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Officiating in the rain is mind over matter

Officiating in the rain can be fun – but be ready to buy a new uniform.



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The Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers played in wet, sloppy conditions at Soldier Field during Week One. While it was fun to play in (especially for the winning Bears), the officials had to push it out of their minds.

Water, water everywhere

Officials can power through drizzle or mist, but when the skies open up like this past Sunday, the they have to ramp up the concentration. The rain soaks through their shirt to the skin, their hat gets water logged and their head gets wet. The official might have to look straight into the driving rain and get a face full of precipitation. Heaven help the official who wears glasses.

Players and officials might cut and leave their shoes behind.

Umpire Lou Palazzi (number 51) shows just how difficult it is to work in the mud:

Officials have to modify their work

When the surface is wet and slippery, officials have to be more lenient with roughness fouls and slower on the whistles. An official has give some grace to a defender who runs up to a runner already tackled, tries to stop and slips and falls on top of the runner. That is not a late hit. That is a defender who tried to stop and slipped in the mud.

When everything is wet, the chances of a fumble skyrocket. Officials need to concentrate on the ball carrier and judge possible fumbles. The fumble vs. down call becomes more frequent and difficult.

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During a downpour, the umpire stays with the ball and holds it under his towel. When the team comes to the line, the umpire sets the ball down at the spot and assumes his pre-snap position. But, to be honest, the ball becomes water-logged quickly (even if changed out frequently) and all the umpire can do after awhile is smear the mud off the ball.

Resign yourself to buying new equipment

I worked a mud bowl last season and after the game, my uniform looked like Palazzi’s in the clip above. There was mud in my whistle – not on my whistle, in my whistle. I was soaked and cold. And, I wished I had windshield wipers on my glasses. While I was glad black pants replaced the white knickers, there was no hiding that mud coated my uniform. My cleats were caked with so much mud, I felt like Frankenstein clomping around.

When a mud bowl happens, the official has to resign themself to being dirty. There is nothing he or she can do. Officials can’t go stand on a grass patch for a play. If the mechanics call for the official to stand in a mud pie, so be it. The official has to say, “OK, I’m going to get dirty. I’ll have to wash my uniform several times to get the mud out – if I can. I’ll most likely have to buy new pants or a new shirt. I can write that off as an expense. But for now, the players need me to officiate this game and not fixate on the bad conditions.”

Then, it’s a matter or pushing the wet, cold and mud out of the mind and calling the game.

After the game, the officials will take a photo of the dirtiest official, express relief that it is over and have a good laugh over a post-game meal. But, during the game, the officials must do their best to ignore how uncomfortable they are and work the game they are given.

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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?"