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Good, bad, ugly: 8 officiating things we saw in 2013



The regular season is over and before we get into the playoffs, I’d like to offer some thoughts on the 2013 NFL season, and some things that stuck out to me about the officiating.


Line judge John Hussey watches the sideline in a snowy Week 14 game in Philadelphia.

Most fun game of the year: Lions at Eagles, Week 14

I doubt Ed Hochuli’s crew wants to do a game like that every week, but the Week 14 game between the Lions and Eagles was not only fun to watch but I’m sure harkened the players and officials back to their childhood days of playing in the back yard.

Biggest surprise:  The helmet rule change was no biggie

I thought for sure that there would be a big learning curve and many flags this year on ball carriers who lowered their helmet to deliver a blow against an opponent with the crown of the helmet.  It was called only a few times, (and at least one instance where it was missed).

Biggest disappointment: Rule misapplications

I do not remember NFL officials misapplying the rules to such an extent as what was seen this past year.  In the first three weeks, Bill Leavy’s crew enforced two rules incorrectly.  There were other botched rule enforcements this season that Football Zebras chronicled.  NFL rules are extremely complicated — in my opinion some sections of the rules are too complicated. However, these officials take rules tests every week, and between seven officials, someone should have enough confidence and knowledge to step in to save the call … and save the crew.

royellisonMost shocking moment: Roy Ellison suspended

The NFL suspended veteran umpire Roy Ellison for one game for using rated-R language against Washington defensive lineman Trent Williams.  According to the NFL report, Ellison is supposed to have referred to Williams as “a garbage–” uh, feel free to read it here. The NFL Referees Association denounced the Ellison suspension and also alleged that Williams used the n-word against Ellison. (Both Williams and Ellison are black.) The NFLRA filed a grievance against the NFL on Ellison’s behalf. 

boger_huddle_titansBest crew moment: Boger crew, Titans at Steelers, Week 1 (video)

In the lid-lifting tilt, Titans kick returner Darius Reynaud received the kickoff in the field of play and then stepped back into the end zone.  The crew, after huddling and discussing the play, properly awarded the Steelers a safety under a very rare circumstance.  One or more officials on Boger’s crew had some questions, and called the crew together to hash out the play.  The officials get a gold star for getting together, checking egos at the door, and getting the call right.

belichick michalekGutsiest call of the year: Tony Michalek, Patriots at Jets, Week 7

Veteran umpire Tony Michalek called the Patriots for unsportsmanlike conduct for using an illegal line push during an overtime field goal attempt by the Jets.  The Jets missed the kick, but the foul gave Rex Ryan’s team 15 more yards and another chance to win the game, which the Jets promptly did.  It was a great call, and Michalek was not afraid to step up and make the call.

Most disappointing call: Missed unbalanced line, Chiefs at Chargers, Week 17 (video)

unbalanced lineThere were too many disappointing calls this season, more than I wish to count. But none weighs heavier than in Week 17 when the Chiefs missed a game-winning field goal in regulation — a field goal that would have put the Steelers into the playoffs.  As it turns out, the Chargers lined up unbalanced on defense which is a new penalty this year.  The officials should have flagged the Chargers for the illegal formation and given the Chiefs one more chance to win the game and put the Steelers into the playoffs.  As it turned out, the officials missed the call, the Chargers won the game in overtime, and the Steelers season is over.

Call of the year: Scott Edwards, Dolphins at Steelers, Week 14 (video)

The Steelers took a multiple-backwards-pass play to the end zone for an apparent miraculous winning touchdown against the Dolphins.  Antonio Brown stepped out-of-bounds just steps before the end zone, and Edwards, running at full speed and looking backwards caught it.  If he was wrong and Brown had stayed in bounds, replay could not have corrected it.   A very close runner-up call goes to rookie back judge Dale Shaw, for nailing the winning touchdown call in the epic Week 16 Vikings at Ravens game. 

Images: Philadelphia Eagles photo, Baltimore Ravens photo, Donn Jones/Tennessee Titans, David Silverman/New England Patriots, CBS Sports/NFL/enhanced by Sam Walker.

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?"