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For all of you who were having a blast bashing the NFL replacement refs for the last three weeks, the party is over because the lockout is over. NFL officials got a pay increase and their pension plan will stay put until 2016. Twitter is all abuzz with tweets like: “Hallelujah! The real refs are back,” to “Hooray we can just go back to criticizing the regular refs.”
But what does it take to be a “real” or “regular” NFL official?
Well, being in shape is definitely a prerequisite. Full disclosure: I’ve never even heard of NFL ref Ed Hochuli and his buff-biceps before all this referee drama, but high school football ref Steve Stearns says spending a lot of time at the gym IS pretty mandatory if you’re going to make it to the NFL. The game is fast and you’ve got to keep up. “You can work at the Pee Wee level or the high school level and kind of look like me,” says Stearns, who has a high school age grandson. “You don’t know what I look like, but I’m not exactly the physical specimen I used to be.”
But, Stearns says being in good shape is about as sexy as it gets and his friend and fellow ref, Phil Beltran, agrees. He says you start at the very bottom — Pee Wee football — and work your way up. “You’re just refining and learning all the time,” says Beltran, who started reffing back in the early ’70s and had dreams of making it all the way to the NFL.
For Beltran, getting to the NFL meant officiating for several hours a week with little pay in order to move up the ranks: high school, junior college and then college football. When it was time to move to Division-1 officiating, Beltran gave up his dream of wearing the white hat. He says the time commitment meant less opportunity to move up at his police job and much less time for his family.
High school coach Steve Stearns never wanted to make it to the NFL, but he remembers calling a girl’s softball game with veteran NFL official Bill Levy when Bill got the call from the NFL.
“I said, ‘Hey, here you are working as a high school softball official and you’re going to be in the NFL next year,’ ” says Stearns. “You know; and he was ecstatic!”
So, if you have dreams of blowing a whistle on an NFL field make sure you’ve got biceps, skill, and years of officiating high school sports. And, don’t quit your day job.