- We talked to a former NFL referee and asked him what it takes to be an official in the football league.
- Jim Howey worked in various capacities during his 19 seasons in the NFL, including as a back judge, head linesman, and down judge.
- He revealed the path that led him to the league, what he did to stay in shape during the season, and how he handled angry coaches and players during games.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Jim Howey: I’m Jim Howey. I was in the NFL from 1999 until 2018. My position was a back judge for many years then I went to field judge. To get in the NFL, it’s kind of a long process. Almost everybody’s story is the same. We start working pee-wee games, JV games, we join a local high school association. I got in the ACC in ’91, worked there till I went in the NFL in ’99.
[Howey spent 3 years in the NFL’s European league]
I was pretty successful in Europe and they felt like I could do the job in the NFL. I was then the principal at a local elementary school. I told my secretary, if two people call, you get me on that radio immediately. The first one is my wife, and the second one is Jerry Seeman. Jerry Seeman was the supervisor of officials. He was the one that was gonna call you and let you know you gonna be in the NFL. My secretary, she said, “Jerry Seeman is on the phone.” I said, “I’ll be there!” So I ran up the hall. He went on to say, “We’ve been watching you for the last couple years” “and we want to invite you to come into the NFL.”
You have seven guys on the field on each crew. All of us have different responsibilities. There’s a little bit of frustration there sometimes on the coaches, not necessarily knowing where we’re looking and who’s looking at what. The line judges and down judges, we’re counting the offense, we signal to each other we’ve got 11 offensive players, and then we go into the false starts, encroachments, offsides. There’s a lot of communication.
I would try to let them have an opportunity to tell me in a gentlemanly way what their concern was. And I would try to respond to that in a very low-key way. Not lose my cool.
I always thought that I had a pretty good rapport with these coaches. Kind of the same way, I would let them have their say, I’d respond, and hopefully we could talk it out. I’m not gonna convince him that I’m right most of the time. Now, I have told them, “I understand, but that’s enough. I don’t want to hear about it anymore.”
During the game, the players have an opportunity to go over to the bench and sit down. Referees never sit down. We’re up the whole game. Three times a week, I would ride the stationary bikes, and then twice a week, I would swim.
It is very lucrative. We have our own union that helps us in our contract negotiations. We have a 401k. It’s a lot like teacher pay. Teachers are on a scale. You start off as a starting teacher, and you bump up every year. And that’s the same way it is in the NFL.
It’s a part-time, full-time job. When the season is over, I would start first of February or middle of February studying the rules, looking at video. So it really never stops. One of my good buddies, Tony Steratore, he summed it up pretty good. He said, “Even when you’re in church,” “you’re thinking about something that’s going on” “in the NFL.” That’s a pretty good description of the way it is.
Graham Flanagan: Have you ever been in a situation where you really had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the game?
Jim Howey: Everybody does! The players, the coaches, the officials. You tell somebody on your crew, “I’m going to the restroom. Don’t start until I get back.” I think I was in Cleveland one time, I went running in there, and the door was locked. Somebody was in there and it was just the one stall. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh!” So I’m standing out there, waiting, waiting, waiting, looking at my watch, timing the time-out, the guy came out with about 30 seconds left and I actually was able to go in, get out, and I literally came running back in on the field as the referee was getting ready to mark the ball ready. The other six guys out there with me were just laughing and carrying on. “That’s the fastest you’ve run in years!”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on September 13, 2018.
What it takes to be an NFL referee, according to an official who spent 19 seasons in the league