The 5280 Football Preview

Our rip-roarin’, QB-battlin’, coach-firin’, trash-talkin’ look at the upcoming season on Colorado’s most-storied gridirons

August 2010

Hey Zebra!

Former NFL side judge Tom Fincken explains the game like you’ve never heard it.

  • Officials work their way up the ladder—from peewee to high school games—until they’re ready to apply to call college games. NFL refs must have 10 years of college-officiating experience.
  • NFL crews officiate four preseason and 15 regular-season games each year. They might see the same team twice in one year, but usually only after a five-week grace period.
  • After each game, officials are graded on their performance. Top marks could mean a Super Bowl spot.
  • For Sunday games, officials arrive on Saturday for a meeting where they watch training tapes, ensuring everyone knows what should and shouldn’t be called. This is also a chance for officials to re-familiarize themselves with the team.
  • By knowing a team’s players and play-calling tendencies, an official can foresee potential plays, making it easier to make the right call. That’s one reason why officials meet with coaches 90 minutes prior to a game. These meetings give officials an opportunity to speak with coaches about who the team captains are, which hand the starting quarterback throws with, and unusual plays they might see.
  • “So much of officiating is being in the best position to see things correctly,” Fincken says. A good rule of thumb for deep judges is to stay 10 yards in front of the players to open the line of vision. You never want to be in chase mode.
  • Everyone knows Saturday games are about sport and Sunday games are about entertainment. Which is why NFL officials only call relevant penalties, meaning ones that affect a play. “People don’t come to see our yellow flags every play,” Fincken says. NFL officials will talk to athletes on the field, letting them know they could have been called for a foul had the play come to their side of the field.
  • When officials make mistakes, it’s because they either weren’t in the best position to make the call, or, as Fincken says, they “violated philosophy.” Which means the official didn’t call the game how the NFL instructed him to. “The competition committee makes the rules. We call it like they tell us to call it,” he says. “When we make mistakes, we feel as bad as anybody.” —DS