Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during the season, in a 15th-floor room at NFL headquarters, seven officiating supervisors sit in front of 29-inch video monitors, with sophisticated VCR equipment at their fingertips. "It's our mission control," NFL director of officiating Jerry Seeman says. It is Nov. 4, and as Seeman speaks, games are being analyzed all around him. Supervisors review every snap, making notes on a copy of the official play-by-play. After completing his analysis, each supervisor pulls out a sheet that lists those plays on which a team disputes calls that were, or weren't, made. When such plays are given a second look, the supervisor often asks Seeman for his opinion, and the video is switched from the monitor to a huge video screen.
"Here's one, Jerry," supervisor Jack Reader says, queuing up a play from the Nov. 2 Broncos-Seahawks game. "The Denver coach [ Mike Shanahan] wants this play sent to [the league's director of football development] Gene Washington for discipline review."
The tape shows Broncos quarterback John Elway running from the pocket, then throwing a pass. After the ball is released, Seattle defensive end Michael Sinclair takes a step and a half before blasting Elway in the chest. "He doesn't hit Elway in the head," Reader says.
"He's a runner, because he's not in the pocket," Seeman adds. "That's no foul."
"That's how I see it," Reader says.
By Wednesday each referee has the review of his crew's performance, which he shares with the six other members of his team. The league grades each of its 112 officials weekly and keeps a record of those ratings by position. The ratings carry added significance because they help determine playoff assignments, which go to the top-ranked officials at each position. Another supervisor, Al Hynes, tracks 180 college officials. Due to retirement and the weeding out of subpar officials, the NFL replaced 12 men after last season. "We'll never be perfect," Seeman says. "But if you make too many mistakes, you won't be working here long." Seeman won't estimate how many calls officials have missed in '97, but he admits that of the seven calls one team disputed in a Nov. 2 game, three were judged to indeed be incorrect.
"I just did Tampa Bay—Indianapolis," Reader says, "and our guys made one mistake [in 172 plays]. That's pretty good."