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Red Cashion, 2-time Super Bowl referee, dies at age 87

Red Cashion, a NFL referee who delighted millions with his “First dooowwwnnn” call, has passed away.



Mason L. “Red” Cashion Jr., 1931-2019

Red Cashion, perhaps one of the most recognizable NFL referees in the 1980s and ’90s and who delighted millions with his enthusiastic “First dowwwwn” call, passed away Sunday at the age of 87, according to a report from The Eagle of Bryan, Texas.

Cashion worked 25 seasons in the NFL, from 1972-1996 and wore number 43 for most of his career. He worked 19 playoff games on the field in his career — 10 divisional playoffs, 7 wild card games, and Super Bowls XX and XXX. He received the league’s highest officiating honor, the Art McNally Award, in 2015.

Red Cashion was the best friend any person could have. He was special in every way. He will always be in my heart.

— Jerry Markbreit, referee 1976-98

Cashion was born November 10, 1931, at his parents home in College Station, Texas. A multi-sport athlete, Cashion attended Texas A&M on a baseball scholarship.

Cashion graduated in 1953 and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army.

After his discharge from the Army, Cashion went into the insurance business with his father-in-law and his best friend. That insurance business eventually merged with Anco Insurance.

Cashion started officiating while in college. His first break came when the Southland Conference hired him, but that break soon turned sour for Cashion. Back then, coaches had a large hand in rating officials. Cashion approached officiating with a “dignified, detached and stately” demeanor. Coaches told the supervisor that Cashion was aloof and refused to communicate with them.

So, Cashion was fired as a college football official after only one season. Instead of packing away his dream, he determined to be his natural self and approach each game with enthusiasm.

He spoke at length about this lesson he learned in his 2012 book First Dooowwwnnn … and Life to Go!

Persistence pays off

Cashion’s new approach to officiating paid dividends. He eventually worked his way back into college football, finally working big games in the old Southwest Conference. He was ready to try the NFL.

In January 1972, Cashion took initiative, made and appointment and flew to New York City to speak with Art McNally about potential NFL openings. McNally told Cashion they had made all the hires for the next season, but encouraged him to keep trying.

Later that summer, Cashion was on a vacation with his family. McNally tracked Cashion down and informed him that NFL needed him to fill a sudden vacancy with the death of referee Jack Vest. McNally later told Cashion that he was next in line to be hired. McNally was impressed with his initiative coming to New York and that helped him secure a spot in the NFL.

In Cashion’s first four seasons, he worked as a line judge on crews with referees Fred Swearingen, Ben Dreith and Fred Silva. Cashion’s sideline partner in his second and third seasons was Stan Javie. In his book, Cashion stated that Javie was the best official he ever saw and taught him how to call the pro game.

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The move to referee

 In 1976, McNally assigned Cashion to the referee position. This was when the referee’s microphone was in its infancy. Cashion soon learned that the microphone could be used as a tool to keep the audience informed about what was going on, and it was another place for his enthusiasm for the game to shine through.

As the 1980s dawned, many fans came to recognize Cashion for his famous, Texas-accentuated “first down” call, and a game wouldn’t be complete without one.

25 years of great stories

When Cashion first entered the league, the line judge kept time and fired a gun at the end of every period. The home team’s chain crew supplied the pistol.

Cashion’s very first game was a preseason event in Tampa Bay before the Buccaneers existed. When Cashion asked the chain gang if they had a pistol they said they didn’t. A helpful police officer offered his to Cashion but warned him to watch his aim as it carried live ammunition. Cashion’s first call as an NFL official was to thank the officer for his help but decided to go without the pistol for this game.

Super Bowl XX contained a humorous story and another life lesson for Cashion. After the coin toss, Cashion ran to the end zone to prepare for the kickoff. But, he soon realized he was standing in the wrong end zone. He covered by stopping to talk to Patriots kicker Tony Franklin for a few moments on his way to the correct end zone.

Cashion’s crew missed enforcing the 10-second runoff rule at the end of the first half in Super Bowl XX, allowing the Bears to kick a field goal. The game was a blowout, so the error didn’t impact the outcome of the game. But Cashion was so mortified about the error, he couldn’t enjoy the afterglow of the game or any of the postgame receptions. In fact, he rented a car and drove all the way back to his Texas home from New Orleans.

Cashion used that experience to remind young officials not to dwell upon a mistake and cause another one. And, he reminded officials not to let a mistake take away from the joy of officiating a football game.

Cashion thought about retiring after Super Bowl XXX, but he wanted to come back and work his silver anniversary season. In the offseason, a routine physical discovered a blocked artery that wasn’t easily repairable. The NFL did not clear him to officiate and Cashion was facing retirement. But, another official referred him to a leading specialist at Emory University who implanted a next-generation stent that allowed Cashion to call his 25th and final season.

Cashion paid it forward several years later, when he referred referee Tony Corrente to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to treat his throat cancer (video).

Cashion retired after the 1996 season, officiating “The Ambush at Mile High” divisional playoff game between the Broncos and Jaguars.

His final call:

Shortly after retiring, Cashion’s wife, Lou, of 47 years passed away suddenly. In his book, he said he was grateful for the NFL to offer him an observer’s post and, later, the chance to coach NFL referees — positions he held until 2014.

Cashion leaves behind his second wife, Marie, four children, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Our sympathies to all who knew him and loved him. His full obituary appears below.

Mason L. “Red” Cashion Jr.

Red Cashion, beloved husband of Marie Elaine Cashion, passed away on Feb. 10, 2019. Red, a retired NFL referee, was best known for his famous “FIRST DOOOOWWWNN” call, sent out over national television screens in an instantly recognizable Brazos Valley drawl.

Red’s connection with the Brazos Valley began at birth: he was born on the Texas A&M Campus on November 10, 1931, where his father was the Secretary of the YMCA — a time when faculty was housed on the A&M Campus. Growing up on campus, Red made his first income letting Aggies arriving at Campus on the train “rent” his little red wagon to haul their luggage to the dormitories. Red always rode on top of the luggage!

Red grew up in a household where the plaque on the wall said, “Christ is the Head of this House. The unseen guest at every meal. The silent listener to every conversation.” Red lived that plaque. He lived a Christ-centered life and chose to live that life in the Brazos Valley. He spent many years as a member and elder at A&M Presbyterian Church, which his father had helped start, and later in life was a deacon at First Baptist Church of Bryan. Recently, Red and Marie have been members of A&M United Methodist Church.

After graduating from A&M Consolidated High School in 1949, Red attended Texas A&M on a baseball scholarship, graduating in May of 1953, at which time he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. (Red’s older brother Jimmie was the Texas A&M football quarterback, something that football card makers never did get straight: the card manufacturers always credited Red on football cards for Jimmie’s quarterback role at A&M, but Red never played football for A&M). Red left the Army after four years, spending most of that four years around Washington, DC, and Fort Meade, where he served with the NSA. He was recalled during the Cuban Missile Crisis and briefed President Kennedy in 1963, something that he did not admit to even his family until just a few years ago.

Red has had a lifetime relationship with Texas A&M. It was a huge honor for Red that Texas A&M named the football officials’ locker room after him in 2003 (“Red Cashion Officials’ Dressing Room” at the North End of Kyle Field). As well, Red has been honored as a Texas A&M Distinguished Alumni (2003), Mays Business School Outstanding Alumni (2006), Fish Camp Namesake, a former member of the President’s Council, the 1990 main campus Muster Speaker, and at the time of his passing, Red was a member of the 12th Man Foundation Champions Council and a member of the Corps of Cadets Development Council. Red also served as a guest professor of insurance at Texas A&M. Red was active over the years in many different parts of University life: one of his favorites, which he Chaired up until his death, was The Association of Former Students’ Student Loan Trustee Committee.

Raising a family in Bryan-College Station during the 1960s and 1970s, Red started in business with his father-in-law, Hershel Burgess, and Red’s best friend from rival high school days, Dick Haddox (a Navasota Rattler). Their insurance business, Burgess, Cashion & Haddox, eventually merged with and became ANCO Insurance, which survives and thrives today. Red served as Chairman Emeritus for many years at ANCO.

Red’s father-in-law also got Red interested in officiating football, and Red started officiating junior high school games while he was still in college. Beginning as a line judge in 1972, Red joined the National Football League, moving to the referee’s position in 1976, and eventually officiated Super Bowls XX and XXX, while serving as an alternate in two more. All told, Red served 25 years in the NFL, officiated over 500 games and 17 additional post-season assignments, was President of the Professional Referees Association and on its Executive Board for 10 years, was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, was named the NFL Referees Association Honoree in 2011, and received the Art McNally Award in 2015 (awarded at the Pro Bowl and given to an NFL game official who exhibits exemplary professionalism, leadership, and commitment to sportsmanship, on and off the field). For many years after leaving the field, Red was the referee’s voice on John Madden’s video football game Madden NFL. Red remained on the NFL payroll as a trainer of NFL referees until 2014, training new NFL referees in the art of keeping the game interesting and exciting. Since his last NFL retirement, he has continued to work with “his” referees on a volunteer basis. His family is so grateful for the calls and visits from his NFL friends during the last few months, as well as the many wonderful friends and neighbors who have been so supportive.

For a man who spent so many years traveling that he had lifetime platinum cards on multiple airlines, Red’s heart never left the Brazos Valley. He has a lifetime of awards for efforts on behalf of the communities of the Brazos Valley, including Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in 1964, Chairman of the Brazos County Industrial Foundation, Chairman of the Brazos County Association of Independent Insurance Agents, Chairman of the Region VI Education Service Center, Brazos County Volunteer of the Year in 1972, and Brazos County Citizen of the Year in 1994, presented to Red that year by President George H.W. Bush. Until just a few years ago, Red rang the bell and collected for the Salvation Army every Christmas.

Red is survived by his beloved wife, Marie Elaine Cashion, his children and their spouses, James H. & Mary Cashion, Sharon L. Cashion, Joyce & Bicker W. Cain, and Shelley & Robert I. White. In addition, Red is survived by his six grandchildren Caitlin & Joel Stibbe, Colter L. & Erica Cashion, Mason H. Cashion, J. Marshall Cashion, Cashion & Leslie Cain and Field & Jennifer Cain, and four great-grandchildren, Maura & Thomas Stibbe, and Lexie & Sophia Cain. In addition, Red is survived by his sister-in-law Lila D. Cashion and her four children and their spouses, Paul & Jenny Cashion, Marilyn & Stan Speegle, Emily & Joe Endres, and Timothy & Teresa Cashion, and seven grandchildren, Andrew, Philip & Adam Cashion, Jeep & Vendie Endres, and Erin & Neal Cashion. Red had a special relationship with Marie’s niece and her husband, Monica and Schoen Maekawa, and nephew, Michael Echavez.

Red was predeceased by his loving wife of 47 years, Lou Burgess Cashion, his brother and hero, James T. Cashion, his parents Mason Lee “Cash” and Winnie (Blakeley) Cashion, Sr., and his best friend and partner of over 50 years, Dick Haddox.

Special mention must be made of Red’s loyal caregivers, Russ Kilpatrick and Janeen & Don Wood, the wonderful medical professionals at Hospice Brazos Valley, the loving caregivers at The Parc at Traditions, and his and Marie’s long-time housekeeper, Tania Salazar.

A celebration of Red’s life will take place at A&M United Methodist Church on February 18, 2019, at 10:00. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Callaway-Jones.

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?"