08 Oct 2016
by Tom Gower
What is it like to be the person in charge of the NFL's officiating department? What is it like to then shift to media life and be the biggest change to the way NFL games are broadcast since perhaps the introduction of the first-down line? In After Further Review: My Life Including the Infamous, Controversial, and Incredible Calls That Changed the NFL, Mike Pereira traces his story from his days as a young athlete to his time as a FOX commentator on officiating.
Like many who end up working in pro sports, Pereira was himself an athlete, playing baseball collegiately at Santa Clara and in the summers in Alaska, where he was inducted into the Anchorage Glacier Pilot Hall of Fame and still holds several career records.
Holding Alaskan baseball career records was a sign his diamond career was not going anywhere. A bout with testicular cancer in his 20s left him rootless and without initiative. Football officiating, something he first did in college for extra money and something his father did for three decades up to the collegiate level, eventually filled that bill.
That path eventually led Pereira to the NFL, where he served as a side judge for two years while also serving as Supervisor of Officials in the Western Athletic Conference. In 1998, he accepted the latter title with the NFL.
Leaving out some of the stories (like the backlash the WAC faced for becoming the first college conference to announce which player had been flagged, like in the NFL), most general interest in After Further Review will probably be generated by Pereira's comments on NFL officiating and current NFL decision-makers.
As you could guess from the excerpt that ran on Deadspin, Roger Goodell comes in for some of the most pointed commentary. This makes perfect sense. Officials are the annoying people whose job is to tell other people "no" and when they have committed an infraction. Goodell, acutely sensitive to the NFL's public image and careful to offend as few people as possible, would prefer to avoid either thing happening.
Further, officials' sometimes split-second judgments can prove pivotal in close games and are not always accurate. The increasingly sensitive NFL is moving to further punish officials for high-profile mistakes. The excerpt notes Goodell's attempts to punish Terry McAulay and Ed Hochuli. The 2015 season had several more examples -- back judge Greg Wilson, who did not call the illegal bat at the end of Detroit-Seattle, was moved off the Sunday Night Football game between New England and Indianapolis to the local-media-markets-only Miami-Tennessee game. The official who missed the clock operator's error at the end of the Pittsburgh-San Diego Monday nighter that ended with LeVeon Bell's touchdown was not only downgraded but suspended. Pereira details several further incidents from the 2015 season that showed a negative relationship between the NFL and its officials, some arising from genuine error, others reasonable judgments that gave the NFL publicity it did not want (like the failure to eject any players in last year's Josh Norman-Odell Beckham imbroglio). That current Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino never worked a game as a field official (he served as a replay official upstairs) has contributed to the strained relationship, along with the NFL's rocky labor history with its officials (with the officials missing games in 2001 and 2012).
One of Pereria's more interesting and surprising suggestions for officiating is that the referees become full-time employees. Like others, Pereira has been reluctant to say officials should be full-time employees. By and large, their rulebook knowledge is already excellent, and making them study it more seems like a bit of a waste. But with the number of crews out there, consistency in each call across crews is not where it potentially could be, or where everyone wants it. By spending each week together, reviewing calls, and preparing for the next week's game by getting a better idea of what to expect, officials might be better prepared to treat everything that happens the same way every team. (As Mike Shanahan said of a call Pereira missed in the final game he worked, a Broncos playoff victory over the Chiefs, coaches know what to expect each play and officials do not.)
It's an interesting idea. Focusing on the referee makes sense, since they are the face of the crew. Clete Blakeman, working this week's Texans-Titans game, is a familiar name to me, but even though I peruse the rulebook most Sundays (and Mondays and Thursdays, and most Saturdays I'm pulling up the NCAA rulebook at least once) I cannot name offhand any other members of his crew. They can bring the consistent message to their crews in the normal preparation time and help them do a better job of officiating the game, and outside the season, communicate the same rules to teams.
What are the primary objections to this idea? Finances are a big one. NFL officials almost all have another job, and the referees would have to give theirs up. Pereira's did not seem to be that important to him (for instance, he worked in his father's printing business), but somebody like Ed Hochuli, a practicing attorney, might have a more difficult decision to make between remaining a referee and giving up his main job, or going back to being one of the other officials and continuing to practice law. Plus, officials are seen as a loss center for the NFL; paying some of them more and giving them the sort of infrastructure they might need to coordinate effectively (Pereira's plan envisions an officiating center in a centrally located NFL city like Dallas) is no more palatable than the wage dispute that led to the 2001 lockout or the pension dispute that led to the 2012 lockout.
There are other aspects of the book I did not get into, like Pereira's rundown of the most memorable officiating moments, from the Immaculate Reception to Spygate (where he has some more pointed comments on Goodell); the rules changes he pushed through while working at Park Avenue; his relationship with Art Shell when the then-former and future Raiders head coach was working for the league; or the general comments on officiating and how things work.
As an officiating junkie, I enjoyed After Further Review. I do wonder a bit how much people who do not care as much about officiating would like it. If you want an overview of the rules and how they work, Ben Austro's So You Think You Know Football is the work to get. Austro's work is more descriptive; Pereira's is descriptive and prescriptive. Both fill their niche; only you can decide which niche (or both) you want filled.
7 comments, Last at 11 Oct 2016, 3:58pm by Bright Blue Shorts