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The NFL
Peter King
December 14, 1998
Facing the Music Behind the scenes with embattled officials as they prepare for a game
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December 14, 1998

The Nfl

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PLAYER

POSITION

COLLEGE

HEIGHT

WEIGHT

Tim Couch (above)*

QB

Kentucky

6'5"

225

Rifle-armed passer could be the man who the expansion Browns build around

Ricky Williams

RB

Texas

6'0"

225

One of the draft's top prizes comes with one warning: He wants to play baseball, too

Daunte Culpepper

QB

Central Florida

6'4"

240

A polished Steve McNair as a passer, but he's a little slow afoot

Champ Bailey*

WR-CB

Georgia

6'1"

186

A Deion of sorts with great cover skills and the ability to double as a receiver

Torry Holt

WR

N.C. State

6'2"

186

Caught 88 passes, 10 for TDs, and returned two punts for scores in '98

Ebenezer Ekuban

DE

North Carolina

6'4"

265

His 4.67 speed makes this converted tight end a top pass-rushing prospect

JevonKearse*

OLB

Florida

6'5"

254

Speed rusher who could be tried at defensive end as a pro

David Boston*

WR

Ohio State

6'3"

215

Cocky, but has the speed and size of a prototypical big receiver

Akili Smith

QB

Oregon

6'3"

215

Burst onto the scene this season, completing 59% of his passes

Chris Claiborne*

LB

USC

6'3"

250

Tremendous piaymaker whose stock has risen after big year with Trojans

Donovan McNabb

QB

Syracuse

6'3"

220

Mobile with strong arm; after great senior season could easily slip info top 10

John Tait*

T

BYU

6'6"

310

Quick feet make this mountain a bona fide blind-side protector

Facing the Music
Behind the scenes with embattled officials as they prepare for a game

The man with the snow-white hair, windbreaker and loafers settled into a couch in a Pittsburgh airport hotel lobby last Saturday night, and if you didn't know better, you might have thought he was a businessman who had just taken advantage of the October-like weather to sneak in one more round of golf in 1998. Instead, he was here to stand up for his part-time profession—NFL officiating—and his 111 colleagues who have come under so much fire for their recent mistakes.

"You'd have to be a recluse not to feel the heat," said 21-year veteran official Dick Hantak, 60, one of the league's 16 referees and the chief of the seven-man crew that worked the Patriots-Steelers game on Sunday. Ten days earlier referee Phil Luckett had presided over the botched overtime coin flip in the Steelers-Lions game, incorrectly handing the ball to Detroit, which promptly drove for the winning field goal. In the Patriots' final-play win over the Bills three days later, line judge Dave Anderson and field judge Dick Creed extended New England's decisive drive by incorrectly giving wideout Shawn Jefferson a completion on fourth-and-nine when he caught the ball out-of-bounds; on the next play side judge Terry McAulay made an incomprehensible pass interference call on a Hail Mary, setting up New England's winning touchdown.

"Don't misunderstand," Hantak said. "We should be criticized when we blow a call. It goes with the territory. But there were 2,200 calls last weekend, and how many are we talking about? Two?"

Two that may end up costing Buffalo a playoff spot. Hantak said the league's other officials "lived and died with that crew in New England. Unfortunately they missed two calls. But if they get the first call right, then the second play never happens. Our greatest fear—all of us—is that we'll do something to cost somebody a game."

On Sunday, Luckett's crew did just that The Seahawks were leading the Jets 31-26 with 27 seconds to play when New York's Vinny Testaverde attempted a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal from the Seattle five. Head linesman Earnie Frantz immediately signaled touchdown. The crew huddled for almost a minute before Luckett finally signaled the same. However, TV replays showed that only the crown of Testaverde's helmet crossed the plane of the goal line, while the ball, which he bobbled short of the end zone, never made it across.

Can anybody say replay? Members of the media are rarely granted access to officials, but Hantak was allowed to shed light on several hot topics.

On instant replay: "I really don't care if it comes back. If we have any officials worried about replay, they shouldn't be on the staff. We're told to use a Wilson ball, so we use it. If we're told to use instant replay, we'll use it, and let the chips fall where they may"

On the cry for full-time officials: "We have lawyers, CEOs, businessmen doing this job. If you look at the cost analysis, I don't see how it would be worth it or how it would make the officials better."

On the blizzard of criticism: "All of us want to be liked, but it doesn't affect my job."

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