Game 150: The Crew
The men of Gene Steratore’s officiating team come from diverse walks and weekday jobs—teacher, stockbroker, housing director—but their common bond is a commitment to their craft, to each other and to getting the calls right on Sunday
In November, The MMQB was granted unprecedented access to an NFL officiating crew before, during and after the Baltimore-Chicago game on Nov. 17 at Soldier Field—dubbed Game 150 because that’s the number the NFL assigned it, out of its 256 regular-season games. Part 1 of the three-part series looked at referee Gene Steratore. In Part 2 we delve into the lives of the other members of the crew: umpire Bill Schuster, line judge Jeff Seeman, side judge Mike Weatherford, field judge Bob Waggoner, head linesman Wayne Mackie and back judge Dino Paganelli, with a focus on those last three. Friday: Part 3—the crew’s preparations on Saturday, and Sunday’s game.
Tuesday, Nov. 12
Glass Bowl, Toledo, Ohio
It’s an Arctic night at the Glass Bowl, the football stadium on the campus of the University of Toledo. There aren’t many folks in the house wearing sportcoat and tie, but Bob Waggoner is one. Waggoner, the field judge on referee Gene Steratore’s NFL crew, is here on official business, as the assistant supervisor of officials of the Mid-American Conference, to observe referee Stan Evans’ crew for the Buffalo-Toledo game. “It gives us an opportunity to educate those who are eventually going to take our place someday,” Waggoner says.
The game is interminable—3 hours, 46 minutes; Toledo 51, Buffalo 41—but the length does afford Waggoner the chance to join the weekly NFL crew conference call. After Steratore, also a Division I basketball official, finishes his hoops game in Ann Arbor that night, he convenes his seven-man crew for the inside-officiating review of the previous week’s league grades and what the crew could do to improve in several areas, including helping others on the crew with a call if a far-flung official might have had a better view of a foul. Waggoner is a mostly silent participant, listening for about 45 minutes while watching the Bulls and Rockets slug it out from the Glass Bowl press box.
“The crew concept is the crux of what we do,” Waggoner says at halftime. “You have to have confidence in everyone on the crew. That’s how things get done correctly. The building of the trust between all the men on the crew is so important, because you have to rely on them sometimes as an extra set of eyes. The only time I really like to throw my two cents in is when I have seen a play from beginning to end and I am sure of what I saw. If there’s a disagreement on what to call, I’ll say, ‘Did you see the play from beginning to end? Because I did.’”
Waggoner has one primary critique of the officiating in the Buffalo-Toledo game: This MAC crew has to move the game along faster. The poor fans were exposed to the 23-degree wind chill for so long they left the stadium as walking blocks of ice. Waggoner enters the officials’ room after the game and first reviews several calls—such as offsetting penalties for personal fouls when it seemed clear that the Toledo player started things. “I don’t like offsetting fouls,” Waggoner says to the official who called it, who nods in understanding. “Get the instigator.”
Then he conveys his main point to Evans, the referee: Don’t wait till you place the ball down before you start the clock after stoppages; you can start the clock a few seconds before that, as soon as the ball gets in your hands. Those six or eight seconds, on 40 or so stoppages during an average game—one with undefined TV timeouts and the ridiculousness of stoppages every time a first down is gained (there were 49 tonight)—are going to add up and move things along more briskly.
“Maybe I’m old school,” says Evans, “but the way I was taught, you have to … ‘’
“Stan,” Waggoner says gently but firmly, “let me tell you about that old school. The old school is closed. There are no students there anymore. They’re in a new school now. That’s the school you’ve got to go to now.”
That’s one way NFL concepts seep down into college football. Several current and former NFL officials work as supervisors or graders for college conferences and try to import some pro ideas regarding officiating. This is Waggoner’s other job. In a typical week at his Toledo home, he’ll spend about three hours Monday watching the previous day’s NFL game; concentrate Tuesday on the plays he either erred on or was questioned about; look Wednesday and Thursday at training tapes and video of both of the upcoming NFL teams he has that weekend; work out several times (the NFL monitors its officials’ in-season weight); talk with the NFL’s field-judge adviser, an extra officiating resource who reviews the positioning and mechanics of each field judge (each position has such an adviser); and take a weekly 15-question test.
It’s all part of the weekly mosaic. “We do as much preparation as the teams do,” Waggoner says. That’s an exaggeration, of course—six of the seven guys on Steratore’s crew have jobs entirely apart from football officiating. But Waggoner, in his other job and his weekly prep, does practice football immersion most days.
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