Monday, November 10, 2014


Making the call in any sports is NOT a no-brainer.  And having to do it within milliseconds is not for the faint-hearted either.  Officiating is a combination of personal self-esteem, experience, objectivity and practice, practice, practice.

No matter what the sport, referees, umpires, linesmen and all others who officiate at games are committed to providing level playing field for the competing athletes. In so doing they face a lot of stress. Is it tougher to work a major league baseball game than to help out on a Little League playing field?  That's a question for the ages. No one has yet compared the howling anger of adults fueled by stadium beer to the outrage voiced by a dozen or more soccer moms.  In long years in both settings, I would lean toward fearing soccer moms a tad more.

All of us who make the calls have searing memories of one game or another.  My personal Waterloo came when calling a service line for a tennis match in Philadelphia. I had just gotten off a red eye flight from California and gone directly to the grass courts of the historic Merion Cricket Club in nearby Haverford. Here is where the aforementioned self-esteem ran into Irish ego. When the referee Brooks Keffer asked me to “take the service line” I should have refused the honor right then and there because of fatigue from the cross country airplane ride. But I was cursed by the “I can do anything” Irish mentality.  I made several bad calls and a couple of them were against Vic Seixas, the Hall of Famer and perennial U.S. Davis Cup stalwart. Seixas was a big fan favorite in those days. All the more reason for those in the grandstand wanting to kill this linesman. None of course was more upset than Vic who could have wrapped his racquet around my head. My own story had a happier ending a week later during the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills when I was complimented for exceptional work by the umpire.

Of all the stories about officiating, none is more trauma-inducing than a call the NFL's Ed Hochuli made in the nationally televised 2008 Chargers-Broncos game. Bronco quarterback Jay Cutler dropped back to pass and the ball slipped out of his hands to be gobbled up by a Charger.  Hochuli ruled it an incomplete pass, not a fumble. The play was not reviewable because the whistle had blown. The Chargers went on to win the game. Hochuli, a highly regarded official (and former president of the officials association) was devastated.  He received dozens of irate Email complaints, each of which he answered personally. His officiating ranking was downgraded.  He was quoted as saying “officials strive for perfection – I failed miserably.  Although it does no good to say it, I am very, very sorry.”

Hochuli has been back in action since then, still highly respected.  His son is a NFL official as well.  As for the rest of us, we lesser lights, making the right call is still the name of the game.

When we don't, we too are very, very sorry.