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“See the Ball!”

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After the coin toss and the National Anthem, the crew of officials huddle together, wish each other a good game and as we break the huddle, this is what we tell each other, “See the ball.”  

Image used with permissionIn football, when a play ends, the nearest official sounds the whistle to indicate that the play is over and the ball is dead.  Most fans think the whistle ended the play; but that is not true. The whistle sounds to indicate that the play has ended and that the ball is now dead.  When the whistle ends a play, it stopped the play while the ball was still live — a mistake.  If one of the officials sounds the whistle when he/she shouldn’t, the play is still ended and that is referred to as an “inadvertent whistle,” or “IW.”  It is perhaps one of, if not the most, embarrassing mistake we can make.  None of us is immune. Sooner or later every official is guilty of the infamous “IW.”  Jerry Stovall – former LSU head coach, All-American, and NFL star with 3 Pro Bowls to his name – told me once, “There’s just nothing good you can say about an inadvertent whistle.”  Ed Hochuli (NFL referee) would likely agree.  It happened to Hochuli in a big game with the Denver Bronchos a few years ago that had playoff implications.  It’s been tough for him to live down.  

Football’s rules are perhaps the most complicated of any sport, and they are oriented towards two objectives.  First and foremost is player safety.  Second, the rules are designed to prevent one team from obtaining an unfair advantage over the other.  Officials are under a certain amount of pressure from the rules, the coaches, and the parents of the student athletes to kill the play as soon as it is over in order to prevent injuries, especially late hits.  Many times, the IW occurs when the covering official thinks the play is over and blows the whistle — without having clearly seen the ball.  

The location of the ball (player possession and forward progress) along with it’s status (live or dead) as the play comes to an end are two of the many aspects of the game of which officials must be constantly aware.  We have a lot on our minds out there and must stay focused.  

This season will be my fourteenth as an official and the ninth as a referee.  “Zebra Tales” is a feature where we observe and comment on football from an official’s point of view.  My experience on the field is exclusively in high school football and I have numerous friends and contacts in college football.  I’m a loyal fan of NCAA college football, particularly LSU and the SEC.  A future article will cover my interests (or lack of) in the NFL.

It will be a long season.  Scrimmages start in mid-August in most states and the bowl games and playoffs push the Super Bowl back to Feb.6, 2011.  There will be a lot of games to see — a lot of plays to watch (typically around 100 per game) and a lot of talking heads doing a lot of talking.  One of my favorite ways to enjoy a game on television is to “mute” the sound and turn on my stereo — opera — Wagner.

We hope you will join us here regularly and find out what we saw when we were watching the ball.  Your comments and questions will be welcomed!

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