You Are What You Do

Alan Grant

In 1993, Jeff Thomason and I were teammates in Cincinnati. He told me the story of how he had his dog flown from Oregon to Cincinnati in one of those travel crates. The dog had never traveled before and wasn’t all that prepared for the journey. He defecated inside the crate and then fell asleep in it.

So when Thomason picked him up at the airport, the dog’s coat was caked in feces. Left with little choice, Thomason put the dog in his backseat, and started home. The dog was most pleased to see his owner, of course, and tried to show his affection on the ride. “It was freezing cold outside,” said Thomason at the time, “but I had all the windows down and I drove with one hand on the wheel and the other trying to keep the dog off me.”

Thomason later played for the Packers and the Eagles. Every time I saw him play, I thought of that story and I laughed. He was good player, a fine tight end. But for me, he was also the guy who drove home with an overly excited, crap-covered dog.

In 2005, before Super Bowl XXXIX, Thomas was signed by the Eagles to replace the injured Chad Lewis. Since his retirement in 2002, Thomason had been working for a construction company so this was the story of the Super Bowl. The tone of the story intrigued me. It was framed in such a way that if I hadn’t known he’d spent ten years in the league, I would have assumed Jeff Thomason was just some guy, who through some lottery of sorts, was chosen to play in the Super Bowl.

Except he wasn’t. He was a proven player.

I think about that now as I keep hearing how the replacement officials all have other jobs. During one telecast, Al Michaels kept referring to one official as a middle school science teacher. He said it a few times, in a way that suggested the dual tasks of presiding over adolescent science fairs and NFL games were mutually exclusive. Then I heard just yesterday, that one of the officials who presided over the Monday Night fiasco was an executive with Bank of America, as if that played some part in the mess.

While the replacement officials have indeed demonstrated spectacular incompetence, their other professions are not the reason for it. It makes for snarky fodder to snicker at a guy who does something as silly as educating children, but we do this at the risk of applying a sensible perspective to things. I know, what the hell am I talking about? “Sensible perspective” gave way to snarky conclusion a decade ago. Point is the real officials have jobs, too. The difference between them and their substitutes is experience.

Us PresswireI’ll be happy to see Mike Carey and his crew back on the field.

The celebrated Ed Hochuli is a civil litigator and gym rat. Okay, so perhaps that particular profession lends some gravitas to his role as a referee. That is neither here nor there. Point is Hochuli has been calling games for twenty-two years. That’s why he’s good at it. All of those billable hours spent defending clients don’t undercut his ability to do his job on the field.

Mike Carey—the earnest one—is something of an entrepreneur. One day, while on the slopes, Carey noticed that his ski boots were taking a beating in between runs. So he created a little contraption to slip over the sole of the boots to keep out dirt and gravel, Cat Tracks they’re called. He also founded Winter Mountain, which manufactures all snow forms of snow equipment. Like Hochuli, for the past twenty-two years, none of Carey’s other pursuits have impeded his sterling performance as a referee.

I guess I’m intrigued by the topic of multi-tasking, especially as it relates to one’s identity. Both Matt Bowen and I are writers who once played in the league. I’m sure Matt can speak to his own trials, but I know that some folks simply can’t accept this.

I’ve been a professional writer for three times as long as I was a professional athlete. But even with time and distance some folks still can’t reconcile one profession with the other. I even had one editor tell me—with nary a trace of humor or irony—that I couldn’t be both a writer and a former football player, that I couldn’t have it “both ways.”

Jeff Thomason was doing construction work. Because of that he couldn’t possibly be a football player, too—those two professions could not exist on the same plane. But they can. Thomason can be the guy with the smelly dog and the guy on the construction site and the guy who is an excellent route runner and decent blocker.

He doesn’t cease to be all of those things simply because we lack the mechanism to process all of them. I guess we require a simple explanation for complex realities. I guess that’s why there are referees.

So I look forward to Ed Hochuli’s next soliloquy on the true meaning of forward progress, and I eagerly anticipate Mike Carey’s pensive brow as he provides a heartfelt brief on why the down must be replayed.

But I’m most looking forward to the return of Jerome Boger. He’s been an NFL referee for 11 years. He’s also an insurance underwriter with a rich southern lilt in his voice. When he turns on his mic to address the crowd, his delivery is country-cool and silky and not unlike Tim Meadows’ Saturday Night Live character, the “Ladies Man.”

One of Boger’s most notable games was that Monday Night contest in 2006, when the Arizona Cardinals came back from 20 down to beat the Bears. The significance of that game was Denny Green’s infamous tirade at the end, which birthed an instant pop culture catchphrase.

Right about now this phrase captures the officials’ game day functions and their personal flourishes—both of which have been sorely missed in their absence.

“They are who we thought they were.”

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