For several years NFL referee Ed Hochuli was considered the best referee in the National Football League. He is still well respected, a former NFLRA (National Football League Referee Association) President , and he was given the nickname “Robo Ref” by many within the NFL front offices for the large guns (biceps) he displays when demonstrating penalties and directional first down calls during games.
Hochuli and his crew (whom stay together for the entire season), like all NFL officiating crews, are graded off their performance on every play of every game. If they grade out high enough, they are rewarded with post season games. These games are tiered – the highest graded officiating crew is awarded the Super Bowl, and the next highest graded crews work the NFC & AFC Championship, Divisional Playoff’s and finally Wild Card weekend.
Since blowing a major call in the San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos game a few years ago, which aided the Broncos in winning the game, along with a few other controversy calls, has tarnished the legacy of Robo Ref. A stand-up guy, Hochuli admitted his mistakes and worked to apologize to the team and the fans as well.
A life of a NFL referee is not always peaches and cream. After each game the crew is ushered away from the stadium in a bullet proof limousine (bus) with several members of NFL security accompanying them through traffic and back to a local hotel. Along with awards comes hatred. The fans can be downright brutal, with emails, death threats, hate mail, ugly letters you wouldn’t read to anyone. Protecting the referees after a game is like protecting the integrity of the game. It must be flaw less.
On Sunday in the Rams-Niners game in San Francisco, Hochuli’s crew worked the game. It was a flag fest for both teams. The crew threw 26 total flags. The Rams were penalized 14 times for 105 yards, while the 49ers were hit with 12 for 135 yards.
The most controversial call came on that 3rd and 2 with 11:11 on the clock in overtime, as Troy Smith was in the grasp, falling forward, and then launched a ball that was in the area of 49ers TE Delaine Walker. As Walker worked to plant and re-direct himself, he ran into OJ Atogwe, who impeded the progress of Walker. The rule states that after five yards a defender cannot touch a receiver. But was the ball catchable?
The Walker call was a judgment call and was not reviewable, and one that St. Louis Rams will have to live with it.
Professional sports referees and umpires or those that govern the game on the field have a tough job.