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R Ron Winter retires after 19 seasons

Referee Ron Winter is retiring after 19 seasons in the NFL.




Football Zebras exclusive

Football Zebras has learned that Ron Winter will not be returning for the 2014 season, according to several sources.

Winter is the sixth official to retire at the conclusion of the 2013 season and the second from the referee position. Those six retiring officials all worked in the final two NFL games of the season: two from the Super Bowl (side judge Dave Wyant and field judge Scott Steenson) and now four from the Pro Bowl.

The shoes worn by referee Scott Green, umpire Scott Dawson and side judge Larry Rose at midfield of the Pro Bowl after they completed their final game of their careers [Michael Yanow/NFL].Winter was an alternate on referee Scott Green’s Pro Bowl crew in January. Green and side judge Larry Rose announced their intention to retire prior to the game. During the game, NBC Sports announcer Al Michaels said umpire Scott Dawson was also retiring. Following the game, NFL photographer Michael Yanow captured an image of Green’s, Dawson’s, and Rose’s shoes  at midfield, analogous to a similar gesture to retiring baseball umpires leaving their equipment at home plate after their final game. Winter’s shoes were notably not part of the photo.

One source indicated that Winter may have not made a retirement decision by gametime. “He may have been convinced to walk away,” our officiating source said.

We contacted Winter, but he politely declined our interview.

The most likely reason has nothing to do with performance, but a imminent necessity to work in new officials to the referee position. After Green’s retirement, six of the remaining 16 officials are headed for at least their 20th NFL season; another five referees will hit that milestone in five years. While 20 seasons is not a magic number, and it ignores several factors that make an enduring official, it is a measure that shows a transition is on the horizon. It is possible that Winter was convinced to walk away to avoid a heavy concentration of white hat retirements.

Winter joined the NFL in 1995 from the Big 10 Conference and was promoted to referee in 1998. His first postseason assignment as a referee was memorable — a word that causes anyone who has worn stripes to cringe a little.

In a 2002 NFC Wild Card game, the Giants squandered a huge lead to the 49ers, but were lining up for a game-winning field goal with six seconds remaining. The snap was bad, causing the Giants to resort to an impromptu pass play. One of the linemen, Rich Seubert was interfered in his attempt to catch the pass (video). The 49ers were not flagged for pass interference; the reason was never identified, but it seems either the interference wasn’t seen in traffic or Seubert was determined by those covering officials to not be an eligible receiver. (Another Giants lineman was flagged for being downfield illegally.) Winter huddled up his crew — including Green, who was his back judge — then he announced the game was over.

The following day, the league released a statement that said Seubert was lined up in an eligible receiver position for the field-goal attempt and had reported as eligible. Therefore, the pass interference foul should have been called. Combined with the penalty called on the Giants, the two penalties would have offset, giving the Giants another chance at the field goal. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue even went on record to say the call was “totally unacceptable.” The head of the officiating department, Mike Pereira, instituted a procedure for the following year’s playoffs that kept regular season crews relatively intact for the first rounds of the playoffs, rather than mixed crews. (That procedure ended in 2012 under the officials’ collective bargaining agreement.)

In a 2011 regular season game between the Bengals and Ravens, Winter was suddenly in the path of a fumbled ball, in a highlight video shown for its hilarity, rather than being potentially horrifying (TV broadcast, NFL Films). Winter was completely swallowed up by a fumble scrum of heavily padded players while braced himself for the unavoidable. Winter was bruised quite a bit, but he completed the game.

Winter was used as an example of whistle technique in a Football Zebras feature on avoiding inadvertent whistles. He held his whistle in his hand on an extra long lanyard so that he could also move his arms while running.

Winter is a professor emeritus at Western Michigan University. He also served as the director of campus recreational activities until 2008. He was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan to the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports; Winter is near the end of his first two-year term on the council.

Images: Perry Knotts/NFL, Michael Yanow/NFL

Correction: Some of the facts related to the Giants-49ers play were re-worded for clarity. The previous version indicated that the Giants penalty was called on the wrong player, when in fact that call was properly made. There has not been a clear reason why the 49ers penalty wasn’t called, and the revised paragraph now reflects that. For the record, neither call was Winter’s to make, but the statements by the league indicate that they considered it a crew error that it wasn’t sorted out properly by all seven officials.