Somewhere in the middle of the 2008 season there was a call that challenged the interpretation of the rules. I was looking to verify my understanding, but everywhere I turned the play was through the lens of the team. It was the right call, even though it was controversial. It was the wrong call, and our team got hosed. I wanted to know the how and the why about the ruling, but everyone was focused on the net result of the play and how it impacted the team.
The playoffs approached, and I had a thought about how I could not find a neutral source about the rules and officiating: if it doesn’t exist, then create it.
So, I did a soft launch of the Zebra Blog at zebra.benaustro.com — I wasn’t even sure how much I was committing to this thing, yet. The first post on Jan. 30, 2009, was about the commissioner’s annual press conference in which he alluded to a possible modification to the overtime rules. I also posted a few short blurbs about Super Bowl XLIII, and who knows if anyone saw it. I soon realized I was going to cover the 2009 season because I wanted to, and if a few eyeballs found it interesting, great.
Jan. 30, 2009: the first post
But, whoever had the domain zebrablog.com — probably some zoölogical site, or something — forced me to come up with a creative URL. And early in the 2009 season footballzebras.com was mirroring zebra.benaustro.com. I still kept the Zebra Blog name, but after a while it became FootballZebras.com, and eventually the .com was dropped.
Doing this alone, family balance and mental burnout sometimes left the site without an update for a couple of weeks. I asked Mark Schultz, a moderator of the officiating forum Behind the Football Stripes, if he was interested in writing for the site. Despite the fact that there was no ad revenue to speak of, he said yes quickly. It was then that this site had cured like a freshly poured concrete sidewalk; there was much more than the rules, but officiating in general, and Mark’s perspective was instrumental at a pivotal time.
The 2012 labor impasse spiked our viewership, and at the conclusion of that season, we dropped a story that was critical of the selection process of the Super Bowl XLVII crew. Although we did receive fair criticism for taking away from the prestige of a Super Bowl assignment using anonymous sources, those sources wanted to speak out against a system that they felt was broken for some time. The next season, the process was slightly modified. As for Football Zebras, well, there was no turning back.
In the years since Referee magazine added us to their list of websites and apps “worth checking out.” In 2015, Sports Illustrated included Football Zebras in their Social 100 list. Somewhere in there, I found time to write a book, and So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref’s Guide to The Official Rules was published in September 2015.
Today, this post is punched out not in some corporate office, but instead on a well-worn laptop with cracks in the plastic while sitting in my living room. On Sundays, I flip around through the games from here, posting updates on the site, and tweeting rules interpretations while being asked by my son to look at his latest Lego creation or with my daughter showing me her dance routine in my “office.” That’s not to mention a very patient wife who has given up on trying to sync dinner between my writing and Sunday Night Football. The second Sunday in February is her Super Bowl.
In addition, this site has been supported by some very talented writers both past and present: Scott Diller, Cam Filipe, Marcus Griep, Matt Holmquist, Michael Leptic, Josh Lewis, Rich Madrid, David Root, and Patrick Weber. Without your help, this is just my former little side project that never really got off the ground. And thank you, our reader, for setting aside time in your day and for taking an interest in what we write.
I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring.
Click on an image to run a slideshow of our history, starting with the very first post.