It's a daydream most of us have had at some point in our life. You're sitting at your beige desk in your beige office, filling out some Excel spreadsheet or answering a mind-numbing amount of emails. Then suddenly, that phone call comes. The dream job at the dream company opens up, and it wants you. TPS reports be damned, you're going to be a video game tester (or ice cream flavor inventor, MLB pitcher, rock drummer, etc.).
That's pretty much what happened to the men who became this season's NFL replacement refs, or as GQ Magazine puts it in a December feature, "the most hated men in football." They were investment advisors, high school football refs, realtors, college professors and retirees, to name a few.
Nathaniel Penn sat down with six of those men to find out what it felt like from the moment they got the call to the moment they had to make the calls.
They had dreamed of working in the NFL, but for one reason or another it just never happened for them. "So when a mass e-mail went out last spring -- Help Wanted: Refs -- they jumped at the chance," Penn writes.
From fitness tests, during which some "very clumsy, unathletic-looking people" struggled to even run half a mile, to hours of agility tests and days of game footage, the men learned how it's done in the NFL.
"The preseason was an audition," said Mike Peek, a retired NCAA Division I official and college economics teacher. If you didn't have your eyes glued to the ball, you were out.
Wayne Elliot, a Texas high school football ref, told Penn they were learning calls he'd never heard of: "You read these plays in the casebook: When is that ever gonna happen?"
A lot happened, as we know. For one, a bevy of blown calls ignited a firestorm. But there were other less publicized wrinkles, like Nick Hermansen suspecting the players were playing extra rough just to test the rookies.
"I'm convinced that was the case," Hermansen told Penn. "I think the NFL was convinced, too, because they actually put the word out after week two to knock it off."
Some replacements felt bullied by the coaches, not to mention the media. But if you want the real story from the ref who called the the infamous Packers-Seahawks game that ended the ref lockout and essentially blew the season for the replacements, check out Penn's entire piece at GQ.com.
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