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2023 Wild Card Playoffs

Many officiating firsts in the Wild Card round

Let’s break down this weekend’s Wild Card officials.

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As the playoffs begin this weekend with the Wild Card round, let’s break down some of the some interesting facts about the officials and their crews.

Many first time assignments

I am impressed with the number of officials assigned to a playoff game in their second year as a NFL official — and the first year they are eligible for a playoff game.

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The first-time-eligibles working a Wild Card game include umpire Duane Heydt, pictured here.

      Yrs 2023 crew Wild Card game  
U 22 Brandon Cruse 2 Cheffers PIT-BUF  
U 42 Duane Heydt 2 Allen PHI-TB  
DJ 21 Max Causey 2 Torbert GB-DAL  
FJ 23 Tra Boger 2 Novak MIA-KC  
FJ 80 Alonzo Ramsey 2 Martin CLE-HOU  
FJ 60 Jeff Shears 2 Wrolstad LAR-DET  
SJ 99 Lo van Pham 2 Blakeman PHI-TB  

4 veteran first timers

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This is the first on-field playoff assignment for back judge Jimmy Russell. He was hired in 2019 and worked three playoff games as an alternate before this weekend’s assignment in Detroit.

Referee Brad Rogers (pictured above) is calling his first playoff game as a referee. The seven-year official called one divisional playoff game as a field judge. In his five-years as a referee, Rogers has been the alternate referee twice before this weekend’s contest in Kansas City.

Why are we putting Fred Bryan, a 15-year veteran with two Super Bowl assignments as a first-timer? Up until this year, Bryan has worked as an umpire. This season, Bryan moved to down judge. He was going to work as a swing down judge this season until Derek Bowers got hurt in Week 1. After that, he worked the rest of the season on Alan Eck’s crew. It is quite an accomplishment for Bryan to get a playoff assignment his first year at a new position, radically different than his old position.

It is also worth adding Jonah Monroe in this expanded “first” list, as he is calling a Wild Card game after completing his first season as a back judge. Monroe is a nine-year veteran and was a side judge before this season where he called several playoff games.

Attempt to keep crews intact

This year, the NFL has tried to keep crews mostly intact. If members of the same crew received a wild card assignment, the NFL kept those crew members together. In the past, the NFL scattered and sprinkled those crew members across the games and didn’t keep the crews together.

Now it appears that the officials who aren’t working this weekend with their crews either didn’t merit the assignment — or have another assignment coming for them in the next two weeks.

The league assigns on individual merit and not by a crew grade under an agreement with the officials union.

Good for Mike Carr

Mike Carr is finishing his seventh season and is working his second playoff game. He’ll be shivering in Buffalo this weekend. Carr didn’t get a playoff game his first five seasons and now has two straight.

Also, Carr called the offensive offside offside against the Kansas City Chiefs that knocked Taylor Swift off the front page for a few days. With what was at stake, and calling back a go-ahead touchdown late while on the Kansas City sideline? That’s call of the year stuff.

This weekend’s wild card games have the potential to be intense classics with some challenging weather conditions. We are excited to watch and report on the games.

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?"

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