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Crews need to work together, get it right




Football is one of the most team-oriented games in the world.  It is a joy to watch a team function on the field as a well-oiled machine as they work to win the game.  The seven-person third team on the field must also function as a well-oiled machine to give the teams, fans and the game itself a fair shake.

This past weekend we saw two examples of an officiating crew working as a unit.  On one play the crew worked well together and got the call right.  With the other crew, a call slipped through the cracks and marred a very exciting game. 

During the Packers-49ers game, Bill Leavy’s crew mis-enforced a penalty allowing the 49ers drive to continue which ultimately ended in a touchdown.  The second play is a great example of officiating teamwork.  There was a very rare situation during a kickoff in the Titans-Steelers game that ultimately ended up as a safety against the receiving team (video).  Jerome Boger’s crew exhibited outstanding teamwork and got a tough call right.

Last year I wrote an essay outlining how important it was for crews to work together as a team.  The NFL expects all seven officials to be experts in penalty enforcement, timing rules, and other administrative duties.  The NFL expects even the newest rookie to stop the game and alert his crew if he suspects something is amiss.  It’s not just the NFL that expects its officials to step in make sure the crew is making the right call.  This is called “saving the crew.”  Former referee Bob McElwee speaks frankly about saving the crew  in The Third Team by Richard Lister.  McElwee comments:

Don’t come to me — don’t you ever come to me after the game or at halftime and say, “You know, I had a good look at it.”  You come now, when it happens.  If it takes some balls and you’re wrong, I’ll take that.  But you come now, because with seven guys I think you have a good chance [to get the call right] if something’s wrong.

Officials are a very confident group of people.  They have to have some ego to stand in front of a world-wide TV audience and make the tough call.  It can be intimidating for a brand new official to come to Ed Hochuli, John Parry,  Gene Steratore  or any referee or well-respected mentor and tell him he’s making a mistake; however it is something the NFL requires of all of its officials. 

So the next time you see a crew huddle and start to get restless, don’t boo.  That conference could end up saving the game from a major mistake. 

Image: NFL/CBS Sports

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?"