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‘Double-rookie’ ref Allen impresses in debut



Brad Allen

Brad Allen works his first-ever NFL game as a referee

Referee Brad Allen (number 122) made history this past Sunday as he worked his first-ever game in the NFL at the referee position.  His first game was at Soldier Field in Chicago, as the Bears hosted the Buffalo Bills. He’s jokingly referred to as the “double rookie” by the officiating staff for his NFL and crew chief debuts. Fortunately, I was able to see this game, and I was able to watch Allen up close.

Allen looked like a 10-year veteran on Sunday.  He was poised, explained replay reviews (including a complicated replay reversal) very well, and conducted himself with confidence.  On top of that, the game went to overtime, and Allen explained the modified overtime rules like he had officiated 100 overtime games in the NFL.  Unless told, no one would know that this was his first-ever NFL game, not to mention his first game as a referee.

Besides outstanding competency, I have a theory on why Allen made such an outstanding debut — and its a pretty simple one.  Before Sunday, Allen’s last non-exhibition game was the 2014 Sugar Bowl as a referee, and he came straight in as a white hat.  He didn’t have one, two, five, or ten seasons to forget about referee mechanics.  In college he had to give complicated replay explanations on the mic.  All of those skills he learned in college, he could immediately apply as a NFL referee.

In his book, Last Call, Jerry Markbreit said that in his first game as a NFL referee, “my mechanics went south.”  He said walked the wrong way on penalties, and didn’t have the instant recall in making his signals, so his game administration was very deliberate.  Markbreit had only been away from the referee position one year when transitioning from the NCAA to the NFL.  Allen didn’t have to knock off any rust — there was no time for rust to build.

Now, did Allen make the right calls?  I don’t know.  We’re not privy to his grades.  Rookie officials typically aren’t assigned to playoff games, so we won’t be able to use that as a barometer.  I don’t know how many substance points Allen scored with the NFL, but I give him perfect marks on style points.

Photo: Chicago Bears

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?"