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7 officiating observations for the 2018 season

It’s been another fascinating season of NFL officiating.



Dale Shaw (Tennessee Titans)

It was another great football season and, for us, there were several officiating stories from 2018. Here are the seven that stood out to me.

1. Hugo Cruz fired

In one of the most shocking events of the year, the NFL fired down judge Hugo Cruz in mid-season. This was the first time in the Super Bowl era that the NFL fired an on-field official in the middle of the season.

Cruz never worked a playoff game on the field, but was a playoff alternate after the 2017 season, indicating he was in the middle of the rankings.

The NFL Referees Association denounced Cruz’s mid-season termination and filed a grievance.

Cruz most likely won’t return to the field and this case is probably headed for a wrongful termination civil lawsuit by Cruz against the NFL.

2. Roy Ellison dust-up with player

Umpire Roy Ellison was fined a game check and placed on administrative leave for a week (a de facto one game suspension) after he got involved in a post-game argument with Jerry Hughes of the Buffalo Bills.

Ellison apparently called Hughes a “bitch” on the field and Hughes made a special trip to the official’s tunnel after the game to confront the umpire.

The NFL fined Hughes $53,482 for his actions against the officials.

Scott Green, executive director of the NFLRA, said in a statement e-mailed to Football Zebras, “Roy is back on the field where he should be and the union will consider filing a grievance objecting to this fine.”

This is the second time the NFL has disciplined Ellison for profane exchanges with players.  

Ellison was a member of Shawn Hochuli’s crew this season.

3. Learning curve for roughing the passer

This season, the NFL issued a point of emphasis, requiring the officials (specifically the referee) to penalize defenders who hit the quarterback legally, but then drive the quarterback into the ground using their weight. 

This resulted in double the number of roughing the passer calls in the first weeks of the regular season.

This point of emphasis resulted in several controversial calls and upset fans.

After the first few weeks and a competition committee meeting and players adjusting to what the NFL wanted, the calls started to settle down and by the end of the season, there were several fewer controversies. 

But, after the first few weeks, I thought we were going to be in the a long season.

Brad Rogers, Shawn Smith and Bryan Neale wait for the chains (New York Giants)

4. Four new white hats

For the first time in the Super Bowl era, four new referees made their debut in 2018. Shawn Smith, Clay Martin, Shawn Hochuli and Alex Kemp all worked their first seasons at the white hat.

Rookie NFL white hats are ineligible to work a playoff game so we don’t have an idea how they graded out in call accuracy. But, all four referees definitely passed the eye test. They looked strong and in charge this year.

The NFL cannot afford to make a wrong decision in appointing new referees and it looks like they made four good choices in 2018.

5. McAulay and Steratore make TV debut

Referee Terry McAulay (above) and Gene Steratore retired over the summer to go to work on TV. McAulay worked as the rules analyst for NBC Sunday Night Football. Steratore retired after Super Bowl LII to go to work for CBS Sports NFL and NCAA basketball telecasts. 

It is always a learning curve to sum up a complicated rule or replay in 15-seconds, but both Steratore and McAulay did a great job their rookie season. 

6. Most disappointing call

There’s not much more to say about it, but the pass interference no-call in the NFC Championship Game takes this category by a mile.

Had this call happened in the middle of the game it would have created a buzz, but since it happened near the end of regulation it will live on for several years.  

7. Call of the year

Field judge Steve Zimmer gets the nod for call of the year for being in perfect position and processing several different rules and close calls during the Patriots – Steelers late season game.

Zimmer had to judge position of the ball, foot position, touching rules and much more on this close call.

We’ll get to see Zimmer work one more game this season, as he will be on the field for Super Bowl LIII.

It’s been another interesting season for NFL officiating. Here’s hoping for a clean and exciting Super Bowl to wrap things up.


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?"