On this Christmas Day, 2020, we wish former NFL referee Ed Hochuli a happy 70th birthday.
Hochuli was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Christmas Day, 1950. His family moved to Arizona when he was eight, and he has called Arizona home ever since.
In high school, Hochuli played football, basketball, wrestling and track. He played college football for the University of Texas-El Paso.
While going to law school, a coach suggested he take up officiating to stay a part of the game. Hochuli started working youth football and little league baseball games.
Like every NFL official, Hochuli put in his dues and worked his way up through the high school and college officiating ranks, eventually working as a line judge in the Big Sky and Pac-10 (now Big 12 and Pac-12) conferences.
Hochuli applied to the NFL in 1989 and was hired into the league in 1990 as a back (now field) judge. He wore number 85 his entire career. Hochuli worked on referee Howard Roe’s crew. His goal was to be a referee himself, and he worked the position in the World League of American Football (forerunner to NFL Europe) in 1991 and 1992.
In the summer of 1992, referee Stan Kemp (father of current NFL referee Alex Kemp) was diagnosed with ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease — and had to retire. Hochuli had already started his preseason assignments as a back judge on Roe’s crew. Jerry Seeman, supervisor of officials, asked Hochuli to become a referee for the 1992 season. He accepted, and thus began an amazing career as one of the most recognized referees in NFL history.
In his 28-year career, Hochuli worked an amazing 27 playoff games, just one game short of tying the all-time record of playoff game assignments. He worked 11 wild card games, 5 divisional games, 9 conference championship games, and Super Bowls XXXII and XXXVIII.
Hochuli, a trial attorney, used his experience practicing law to his advantage. Sometimes a call needed a little explanation, and Hochuli wasn’t afraid to put on a mini-rules clinic. The first time the country got to witness Hochuli explain a crazy rule was on Thanksgiving Day, 1993, when he had to tell the everyone just what the heck happened on the Leon Lett play.
I remember watching this game live, and I thought, “This guy is good!”
Another thing Hochuli became famous for a few years later was his physique. Hochuli is an avid fitness buff, and his weight lifting regimen made him, well, buff.
Hochuli’s “guns” earned him admiration and respect from players, coaches and media alike. It also gave other officials the inspiration to be as strong and fit as possible.
Perhaps one of Hochuli’s most proud moments happened his son Shawn, a successful Big 12 and Pac-12 referee, was hired by the NFL in 2014 as a back judge. Ed and Shawn got to work a preseason game together in 2013 when Shawn was a member of the Officiating Development Program.
Ed Hochuli never cruised on reputation and was consistently assigned playoff games, missing out on an on-field playoff assignment only twice from 1993 until he retired in 2017.
After he retired, son Shawn moved from back judge and became a referee in his own right in 2018.
Hochuli’s final game was the 2017 NFC Conference Championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles.
Off the field, Hochuli continues his career as a trial lawyer at the firm of Jones, Skelton & Hochuli, P.L.C. He lives in the Phoenix area with his wife Cathie. The couple have six children and 10 grandchildren.
His presence at the NFL continues as NFL officials study proper penalty enforcements by reading the Hopperbook, edited by Ed Hochuli. He also mentors current and prospective NFL officials.
As we celebrate Christmas today, we at Football Zebras also wish Ed Hochuli a happy, healthy and prosperous 70th birthday!