Three more NFL officials have retired from the field, making a total of six officials that have retired in the 2021 off-season. Previously, Bart Longson, Tom Symonette and Ruben Fowler retired.
After this weekend’s mini-clinic comes news that back judge Steve Freeman, back judge Tony Steratore, and line judge Gary Arthur have retired. Those three retirements represent 63 years of combined officiating experience.
Typically, the NFL does not announce why an official leaves the league, although it is most often characterized as a retirement, even if involuntary.
None of these three officials worked on the field in 2020. Freeman and Steratore voluntarily opted out of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, an option given to all officials last season without jeopardizing their jobs this year. Arthur was placed as a “swing” official, a designation for an official that will change crews throughout the season. In Arthur’s case, an unspecified lingering injury kept him off the field for the entire season.
The older brother of former referee Gene, Tony retires after a 21-year career. He retires with 17 on-field playoff assignments: 5 Wild Card Playoffs, 4 Divisional Playoffs, 6 Conference Championships and Super Bowls XXXIX and XLVI.
Steratore was a back judge his entire career and wore number 112.
Perhaps Steratore’s most famous call was in Super Bowl XLVI when he informed referee John Parry that a long incomplete pass by the Patriots’ Tom Brady was intentional grounding. Because there was no receiver in the area, Steratore was in a rare situation where the back judge had coverage duties on an intentional grounding call. He ran in from 50 yards downfield — officials would not have headset communication devices for a few years — so that Parry could determine the other aspects of the call: whether Brady was in the pocket and under immediate threat of a sack. Parry then threw the flag, and since Brady threw the pass from the end zone, it resulted in a safety for the Giants.
Most recently a member of Jerome Boger’s crew (whom he served with for the last 10 seasons), Steratore also served on crews with his brother Gene, Bob McElwee, Terry McAulay and Walt Anderson. He was assigned to Boger’s crew in 2021, but he opted to retire at the miniclinic held remotely this past weekend. The crew list that was disseminated will now be revised.
Steratore manages a sanitary supply business in the Pittsburgh area with Gene and his cousin Frank Steratore, who is a college official that the NFL has had in its development program for several years.
Steve Freeman retires after a 19-year career. He was a back judge for his entire career and wore number 133.
After playing his college football at Mississippi State University, he was drafted by the New England Patriots in 1975. Released by the Patriots before the start of the season, Freeman signed on with the Buffalo Bills and played defensive back for the Bills through the 1986 season. He then played one season for the Minnesota Vikings, and retired after the 1987 season.
Not included in the highlight reel is a 32-yard defensive pass interference penalty assessed on Freeman in 1982. However, there was another penalty situation in his playing days that is worth noting. Freeman would be an accomplice in tricking his future officiating brethren in reducing a penalty by 10 yards when a teammate moved the penalty flag marking the spot of the foul.
As an official, he called 14 playoff games on the field during his career: 7 Wild Card Playoffs, 4 Divisional Playoffs, 2 Conference Championships and Super Bowl XLVIII.
Freeman served on crews led by referees Bernie Kukar, Terry McAulay, Jeff Triplette and Alex Kemp. Freeman’s son, Brad, is an NFL back judge, and father and son got to officiate a preseason game together when Brad broke into the league as a deep wing.
Gary Arthur retires after 23 seasons as a NFL line judge. He wore number 108 his entire career.
Arthur worked a total of 18 playoff games on the field: 9 Wild Card Playoffs, 4 Divisional Playoffs, 4 Conference Championships and Super Bowl XLVI.
In his 23 years on the field, Arthur worked on crews lead by referees Jerry Markbreit, Johnny Grier, Tom White, Jeff Triplette, Bob McElwee, Walt Anderson, Bill Carollo, Jerome Boger, Ron Winter, Gene Steratore, Carl Cheffers and Clay Martin.
In 2015, Arthur fought his way back on the field after being seriously injured in a Week 1 game. While covering a punt, Arthur was hit from behind, and had to recover from a broken collar bone, nine broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung. He was out for 8 weeks.
2021 hiring by the numbers
Maia Chaka is the only 2021 officiating hire. The NFL hired five new officials last summer to cover the five covid-19 opt-outs, so those five plus Chaka will cover the turnover this year. There are currently three swing officials, but one of those will cover the late departure of Steratore.
This is the highest number of officials to leave in a season when there were less than 2 hires since 1951.
Congratulations to Steve Freeman, Tony Steratore, and Gary Arthur on their long, successful officiating careers and best wishes for a happy retirement.