Rookie officials get their trial by fire at some point of their first season. Rookie back judge Dale Shaw faced his trial in a frigid Week 14 in Baltimore between the Ravens and Vikings. In a game where the lead and momentum switched back and forth several times in the fourth quarter, the outcome finally came down to a toe-tapping catch by receiver Marlon Brown on the end line that gave the Ravens an emotional, hard-fought victory over the Vikings (video).
First of all, Shaw employed excellent mechanics. He was in the proper place, straddling the end line. He made sure to watch the receiver’s feet come down in bounds first, then he and side judge Rob Vernatchi (#75) looked at each other to made sure the ball was secure. Once both were satisfied that the catch was good, both went up with the touchdown signal.
On that play, it was Shaw’s responsibility to make sure the feet land in bounds. He had to concentrate, find the end line through the snow, and then make his ruling. Watching to see if the feet come down in bounds is very difficult. Shaw couldn’t blink, sneeze, or have a snowflake fly into his eye — or he would have missed the call. It takes intense concentration, and officials train their mind to slow down and process the play almost like a slow-motion projector. It takes many years of experience to learn this technique, but the rookie Shaw showed great skill in mastering the mechanics needed to make this game-deciding call.
Rookie officials are, by rule, not assigned to playoff games. (I think the great Ron Botchan was the last rookie to get a playoff assignment was in 1980.) Shaw definitely gets high marks for making this great call at the end of the game — a game the Ravens desperately needed to keep their playoff hopes alive. If this his how he makes calls in his first year, look for big things from him as a veteran.
Image: Baltimore Ravens photo