Much has been made about the lack of experience for the replacement officials the NFL is using to take the place of their regular referees who are holding out on strike. While some -- like Jim Core, the crew chief of Wednesday's season opener -- have plenty of traditional football refereeing experience at much lower levels (the Arena Football League or minor college leagues, for instance) than the professional ranks, a few others are making even more epic leaps.
Take Amarillo businessman Wayne Bernier. The 19-year veteran official has spent plenty of time officiating games on football fields, but usually they involve fewer players. That's because many of the team's that Bernier officiates over play six-man football.
As reported by the Amarillo Globe-News, Bernier flew back from a preseason game between the Eagles and Jets to referee a six-man contest in his home state between Miami (Texas) High and Loop (Texas) High. The site of the game was the Happy Corral, which is about as far as a name can get from Philadelphia's City of Brotherly Love moniker, which carries a nice ironic twist when it comes to the city's sports fans.
It's worth noting that Bernier wasn't just moving from NFL action to a high school game, he was essentially moving to the equivalent of a different sport altogether. Six-man football typically involves vastly higher scores, looser defenses and wild offensive formations. In short, refereeing a six-man game after an NFL matchup is a bit like a film critic reviewing a Martin Scorsese flick for the New York Times, then hopping in a cab and writing a review of the new Matt LeBlanc comedy for his local Pennysaver newspaper.
Still, Bernier insists that the differences between the levels are less obvious than most assume, with the biggest adjustment coming in the form of the sheer excitement surrounding each game replacement refs work.
"You have seen it on TV and see this big field," Bernier told the Globe-News. "But you walk in and it's still a 100-yard field just like out at Dick Bivins Stadium. There are more people. That's all.
"You are in awe, but you are there to do a job. You don't get star struck. I had a lot to learn. I had to get acclimated to the speed. That's the difference between any level and the NFL, the speed and size. But one thing is easier. They are so skilled and know how to catch a football. Now, the harder part is they have the chance to learn more technique, and they know how to hold better."
If more deceptive holding efforts are Bernier's biggest problem, he's doing a heck of a job. While Bernier has already run into one former Panhandle player -- Eagles defensive lineman Ziggy Hood -- he insists that he and his colleagues will continue working to live up to the expectations of the fans in the stands.
And, by no means will Bernier be missing any of his traditional high school assignments, either.
"It's all about those kids out there," Bernier said pointing toward the Loop and Miami players after working their six-man game. "That's why I am here. They need officials. I'm trying to protect them. And then I'm on a crew. I made a commitment to these guys. They are my friends. My boys. I wanted to get back here from Philly because this was a special weekend for me. This is where I got started on a six-man field with other new officials. And I didn't do this on purpose. I had this game scheduled way before the NFL."