|When the real NFL referees return to the field, we will have Ed Hochuli to thank for keeping them ready. (US Presswire)|
The NFL and locked-out officials are on the verge of signing a labor deal, and the real referees could soon be back on the field.
The replacement referees that worked the first three weeks of the season showed that officials unprepared for the speed of an NFL game can lead to chaos and disaster. So how will the referees get ready in four days -- or even 11?
The 2011 NFL lockout ended on July 25, which the league said was too late to save the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame Game. Instead, the preseason opened on Aug. 11, giving players 16 days to prepare for the season.
How can the NFL avoid a similar delay while the referees get back up to game speed, and, more importantly, another week of replacement officials?
Two words: Ed Hochuli.
The buff official who loves to use his microphone has been working behind the scenes to make sure his officals are ready to go when they get the call from the league.
Sports Illustrated reports that Hochuli has been holding rules-related conference calls with officials every Tuesday night.
Around 100 officials participate in the calls. Hochuli gives each of them a weekly test, modeled on the game-week test officials get during the regular season. He then discusses the results of the test on the call.
“That's one of the reasons why the officials will be up to date and ready to go,'' a source told S.I. "Ed grabbed the bull by the horns and made sure that whenever this thing ended, the regular officials would be ready to go back to work immediately.”
Hochuli has also done his part on public relations. A fan contacted Hochuli by e-mail at the law firm where he works when he's not on the field. Deadspin acquired a copy of the e-mail exchange. The fan apologized for all of his past criticism of NFL officials, after seeing the replacements.
Hochuli wrote back the same day. He nimbly sidestepped any criticism of the replacements and said, “thanks for your email, but I'm sure a week after we're back, you'll be cursing me again!!!! That's half the fun. :)”
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