FORGETFUL GENTLEMAN [fer-get-fuhl jen-tl-muhn] n. a classy, sophisticated, modern man whose busy lifestyle often interferes with his well intentioned plans

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's Football Season: Your Guide to Referees

We’ve questioned their judgment, their eyesight, and sometimes even their sanity. But have you ever wondered how football referees actually do their job? Or how much the gentlemen in stripes make? With the kick off to the NFL season tonight, it’s the perfect time to study the gentlemen millions of us watch, and almost always forget.

The Legendary Ed Hochuli

You can’t talk NFL officiating without Ed Hochuli. Ed Hochuli once had a staring contest with a scoreboard, and won. He once killed a defensive back with a stern talking to. The NFL must ask his permission to award the Super Bowl trophy. When he’s thirsty, he drinks a pint of peanut butter. His first down call makes him the only person who can punch a cyclops between the eye. And he has counted to infinity – twice.

Who is Ed Hochuli? Google “Ed Hochuli” and you’ll see 40,600 results. Watch an NFL game in which he is refereeing, and you’ll never forget. He kicks off the 2010 NFL season as the head referee in the Colts vs. Texans game on September 12 at 1pm.

There are two things you should watch for when watching Ed Hochuli. First is his physical presence. As a former college football player at UTEP, he’s the only referee that looks to be the same size as the players. In fact, many players joke to him during games that he should be playing on their team. NFL player Tim Dwight once challenged him to a bicep measuring contest and lost.

The second thing to look for Hochuli’s long winded explanations on the field. Famously in a 2007 game while nullifying a holding penalty, he announced through his microphone, “There was no foul on the play. It was not a hold. The defender was just overpowered.”

Here are a few YouTube favorites:

Hochuli leads an exemplary personal life as well. He’s a trial lawyer in Arizona and partner in a law firm. He has six children and lives in Phoenix. Despite this size, Hochuli runs marathons in his spare time, having completed thirteen races. Hochuli is truly a forgetful gentleman.


NFL referees currently earn between $42,295 to $120,998 per season. That’s $2,643 to $7,500 per game. Not bad for a weekend job.

NFL referees are the only major sports officials to not be full time salaried employees. The NFL hires them on a contract basis, which allows the league to eliminate unqualified officials without having to show cause as is the case of full-time employees. Many referees are partners in law firms and CEOs.

How does this compare to the other major sports?

Major League Baseball umpires earn $100,000 to $280,000 per season with a $50,000 expense account and free first-class air travel. That’s $617 to $1,728 per game.

National Basketball Association referees earn $90,000 to $225,000 per season, $1,100 to $2,742 per game.

National Hockey League officials earn $115,000 to $220,000 per season, $1400 to $2,683 per game.

The Officiating Crew

During NFL and college football games, there are seven officials on the field.

Referee: This is the head honcho, the one who announces penalties, flexes his biceps on first downs and sticks his head into the replay booth. He wears a white hat, while all the others wear a black hat. He sports an “R” on the back of his uniform. Ed Hochuli is a referee.

Umpire: In 2009, there were five major injuries suffered by umpires (including two concussion and three knee injuries), so the NFL moved the umpires from behind the defensive linebackers to the offensive backfield. This move has created some controversy, so you may hear announces and players mentioning umpires throughout the season. Look for the “U” on back of the uniform.

Head linesman: When a team is close enough to a first down that it requires a measurement, it’s the head linesman who leads the “chain gang” over from the sideline. He also is responsible for keeping time.

Judges x 4: The line judge, field judge, side judge and back judge. For field goals, it’s the field and back judges that get to make the heroic “field goal is good!” signal. All the judges wear numbers on their uniforms, along with the initials LJ, FJ, SJ and BJ.

The Officiating Theme of the Year

Video technology is changing the game of officiating. Imagine making a judgment decision in front of millions of people, seeing a video replay proving you made the wrong decision, then announcing back to the millions of people that you were wrong. It takes humility to do this job. It’s thankless. And it requires one to be trustworthy, responsible, articulate, and having good judgment, the characteristics of a gentleman.

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