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An open referee microphone is an ever present danger



In 1975 the NFL decided to put a wireless microphone on the referee, so the fans at the game and on TV could better understand what was going on down on the field.  What started as an experiment with bare-bones penalty announcements has turned into a vital communication and education tool for the officials.

An NFL referee’s microphone switch

The referee wears a lapel microphone attached to his shirt that connects to a transmitter and battery pack on his belt.  On the pack is a toggle switch that he flips on and off when making announcements.  That toggle switch, when left on due to forgetfulness or a mistaken bump, can create some embarrassing moments for the NFL and the referee.

Tony Corrente’s Week 9 R-rated exchange with his crew is not the first time salty or embarrassing language or dialogue has made it over the public address system.  During a miserable, rainy preseason game a few years ago, Jeff Triplette’s replay official called for a review just before halftime.  The crew was not pleased to have  to stand in a rain storm during what they thought was an inconsequential preseason booth challenge and peppered their criticism of the replay official with a some salty language – that Triplette’s open mic picked up and broadcast to the stadium.

When it came to leaving his mic open, former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit was obsessed with making sure he always practiced turning it on and off.  In his book, Last Call: Memoirs of an NFL Referee, Markbreit says he practiced flipping on and off his microphone by flipping an imaginary switch on his belt where the power pack would be during a game.  He said he practiced flipping that switch at work, while out exercising, and even when doing chores around the house.  Markbreit says in his book that his wife eventually told him, “Jerry, you don’t have to flip on your microphone to take out the garbage!”  But, in Last Call on page 182, Markbreit tells of a story from 1988, when he flagged Dallas Cowboys quarterback Steve Pelluer for a false start (head bob) instead of the Redskins for encroachment.  Pelluer started screaming at Markbreit while he was making his announcement.  The stadium and national television audience could hear Pelluer yell at Markbreit, “You don’t have the guts to tell me what I did!”  Never one to back down, Markbreit, with mic still open yelled at Pelluer, RFK Stadium, and a national TV audience, “You jerked the shit out of it!”  I remember watching that game live and I remember that up in the TV booth, Dan Jiggets of CBS Sports deadpanned, “I guess that call is pretty clear.”

While some might find these moments humorous, the NFL and the officiating office does not.  When an official is caught swearing on live TV and in front of a full stadium, it shows that the official has lost his cool, and the officials are the only 119 people who are paid every Sunday to keep their cool during a NFL football game.

For the rest of the season maybe Corrente, Triplette, and the other NFL referees need to practice turning their microphone off while taking out the garbage!

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?"