Summerfield, NC -- A Triad man served as an NFL official for 26 years, including three Super Bowls. Gerry Austin tells all about being on the country's biggest stage.
For millions, football is part of the Sunday Fall routine. We closely watch the players, but the league closely watches the referees!
WFMY News 2's Liz Crawford talked to a former NFL referee about the road to the Super Bowl.
Whatever the call an official makes, it affects someone's season or record; even a team's chance in the playoffs. That's a lot of pressure.
On top of trying to get every call of every game right, they're competing with one another.
Gerry Austin has an impressive background. He was an official for 26 years. He officiated a playoff game each of those 26 years. He also has three Super Bowl rings from XXIV, XXXI, XXXV. Gerry also officiated three Pro Bowls.
Getting to the big game wearing stripes is not easy.
"They have a fairly elaborate evaluation system in the NFL. They evaluate every official, every ball game...we say every play, every official, every ball game," explained Gerry Austin.
"Just like the teams and the coaches, they strive to go, so do the officials. They want to be in the Super Bowl at the end of the year."
Along with mechanics and making the right calls, the officials are evaluated on field presence. Gerry says field presence is something you can't define, but you know it when you see it and so do the players.
"They demonstrate confidence. They move with authority, but they're not arrogant and they're not overly authoritative," said Gerry.
So who gets the Super Bowl?
There are seven positions: side judge, field judge, back judge, line judge, head linesman, umpire, and the referee or "white hat."
Each position has 17 men at each. At the end of the regular season, the men are ranked 1 through 17. Only those in the top three are eligible for the Super Bowl. It's not always number 1 that goes though. If number 1 has already gone to the Super Bowl, number 2 or 3 will go depending on seniority.
Gerry said, "It's very competitive. They're guys looking at other guys at their position and they'll ask the other guys, how many deans, that's a downgrade. How many deans do you have? You think they tell each other the truth? I don't think so."
If you officiate one of the Wildcard or Divisional playoff games, you know you're in the hunt for the Super Bowl and officials don't find out who's going until the day after the conference championship games.
WFMY News 2