Chad Brown, an umpire in the NFL for 23 seasons, has retired from the game in the middle of the 2014 season. While Brown has been out for a few weeks for an undisclosed illness, a league source has indicated that he is no longer listed as an active official. His vacancy on Bill Leavy’s crew will be filled by an umpire whose crew has a bye week or a Thursday night game.
Brown played collegiate football at Texas A&M at Commerce, and was on the practice squad for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Oilers, and New Orleans Saints. Despite contemporary accounts, Brown was not on the active roster during the regular season.
Brown joined the NFL in 1992 after spending several years as a college football umpire in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). His first referee was Jerry Markbreit, who spoke highly of the rookie umpire. Early in his career, Brown called a controversial chop block foul on the New York Giants, killing a rally and incensing then-Giants coach Dan Reeves. Brown recounts that it took several days until an angle finally emerged that affirmed his call.
The NFL assigned Brown to be an alternate official for Super Bowl XXXIII, and Brown received on-field assignments for Super Bowl XXXV and XLV.
After being assigned as a Super Bowl alternate, Brown wrote Inside the Meat Grinder (Macmillan, 1999), an autobiography — but narrated in the third person — about his playing and officiating life. The meat grinder is a metaphorical term for the extended tackle box area where the lineman are grappling and receiver crossing routes converge near the spot where the umpire was positioned prior to 2012.
In his book, Brown recalled an incident in a Nov. 8, 1998, game between the 49ers and Panthers where he found himself in the path of a receiver:
The Panthers’ offensive line breaks backward, and sure enough, Raghib “Rocket” Ismail is slanting up the middle, right at Chad. Chad steps back, but Rocket keeps coming at full speed. He’s using the umpire as a pick! The plan is to run the defender at Chad, then streak by and catch the quick pass up the middle.
The thing is, Chad owns the meat grinder and he doesn’t want Rocket or anyone else in his house. As Rocket blows by, Chad lowers his shoulder and levels him. Rocket hurtles backward as if he’s been shot. He flops into the soggy turf. Shaken, Rocket scrambles to locate who nailed him, expecting to see [49ers linebacker Ken Norton Jr.]. The only one around is the umpire. Chad turns casually away to watch the play unfold. [Steve] Beuerlein, seeing Rocket on the ground, floats a pass toward Wesley Walls, the tight end. Walls, wearing a cast on his left wrist, snags the ball one-handed and tucks it in against his clump of plaster. He lowers his head as he’s tackled upfield for a first down. …
“First down!” Chad bellows. Rocket jogs back to his huddle.
The NFL fined Brown $3,500 for publishing the book without obtaining the league’s consent.
Brown did not answer our requests for comment, and the league declined to comment, on Brown’s retirement. Brown is the fourth official to leave the NFL since their offseason formally ended on May 15. A fifth official, head linesman Ed Camp, is still listed as an active official, but has not worked this season.
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