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Zebras out of uniform

It takes extremely bad weather for football officials to dress out of uniform.



This past weekend, NCAA referee Mike Defee and his crew worked in miserable conditions as The Air Force Academy hosted San Diego State (photo of crew in the downpour). Lightning halted the game for 88-minutes, then resumed with a near empty stadium.

Defee’s crew started in their regular uniform. But after being soaked to the bone, they donned their dry warm-up jackets and officiated the rest of the game out of uniform.

We don’t know if Defee and his crew asked their supervisor for permission or forgiveness.

College and NFL officials have the latest uniform materials to protect themselves against rain and cold. But, in the rare instances when the weather makes the uniform useless, the officials resort to ad-libbing, like Defee’s crew last week.

Freezing rain prompts legend to switch unis

Referee Jim Tunney out of uniform, wearing a jacket in the 1978 AFC Championship Game.

But, Defee and his crew weren’t the first to chuck their uniforms for something drier. In the 1978 AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium, the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Houston Oilers in a steady freezing rain. Late in the game, referee Jim Tunney and umpire Pat Harder put on jackets with one inch black and white stripes. We don’t know if they asked supervisor Art McNally for permission or forgiveness!

Football officials are very fastidious about their appearance. They all dress the same; the officials decide before the game if they will wear long sleeve or short sleeve shirts. They all wear the same type of hat and the same type of shoes. It takes extreme, miserable, borderline dangerous weather for officials to willingly get out of uniform. 

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?"