Category Archives: Officials

Starting at the top

The NFL did something today I don’t think it has ever done. It has nothing to do with a player, a coach, or an owner.

The league announced it was hiring Brad Allen as an offical. Allen is certainly deserving of a job in the NFL; he has been a first-rate referee in the Atlantic Coast Conference for many years, and if you’ve watched Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech or anyone else in that conference, you’ve probably seen Allen announcing penalties, even if you didn’t know his name.

What makes Allen’s hire unusual is he has been hired as a referee without having worked an NFL game.

I’ve followed the NFL for 30 years, and I’ve studied the history of the league plenty, but I cannot recall any official starting out as a referee right off the bat. Every referee had to pay his dues at another position before becoming a crew chief.

Ed “Guns” Hochuli was a field judge for two years in 1990 and ’91, and was scheduled to be a field judge again in ’92, but when another referee, Stan Kemp, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease during training camp, Hochuli was tapped as a referee.

Jerry Markbreit, the only man to serve as referee in four Super Bowls, was a line judge in 1976 before moving to the top the next year after his crew chief, Tommy Bell, hung it up. Bell was one of the all-time greats, calling Super Bowls III and VII, and it was easy to see Markbreit learned from the beset.

Red “First Down” Cashion was a line judge for four years before becoming a crew chief. Jim Tunney, called by many the greatest football official of all-time, had to put in seven years before his ascension to the throne.

Many, many, many more officials work decades and never become a referee, either (a) because they would rather not have the hassle, or (b) they get axed before they get the chance. I can think of many greats in those positions: Stan Javie (29 years as a field judge) and Lou Palazzi (30 years as an umpire) were two of the best to never climb to the top rung.

Some referees even get demoted to another position. It happened to Fred Swearingen, Ben “Giving Him the Business” Dreith and Fred Wyant.

NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino is rolling the dice with this one. Allen should be in the NFL. But to start as a referee may cause some great friction, especially if Allen is assigned to a veteran crew, some of whom may feel Johnny-Come-Lately got preferential treatment.