Jerry Markbreit in his home in 1999. He says the NFL wanted him and eight other… (Los Angeles Times )
NFL officials aim to go largely unnoticed, but now they're feeling unappreciated.
Locked out in a labor fight, officials are facing the prospect of being supplanted — at least temporarily — by vastly less experienced replacements, some of whom have been plucked from the high school or junior college ranks.
What's more, nine of the most respected former officials who later became officiating trainers have been instructed by the league to turn in their computers and no longer have access to the NFL's computer system. Their transgression was refusing to train the replacements, who Friday were in Dallas for their first clinic.
"We feel that we're fired," said Jerry Markbreit, an official-turned-trainer who was the referee in four Super Bowls. "They haven't formally notified us, but it sure feels like we're fired."
The other eight former officials asked to return their computers were Red Cashion, Ron Botchan, Bill Schmitz, Ben Montgomery, Jim Quirk, Sid Semon, Tom Fincken and Dean Look. Those men, who are not currently members of the union, have 265 years of combined service with the league and have worked 22 Super Bowls.
"They wanted us to train the replacements which we would absolutely not do," Markbreit said. "We were all officials for 20-plus years. . . . How could we face our people? There wasn't a question about us doing this. We knew this was coming.
"It's very discouraging for [the league] to have put us in this kind of situation."
The officials feel that the NFL had the idea all along of locking them out as a negotiating strategy. Those officials, who are considered part-time employees, are looking for what they call a modest pay increase and continuation of their defined-benefits pension program.
After Markbreit's comments appeared on The Times' website, the NFL responded with a statement saying the trainers were not fired but are seasonal employees "who have decided not to work at this time. We asked for their NFL-issued laptops back so that those who are working right now can use them."
The league did not give an explanation for why the trainers could no longer access the computer system.
"We're in limbo," Botchan said. "We're so upset with them. . . . We've done a lot for that league."
Meanwhile, the league formally began training stand-ins, who likely will see action for the first time since 2001, when replacements were used for the final exhibition games and first week of the regular season.
Tony Corrente, a locked-out referee, said the speed of the pro game and the nuances of the NFL rules — which in some areas are significantly different than those of college and high school football — could lead to problems for the replacements.
If the replacements are used, history could be made. One of them is Shannon Eastin, who has been a referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and other leagues. The NFL has never had a woman work as an on-field game official.