by Alex Poletti
The story wasn’t the football during Thursday Night’s Titans-Jaguars game, but instead the refereeing, which included 15 penalties in the first half alone. With the clock ticking in the second half and the teams playing faultless football, the officials got restless and began calling penalties on themselves.
“We were itching to call something,” head referee Shawn Hochuli says. “I was looking so hard for an offensive holding call—hell, I’d even take an offsides at that point. But there was nothing. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I just flagged Greg Bradley for standing there.”
The flagging, which started out as a mere release of frustration, soon turned vitriolic. The refs continued to call penalties on each other, greatly delaying the pace of play. After the fourth straight unnecessary roughness penalty was called against Paul King, New England quarterback Tom Brady tweeted that he turned off the game.
“It was really mano a mano after a while there,” Ed Camp, a member of the referee crew, says. “You hate to see it. But really, we just want to call penalties. When the teams make it hard for us to do our job, we have to get creative.”
The increase in penalties comes after the NFL announced it would increase its scrutiny on offensive holding for the 2019 season. Eight of the penalties in Thursday night’s game were for holding. The Titans and Jaguars soon started to figure out what was going on, so they acted more cautiously after halftime. As a result, the players saw a side of the refs they hadn’t seen before.
“They had the whistles in their mouths, ready to blow,” Tennessee running back Derrick Henry says. “When they saw we weren’t doing anything, they started looking at each other. It was like ‘Lord of the Flies,’ but instead of giving children no authority they gave the authority no people to govern. It turns out the result is pretty similar.”
Though the crew has remained mostly silent on the issue, Rick Martinez, the newest of the referees, spoke out about the kerfuffle.
“Look, we aren’t full-time refs,” Martinez admits. “We have jobs and families. Ed, Paul and Tom are teachers. Greg and James are engineers. The only throughline is that we all hate our lives. That’s why we need this. We need to call penalties so we can feel like we have some control over our shitty, shitty lives. Just let us get our kicks in next week.”