Monday, February 20, 2017

Insights from a NFL official at the Bronco QB Club

At a Denver Broncos Quarterback Club meeting last week I had the privilege of meeting an active National Football League official.  Scott Novak is a side judge on Carl Cheffers crew during the regular season.  Cheffers worked Super Bowl 51.  Novak didn't have enough seniority to officiate in that game (we learned that NFL officials have to have at least 5 years experience to work the Super Bowl).  But Novak has worked many an NFL game (including this year's Atlanta/Seattle playoff game) and he had many interesting insights into the life of an NFL official.

As a side judge Novak gets to make those difficult pass interference calls.  He also manages the game clock.  He worked his way up the officiating ladder by first doing Little League football games, then high school, then major college conferences (the mountain west and the big 12) before finally getting his big break to work the NFL.  "The NFL game is a lot faster than the ncaa," Novak said, "the players hit a lot harder than you think."  The toughest level to officiate at?  "Little league - the parents drove me crazy!"

After giving us an overview of his job as an NFL official Novak responded to our many questions.  I paraphrase some of the answers he gave below:

Would officiating in the NFL improve if there were full time officials?

"I spend 40 to 50 hours a week on officiating during the season in addition to my regular job.  I don't think having full time officials would change much at all - the current officials put in a lot of work."

What was your most memorable game you worked?

"The Pittsburgh/Cincinnati playoff game last year was memorable.  There were strong emotions from both teams.  I have to be the calmest person on the field.  When a coach yells at me, I reply 'thanks coach, appreciate that.' 

The most memorable games for me are when I screw up - I want to get every call right.  I'll know on the plane home if I made a mistake.  We get a thumb drive of the game's plays before we leave the stadium (we get a police escort to the airport)"

How are you evaluated?

"I get graded on every play in every game.  I can get downgraded for not being in the right position.  Every play gets put into the NFL computers.  The best officials get to work the playoff games."

Would it be better to have the same crew work the playoffs instead of an all star crew?

"When Mike Periera (now with the Fox network) was the head of officials he liked to keep the crews together for the playoffs.  Now they pick officials from different crews to work the playoff games.  It doesn't make a big difference.  In the Atlanta/Seattle playoff game I worked with a guy I had never officiated with before but we adjusted."

How are the physical demands of the job?

"I run 5 to 8 miles during every game.  During extremely cold games you'll see the players go to heaters on the bench.  We can't - we're on the field for every play."

I got a new respect for officials in listening to Novak talk about his job.  He displayed his cool demeanor in answering our many questions.  "We're fans of the game - we love the game," he said.  When he makes a mistake he says "I have to forget about the last play and focus totally on the next play."

Novak showing us his #1 side judge jersey