No such thing as a perfectly called game

By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
Jan. 13, 2002
I must confess to criticizing an official or two or more during my years in the broadcast booth. Even threw what passed as a near tantrum now and again. As someone who had been there and done that I knew better.
I'd refereed kid football four years while living in Memphis. It was itty bitty football, a 100-pound league in which no kid could weigh more than that but whose parents took it as seriously as an Ole Miss fan in a game against Mississippi State or vice versa.
A father or mother can tap a reservoir of four letter words you didn't know they had when a call goes against their kid.
But I also wore the striped shirt for 12 years in basketball, starting with games for the Park Commission and working my way up to Memphis prep and small college basketball. I say, totally immodestly, I was pretty good too. One year I was selected to referee the Memphis High School championship game and it didn't get any higher than that.
It's one thing to be cussed out by a parent. It's quite another to have six or eight thousand people question your parentage. Or to make a controversial call and wait in the dressing room until all the fans finally departed so that you and your partner could get to your car without the threat of physical abuse.
The experiences of those years explains why I'm sympathetic to the college official who allegedly blew the fourth down pass interference call against Miami in the BCS Championship Game.
Or the missed pass interference violation in the New York Giant-San Francisco game that could have given the Giants another chance to beat the 49ers.
And, of course, the most recent example of refereeing a football game although allegedly being totally blind, the roughing the kicker penalty last weekend which gave Tennessee's Titans a second chance to kick the field goal which beat Pittsburgh in overtime.
That, as you saw, was followed by by Steelers coach Bill Cowher's hell-raising that he had called timeout before the second chance snap which, therefore, the kick shouldn't have counted.
A good official doesn't think about his call. He reacts to what he sees and doesn't debate himself am I right or am I wrong?
The people who officiate major college football or in the NFL are good officials. They spent years getting to where they are and along the way they made thousands of decisions, just like those.
From time to time a newspaper or magazine writer will do a story about how many kids are playing high school football and how few of them will be offered Division I scholarships. Then in chapter two they will compare the tiny number of college players drafted by the NFL with the final stat how few of those drafted will make the team.
If that is the fact, and it is, carry it a step further and think about the thousands and thousands of football or basketball officials working high school games across this country and how very few of them will climb up that ladder to the big leagues of their sport.
In my 12 years of working with possibly 100 different partners, and observing several hundred more, only two of our Memphis officials made it to the SEC.
The guys you see working the games in which your favorite high school team participates aren't out there for the money. The money is pitiful. It was pitiful when I did it and it hasn't improved much since them. They do it because it's fun, because they enjoy the company of others who love the sport as they do and because working with kids, boys or girls, gives you the satisfaction of contributing while staying involved with a sport you no longer can play.
They study the rules, they go to meetings, they leave a tough day of work and drive sometimes considerable distances, raine or shine to do what they do. And they do it knowing full well that someone sitting in a grandstand 30, 40 or 50 yards away will believe he saw the play better than you did, even if it is right under your nose, and will tell you so in no uncertain words.
Officials learn just as the players do. They learn to make the call instantly, to be emphatic to the point where there is no doubt in the minds of anyone, players, coaches and fans. They also learn that if they know in their heart they have missed the call to take that in stride and never, never, never attempt to make it up, to correct one bad call with another.
Of course you agonize when you miss one. From time to time a coach will charge at the end of a game and claim a wrongful call made it in the first half is the reason the game was lost. That's ridiculous. He knows it. You know it.
How many times does a losing coach come up after the game and compliment the official with, "You worked a nice game." Rarely, but it happens. Those are the nights you sleep the best.
How many times does a losing coach tell you you worked badly? Often. If you can't sleep those nights as well, turn in your whistle.
If we ever seen the perfectly played game, no passes dropped, no fumbles, no penalties, then we may some day see the perfectly called one.
Frankly, neither one is ever going to happen. It hasn't yet.