneak one past security), there are still several drink containers and other solid objects that can become dangerous projectiles. While not a glass bottle, if that drink container had hit Mr. Hall on the side of his head or the temple he could have been seriously injured or killed.

No matter how much you hate an official after a call against your team, it is not worth trying to hurt a fellow human being (and officials are human beings) by throwing projectiles at him or her.

Hopefully NFL security works with stadium security and the guilty party in Washington last week will be caught face a consequence.

Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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2 thoughts on “Football officials in danger every time debris flies

  1. When I was with the Oiler Radio Network in 1978, we played the Browns at the Mistake by the Lake. Late in the game, at the Dog Pound end of the field, Kenny Burrough caught a controversial TD for Houston. I was on the sideline waiting to go into the locker room for the postgame show. Fans began throwing whiskey bottles, by the dozens, out of the stands on to the field. The officials, fearing for their own safety as well as the players, moved the last five minutes of the game to the other end of the field, which was farther from the stands. When the team with the ball crossed the 50 yard line, the refs turned everything around so the ball went back the other way. It was a scary afternoon in Cleveland, to say the least.

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