Season starts quietly for replacement officials

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2001

A slip of the tongue, a slip on the field, a whack in the face. Plus ''Sweet Home Alabama'' on the PA system in Pittsburgh to salute an Alabama-dominated crew of replacement officials.

There wasn't much controversy about the first six exhibition games worked by officials hired to replace the regulars locked out by the NFL in their contract dispute. One game even started without flags -- in the Jets-Eagles game, the first penalty wasn't called until midway through the second quarter.

''I'm ecstatic about the way things went,'' said Larry Upson, the league's director of officiating operations who worked the Philadelphia game -- all six of the NFL's officiating supervisors were assigned to games.

There was no picketing -- the NFL Referees Association decided against them.

Other than Ron Baynes in Pittsburgh and Jim Daopoulous in Cincinnati, Super Bowl-caliber ex-officials who now work as league supervisors, most of the zebras were anonymous. The league announced their names, numbers and schools, but not where they've worked in the past.

Most, however, were NFL Europe or Arena League officials. And they seemed geographically correct like the Alabama crew -- in Dallas, six of the nine officials attended college in California and the crew was headed by Mike Pereira, the league's supervisor of officials, who went to Santa Clara.

''I'd like for our fans to remember these officials officiating tonight around the NFL were just maybe a month or a year away from joining our officiating crews anyway,'' Dallas owner Jerry Jones said. ''This is where we go to get our replacements when we turn over in our officials.''

But neither the replacements nor the league were very forthcoming about where ''this'' was.

''We can't say anything,'' said John Salmon, the line judge at the Titans-Lions game in Pontiac, Mich.

Nor did they do much. Most called only obvious violations -- in the Colts' 23-17 win over the Bengals, there were two holding penalties, two offsides, one false start and one on the Bengals for having 12 defenders on the field.

There were just two misadventures

In Pittsburgh, umpire David Hettema, was hit on the left side of his face by a pass by Buffalo's Alex Van Pelt, but didn't appear to be shaken up.

And in Cincinnati, field judge Gary Wise had a close call as he stood on the sideline and signaled a touchdown on Dominic Rhodes' 17-yard run in the first quarter. Bengals safety Corey Hall, who was chasing Rhodes, slammed into Wise, who staggered back a few steps but stayed on his feet.

One potential controversy came on the final play of the first quarter in Foxboro, Mass., when Washington quarterback Jeff George, under pressure from rookie defensive tackle Richard Seymour, intentionally grounded the ball from about his own goal line. Officials ruled he was in end zone when it happened.

But after viewing the replay, referee Al Hynes reversed the call, ruling that George had thrown the ball from the 1. The call was intentional grounding and the Skins retained the ball at the 1.

In Philadelphia, Upson, worked as a line judge and with help from replay determined that a Jets' punt called dead on the 1 was a touchdback because the player downing it had his fee in the end zone.

And 2:23 into the Jaguars-Cowboys game, Jacksonville's Fred Taylor lost the ball after hitting the ground and the Cowboys jumped up and down screaming they'd recovered a fumble. When they didn't get the call, coach Dave Campo challenged.

But referee Bill Athan announced that Taylor was down by contact and handed challenge flag back to Campo because that play can't be challenged.

Campo accepted it with a sly smile on his face.

Not that everything was perfect.

In the second quarter of the Colts' game in Cincinnati, two officials threw a flag because the Bengals had 12 men on the field.

Referee Aster Sizemore announced: ''Illegal participation -- too many people on the field for the defense. Fifteen yards.'' Moments later, he caught himself. ''It's a 5-yard penalty,'' he said.

Happens all the time in the NFL.

With regular officials.

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