For VP of Officiating, Ref Troubles No Laughing Matter

Alex MarvezCorrespondent INovember 7, 2008

NEW YORK CITY - This is how personally Mike Pereira takes shots against his craft.
After the recent debut of a Subway commercial that featured a referee saying he would throw a bogus flag to make amends for a blown call, Pereira stopped eating there.

He finds no humor in the cute Buffalo Wild Wings ad with officials intentionally sabotaging a game so patrons can keep eating and drinking.

And don't get the NFL's vice president of officiating started on the Ref Bop Bag.

The weeble-wobble doll comes inside a damning cardboard box. A smiling young girl is shown punching the frowning official wearing a black-and-white striped shirt. Printed on the box's side are quotes from an anonymous doctor claiming the toy "is a therapeutic aid for children to vent feelings of anger, rage and frustration. This enables children to process feelings in an appropriate rather than inappropriate manner."

"Appropriate?!" an appalled Pereira vented inside his office at NFL headquarters. "We're supposed to be the good guys trying to do the right thing."

Pereira has had some fun with the 40-inch bags, inflating several dozen as a humorous surprise to greet NFL executives attending a league meeting; however, for Pereira, his profession's integrity is no laughing matter.

That has become a major issue in the first half of this season. Unlike NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Pereira admits public perception of the league's officiating has taken a Ray Lewis-sized hit.

The troubles began in Week two with referee Ed Hochuli's inadvertent whistle playing a major role in the outcome of Denver's 39-38 victory over San Diego. Hochuli then came under further scrutiny three weeks later on Monday Night Football when his crew missed a blatant facemask penalty committed against New Orleans running back Reggie Bush.

"I think the only difference this year to the previous year—which I think everybody thought was good—is that we had a couple high-profile mistakes by a high-profile referee that generated a lot of publicity," said Pereira, who continues to offer strong support of Hochuli, "Any time you have something like that happen, it's in the news and there's a pile-on effect."

Compounding the problem is a weekly stream of post-game criticism from players and coaches when replays reveal a possible or definitive error.

Officials also are feeling heat for not calling enough questionable hits that are deemed illegal following video review by Pereira's office. Such un-flagged blows have generated fines and even suspensions but mean little to the affected party after the fact.

Still, this doesn't mean these zebras should be stripped of their stripes.

As pointed out by Goodell last month during an exclusive interview with, statistics show the officiating quality remains at the same high level as in previous years.

Of the 18,118 plays through the first eight weeks of the season, Pereira said 97.6 percent were properly officiated. That marks only a .1 percent drop from this same point in 2007.

"We have approximately 155 plays a game, so you're talking about averaging three mistakes a game," Pereira said. "More so, they're calls we didn't make that we should have. That makes up probably two-thirds of that figure, but it's right on line (with previous seasons).

"I get reports from coaches every week and they're not any different than they've been in the past. I can't control people's perception. But I know one thing — I'll take 98 percent of plays being officiated correctly."

That doesn't mean Pereira is completely satisfied.

"Our standard is 100 percent," said Pereira, a former NFL side judge who assumed his current league post in 2001. "That standard is not the same for clubs that have turnovers, incomplete passes and commit penalties. I accept that. That's the way officiating has always been."

Pereira, though, doesn't believe players and coaches should be adding even more pressure to what is already a demanding task. He strongly supports Goodell's crackdown on negative public comments about the officiating that has resulted in $20,000 fines to players such as Denver cornerback Dre' Bly and Miami linebacker Joey Porter.

"It's not acceptable," Pereira said. "We have 120 of the most professional people in the world working their tails off. To openly criticize this group—which I think has the toughest job of anybody on the field—I don't like it."

In turn, Pereira wants his crews to become less lenient with borderline on-field hits. Of the 139 fines levied by the NFL through the season's first six weeks, at least 62 stemmed from infractions that weren't called on the field.

"If you have any doubt, throw (the flag)," Pereira said. "I'm encouraging our guys to do that. That's where we need to be in terms of player safety."

On that front, Pereira expects the NFL to consider an offseason rule change that would outlaw the kind of peel-back block that Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward delivered last month on Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers. The blow sidelined Rivers for the season with a broken jaw.

The NFL outlawed peel-back blocks from the side and below the waist in 2005.

"There are vicious hits on defensive players by offensive guys," Pereira said. "Some of these peel-back blocks that are legal can be helmet-to-helmet. You can blindside a guy when he doesn't even know you're coming.

"I know this is a very sensitive issue with players and coaches. There's a feeling like, 'How can I play the game? Twenty years ago, they were hitting quarterbacks and wide receivers much worse than now and it was never illegal.' I understand that, but players are bigger and faster and the commissioner is absolutely, properly concerned with their safety ... It's a tough game and we want to try and protect everybody as much as we can."

Including those whose disparaging comments have made life more difficult for the NFL's referees.

"Wouldn't it be something if we came up to a linebacker and said, 'You never should have missed that tackle. That was ridiculous,' " said Pereira, tongue-in-cheek.

Sounds like the makings of a good commercial.


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