Ever wonder what it’s like to be an NFL referee? Is it as easy as it looks on TV? Do they just like to throw little flags around? During an interview with Business Insider, retired referee Jim Howey shared some tidbits from his career as an NFL official. Here are four eye-opening secrets about being a referee.
1. It’s not easy to become an NFL referee
According to Jim Howey, who was an NFL referee from 1999 to 2018, becoming an official is a long, drawn-out process. Most referees begin by working in smaller leagues.
First, Howey took on pee-wee games and moved up to junior varsity officiating. Then came high school football and college games. Howey spent three years with the European NFL league before getting the life-changing call from Jerry Seeman, then-supervisor of the NFL referees.
The supervisor had watched Howey and other prospective officials for a few years before inviting them to the big leagues. At that time, Howey chose to leave his job as an elementary school principal for a new career in the NFL.
2. You must be fit in order to handle entire NFL games
When you think about it, players and coaches get to sit down for small amounts of time during a four-quarter game. NFL referees, however, can’t do this. They must stand for the entire game. To prepare for this task, most officials work out year-round, just like pro football players, to stay in shape.
3. Refereeing isn’t always serious
NFL referees experience humorous moments, too. Howey told Business Insider about a time he let his fellow officials know he needed to use the restroom. But the bathroom he was supposed to use was locked, so he was forced to wait until it was available.
Howey found himself with 30 seconds left and went into overdrive. He managed to take care of his business and get back on the field in the nick of time, earning some laughs from the referees watching him.
Another NFL referee, Bill Carollo, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about a time when he was on the receiving end of one of Brett Favre’s jokes.
During a faceoff with the Broncos, one of Favre’s Green Bay teammates was about to score on a long run. Favre walked up to Carollo and tried to get him to high-five, despite knowing it wasn’t allowed. Carollo refused, letting the Packers quarterback know he couldn’t do this. Favre didn’t get a high-five that day, but Carollo got into hot water with the Broncos coach.
4. Being an NFL referee doesn’t make you popular
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that being an NFL referee isn’t a glamorous career. Sure, having fun comes with the job occasionally, but sometimes the coaches get in your face for making, what they perceive to be bad calls. Referees often have to endure name-calling, insults, and loud disagreements. Howey admits to having many altercations with coaches that he handled with professionalism. Sometimes, if it escalated, he would have to state his case and let them know the discussion was over.
Sometimes referees find themselves in some pretty dangerous situations. In one incident, police escorted seven officials, to another hotel after the game. It was clear their safety was at risk. They started receiving threats, angry calls, and people banging on their doors. If that wasn’t bad enough, they had to endure negative commentaries and criticisms for weeks after the game was over, all over a missed pass interference call.
Getting into the NFL as a referee takes a lot of years of preparing. Howey advises that if you’re considering it for yourself, you should start in the smaller leagues as he did. Get used to pee-wee games and then move up to the bigger leagues. If you’re good, the NFL officiating supervisor just might call you up, just like they did when he got his start in the NFL.